Just After The Apogee
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Spain hath been always esteemed a country of ancient renown, and as it is incident to all others, she hath had her vicissitudes and turns of fortune. She hath been thrice overcome: by the Romans, by the Goths, and by the Moors. The middle conquest continueth to this day, for this king and most of the nobility profess themselves to have descended of the Goths. The Moors kept here about seven hundred years.
Yet this last conquest of Spain was not perfect, for divers parts northwest kept still under Christian kings, especially Biscay, which was never conquered, as Wales in Britanny; and the Biscayners have much analogy with the Welsh in divers things; they retain to this day the original language of Spain, they are the most mountainous people, and they are reputed the ancientest gentry; so that when any is to take the order of knighthood, there are no inquisitors appointed to find whether he be clear of the blood of the Moors as in other places. The king, when he comes upon the confines, pulls off one shoe before he can tread upon any Biscay ground; and he hath good reason to esteem that province, in regard of divers advantages he hath by it; for he hath his best timber to build ships, his best marines, and all his iron thence.
There were divers battles 'twist the remnant of Christians and the Moors for seven hundred years together, and the Spaniards getting ground more and more, drove them at last to Granada, and thence also in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, quite over to Barbary. Their last king was Chico, who, when he fled from Granada crying and weeping, the people upbraided him, "That he might well weep like a woman, who could not defend himself and them like a man." (This was that Ferdinand who obtained from Rome the title of Catholic, tho some stories say that many ages before, Ricaredus, the first orthodox king of the Goths, was styled Catholicus in a Provincial Synod held at Toledo, which was continued by Alphonsus the First, and then made hereditary by this Ferdinand.) This absolute conquest of the Moors happened about Henry the Seventh's time, when the foresaid Ferdinand and Isabella had by alliance joined the Castile and Aragon, which with the discovery of the West Indies, which happened a little after, was the first foundation of that greatness whereunto Spain is now mounted. Afterward there was an alliance with Burgundy and Austria.
By the first House the seventeen provinces fell to Spain; by the second Charles the Fifth came to be emperor; and remarkable it is how the House of Austria came to that height from a mean earl, the Earl of Hapsburg in Germany,who having been one day a-hunting, he overtook a priest who had been with the sacrament to visit a poor, sick body, the priest being tired, the earl alighted off his horse, helped up the priest, and so waited upon him afoot all the while, till he brought him to the church; the priest giving him his benediction at his going away, told him, that for this great act of humility and piety, his race should be one of the greatest that ever the world had; and ever since, which is some 240 years ago, the empire hath continued in that House, which afterward was called the House of Austria.
In Philip the Second's time the Spanish monarchy came to its highest pitch, by the conquest of Portugal, whereby the East Indies, sundry islands in the Atlantic Sea, and divers places in Barbary were added to the crown of Spain. By these steps this crown came to this grandeur; and truly, give the Spaniard his due, he is a mighty monarch; he hath dominions in all parts of the world (which none of the four monarchies had), both in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America (which he hath solely to himself), tho our Henry the Seventh had the first proffer made him; so the sun shines all the four and twenty hours of the natural day upon some part or other of his countries, for part of the Antipodes are subject to him.
He hath eight viceroys in Europe, two in the East Indies, two in the West, two in Africa, and about thirty provincial sovereign commanders more; yet as I was told lately, in a discourse 'twixt him and our prince at his being here, when the prince fell to magnifying his spacious dominions, the king answered : "Sir, 'tis true it hath pleased God to trust me with divers nations and countries, but of all these there are but two which yield me any clear revenues, viz., Spain and my West Indies, nor all Spain neither, but Castile only. The rest do scarce quite yield, for all is drunk up 'twixt governors and garrisons; yet my advantage is to have the opportunity to propagate Christian religion, and to employ my subjects." For the last, it must be granted that no prince hath bet-ter means to breed brave men, and more variety of commands to heighten their spirits, with no petty but princely employments.
This king besides hath other means to oblige the gentry unto him by such a huge number of eommendams which he hath in his gift to bestow on whom he please of any of the three Orders of Knighthood, which England and France want. Some noblemen in Spain can expend £50,000, some £40,000, some £30,000, and divers £20,000 per annum. The Church here is exceeding rich both in revenues, plate, and buildings; one can not go to the meanest country chapel but he will find chalices, lamps and candlesticks of silver. There are some bishopricks of £30,000 per annum, and divers of £10,000, and Toledo is £100,000 yearly revenue. As the Church is rich, so it is mightily reverenced here, and very powerful, which made Philip the Second rather depend upon the clergy than the secular power.
Therefore I do not see how Spain can be called a poor country considering the revenues aforesaid of princes and prelates; nor is it so thin of people as the world makes it; and one reason may be that there are sixteen universities in Spain, and in one of these there were 15,000 students at one time when I was there, I mean Salamanca; and in this village of Madrid (for the King of Spain can not keep his constant court in any city) there are ordinarily 600,000 souls.* 'Tis true that the colonizing of the Indies and the wars of Flanders have much drained this country of people. Since the expulsion of the Moors it is also grown thinner, and not so full of corn; for those Moors would grub up wheat out of the very tops of the craggy hills; yet they used another grain for their bread, so that the Spaniard had nought else to do but go with his ass to the market and buy corn of the Moors. There lived here also in times past a great number of Jews till they were expelled by Ferdinand.
