The Early Modern period in Spain ranged from the marriage of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile in 1479 to Napoleon’s invasion of Spain and imprisonment of King Ferdinand VII in 1808. In this span, Spain formed from the fusion of distinct kingdoms, developed into the most dominant nation in Europe, and suffered a decline at the height of its powers that ended in military defeat to stronger nation. Since the union of Castile and Aragon, Spanish rulers focused on expanding their influence, which was achieved through marriage bonds with other European monarchies and active participation in the wars of Europe. Spain initially engaged in the same forms of development as their neighbors. It accumulated colonies, especially in the New World, and its monarchy centralized and consolidated power.

This progress, however, was achieved at the expense of future reforms. Spain was slow to accept changes with foreign origins and the social structure, which allowed aristocrats to become wealthy from renting their lands, prevented political and economic innovations that were successful in other parts of the continent. The financial drain of war, colonization, and bureaucratic mismanagement made it difficult for Spain to retain its might as a nation, which allowed for successful revolutions against its authority. The worsening economic situation also led to popular discontentment and rioting, which continued to destabilize the country. The French invasion in the early 19th century dismantled the remaining mechanisms of monarchical power and allowed for even more Spanish protectorates to declare independence. While Spain was once the most powerful nation in Early Modern Europe, its inability to adapt hindered its capacity to compete with the other powers of the continent.


Elliot Cahn and Teddy Wolfe