For the soil of Spain, the fruitfulness of their valleys recompense the sterility of their hills. Corn is their greatest want, and want of rain is the cause of that, which makes them have need of their neighbors; yet as much as Spain bears is passing good, and so is everything else for the quality; nor hath any one a better horse under him, a better cloak on his back, a better sword by his side, better shoes on his feet than the Spaniard, nor doth any drink better wine or eat better fruit than he, nor flesh for the quantity.
Touching the people, the Spaniard looks as high, tho not so big as a German, his excess is in too much gravity, which some who know him not well hold to be pride; he cares not how little he labors, for poor Gascons and Morisco slaves do most of his work in field and vineyard; he can endure much in the war, yet he loves not to fight in the dark, but in open day or upon a stage, that all the world might be a witness of his valor, so that you shall seldom hear of Spaniards employed in night service, nor shall one hear of a duel here in an age. He hath one good quality, that he is wonderfully obedient to the government; for the proudest son of Spain, when he is prancing upon his genet in the street, if an Alguazil (a sergeant) show him his vare, that is a little white staff he carrieth as a badge of his office, my don will down presently off his horse and yield himself his prisoner.
He hath another commendable quality, that when he giveth alms he pulls off his hat and puts it in the beggar's hand with a great deal of humility. His gravity is much lessened since the late proclamation came out against ruffs, and the king himself showed the first example. They were come to that height of excess herein that twenty shillings were used to be paid for starching of a ruff; and some, tho perhaps he had never a shirt to his back, yet would he have a toting huge swelling ruff about his neck. He is sparing in his ordinary diet, but when he makes a feast he is free and bountiful. He will speak high words of the present Don Phillippo his king, but will not endure a stranger should do so. I have heard a Biseayner make a rodomontado that he was as good a gentleman as Don Phillippo himself, for Don Phillippo was half a Spaniard, half a German, half an Italian, half a Frenchman, half I know not what, but he was a pure Biscayner without mixture. The Spaniard is not so smooth and oily in his compliment as the Italian, and tho he will make strong protestations yet he will not swear out compliments like the French and English.
The Spaniard is generally given to gaming, and that in excess; he will say his prayers before and if he wins, he will thank God for his good fortune after. Their common game at cards (for they very seldom play at dice) is primera, at which the king never shows his game but throws his cards with their faces down on the table. He is merchant of all the cards and dice throughout the kingdom; he hath them made for a penny a pair, and he retails them for twelvepence, so that it is thought he hath £30,000 a year by this trick at cards. The Spaniard is very devout in his way, for I have seen him kneel in the very dirt when the Ave Maria bell rings; and some if they spy two straws or sticks lie crosswise in the street they will take them up and kiss them, and lay them down again. He walks as if he marched, and seldom looks on the ground, as if he contemned it.
Touching their women nature hath made a more visible distinction betwixt the two sexes here than elsewhere; for the men, for the most part, are swarthy and rough, but the women are of a far finer mold. They are commonly little. And whereas there is a saying that makes a complete woman, let her be English to the neck, French to the waist, and Dutch below; I may add for hands and feet let her be Spanish, for they have the least of any. When they are married they have a privilege to wear high shoes, and to paint, which is generally practised here, and the queen useth it herself.
They are coy enough, but not so forward as our English, for if a lady go along the street and all women going here veiled and their habit so generally alike, one can hardly distinguish a countess from a cobbler's wife, if one should cast out an odd ill-sounding word, and ask her a favor, she will not take it ill, but put it off and answer you with some witty retort. After thirty they are commonly past child-bearing, and I have seen women in England look as youthful at fifty as some here at twenty-five. Money will do miracles here in purchasing the favor of ladies, or anything else. Tho this be the country of money, for it furnisheth well near all the world besides, yea, their very enemies, as the Turk and Hollander; insomuch that one may say the coin of Spain is as Catholic as her king. Yet tho he be the greatest king of gold and silver mines in the world (I think), yet the common current coin here is copper, and herein I believe the Hollander hath done him more mischief by counterfeiting his copper coins than by their arms, bringing it in by strange surreptitious ways, as in hollow sows of tin and lead, hollow masts, in pitch buckets under water and other ways.
But I fear to be injurious to this great king, to speak of him in so narrow a compass; a great king indeed, tho the French in a fighting way compare his monarchy to a beggar's cloak made up of patches. They are patches indeed, but such as he hath not the like. The East Indies is a patch embroidered with pearl, rubies, and diamonds. Peru is a patch embroidered with massive gold; Mexico with silver. Naples and Milan are patches of cloth of tissue, and if these patches were in one piece, what would become of his cloak embroidered with flower de lutes?