How the Spanish Empire Fell

Posted By on December 8, 2019

Although the UK, France, the Netherlands,
and several other countries established colonial empires in the Americas, it was Spain (and
also Portugal, but we‘re going to focus on Spain) who were the first to get there. These colonies made Spain stupidly rich, but
eventually they all declared their independence to the point where Spain went back pretty
much to where it started, all without a UN resolution. So, how and why did Spain lose control of
its colonies? In the 16th and 17th centuries, after Spain
inadvertently sent Christopher Columbus to a new continent (like him or hate him, he
was still consequential in world history), the Spanish Empire quickly became among the
richest and most prosperous in the world. Having beaten most of its competition to a
new world filled with native civilizations that found themselves unable to effectively
fight back, Spain established a colonial empire stretching from the San Francisco Bay to the
Rio de la Plata. However, while it may have been relatively
easy for Spain to build this empire, the real challenge— as with basically all empires
throughout history— was with keeping it. Silver was an especially profitable export
for the Spanish crown. With the Americas holding huge stores of silver
(and native populations to mine the mountains) Spain became incredibly rich. Although this did result in quite considerable
inflation, this wealth funded a long series of wars that Spain would get itself involved
with, especially once the Habsburgs got involved in 1516. The Habsburgs set out many goals for Spain,
notably exploiting the Americas for trade with Asia, keeping other European powers from
doing so, maintaining a Habsburg hegemony in the HRE, undermining France (because why
not), and defending the faith against Islam and the Protestant Reformation, having been
named by the Pope as the Catholic Monarchy. Unfortunately these didn’t all end well
for Spain, especially when they used some of that trade money to build a huge armada
to be sent to England in 1588… yeah that went marvelously for Spain. Of course while Spain was fighting all these
wars with their European neighbors (I swear, Europe is like a toxic dorm room sometimes)
they had also done quite a lot with their colonies, mainly setting up trade routes,
not being very nice at all to non-Europeans, circumnavigating the globe, establishing Viceroyalties
in New Spain (Mexico) and Peru, and importing all these crazy new products to Europe like
tomatoes, potatoes, corn, chillies and many others. However there were also quite a few things
they didn’t do, including letting the sun set on their empire, winning all the wars
they were fighting in Europe against the French, English, and Ottomans, keeping their trade
monopoly against many of the said empires, not spending so much that the American colonies
couldn’t even keep up with it all, and perhaps most importantly: not being invaded by Napoleon. We all know how ThDubya’s song goes, [when
Napoleon conquered us it all went crashing, colonies got in “revolting” mood] Spain
was initially allied with Napoleon, but then they got a new king who Napoleon didn’t
really like, so he did the logical thing and sent troops to invade Spain, but of course
he knew he couldn’t just invade a sovereign country, so he sent the troops in under the
guise of supporting the troops tasked with invading another sovereign country… because
that’s how European logic works, and now they got a new Bonaparte king. Beforehand a separate American identity from
Spain was commonplace, but the idea of declaring independence wasn’t exactly one that most
people were clambering all over, but this had changed now that the Spanish Empire was
effectively running around like a headless chicken. A lot happened around this time, including
Spain recognizing everyone in the Americas as Spanish citizens (except for slaves) but
at this point most Spanish-Americans, while they were fine with the Spanish monarchy,
were not so fine with the new, French-installed government, and this triggered numerous revolutions
across Latin America. The first to go were Argentina and Venezuela
in 1810, then went Paraguay in 1811, and then Uruguay in 1815 [roubado!], followed by Chile
in 1818, and Peru in 1821. Up in the north, independence movements were
being fought and won in modern-day Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador by Simón José Antonio
de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte Andrade y Blanco… also just known
as Simón Bolívar, who also fought campaigns in Peru and Alto Peru (now Bolivia). Panama also gained its independence in 1821
and joined the EcCoVe countries in forming the Republic of Gran Colombia. The Viceroyalty of New Spain also declared
their independence in 1821 as Mexico, and had… a hell of a 19th century. Central America also had quite a bit of fun
with all this, but honestly a post-colonial history of Latin America would make for a
very detailed video in its own right. After all this, Spain was left with its holdings
in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, Equatorial Guinea, and the Spanish Sahara, then the US blamed
the Maine on Spain and fought the Spanish-American War, stealing the first three. Then a couple world wars happened and the
UN was established, though they weren’t too fond of the idea of colonial empires,
so they kind of had to break the news to Spain. UN: Hey sorry I’m late, but I’m afraid
you’re going to have to let go of your colonies in Africa. Spain: ¿Qué? ¡Pero ya he perdido mis colonias en América! UN: Look, we’re a no-empires club, how do
you think France and Britain are feeling about this? And they’re both on the Security Council! … And then Spain just kept Melilla and Ceuta
like a goddamn madlad. Spain‘s empire may have fallen and they
might not exactly be a world superpower today, but that doesn‘t mean their influence isn‘t
still incredibly widespread. Spanish is the sixth most widely spoken language
and third most widely spoken Romance language… in Germany, but also the fourth most widely
spoken language and most widely spoken Romance language in the world. In addition, Spain (and Portugal) completely
changed most of South and Central America to the point where it is now completely unrecognizable,
though do keep in mind that a lot of cultures had to be sacrificed in one way or another
for all this to happen, and although many may have assimilated willingly, it’s not
as if Spain always gave them the choice. Thanks for watching and I hope you enjoyed
this video. Be sure to like and share this video and tell
me how I did in the comments. I know I skipped over some important information,
so feedback is always appreciated. As always, if you want to help out the channel,
check out the Patreon page or go to, and subscribe to learn something new every

Posted by Lewis Heart

This article has 37 comments

  1. There's definitely a lot I skipped over in this video, but if anyone here's curious about how this also happened to Portugal, might I recommend my friend Jack Rackam's video on Pedro I? (This isn't a collab, I just thought his video did a good job explaining what was going on in Brazil)

  2. The Aztec and Inca Empires are off to a great start. I wonder if they know that Europe just discovered their continent?

  3. Even in the ex colonies,spanish european cultural and ethnic heritages are still greatly appreciated specially between mestizos and castizos of the mixed people groups (which are the majority). Food, architecture and music. Their legacy made latin america and hispanics what they are nowdays in its relationship with amerindians and other forgein groups. The colonial cities from Mexico and Colombia all the way to Argentina always make want to cry a little. Yo digo queridos compatriotas mios que viva España, y que Dios salve al Rey,ley y orden de California a Tierra de Fuego en el imperio donde nunca se pone el sol!!! Arriba amigos. Y hagan a Gran Bretaña temblar.

  4. Cool video but one small thing, Spain didn't have the Spanish Sahara and/or equatorial guinea until the Berlin Conference of 1885.

  5. Once more a very nice video! 🙂
    However, one detail: the "Spanish Armada" did not go that horribly wrong for Spain as is conveyed by English history records. The "English Armada" one year later had a much more dreadful outcome for England than its previous Spanish counterpart. Yet it is much less known.

  6. After the Napoleonic invasion of Spain, many South American countries (including my country, Chile) formed government juntas to rule on King Ferdinand VII's behalf while he was imprisoned, this is considered by many of these countries as their first act of independence.

  7. Make one of Portugal now! Please
    It colonized all these countries in 5 continents

  8. 2:07 europe’s not sometimes like that, it’s always like that (including britain we’ve always been European wether we like it or not)

  9. The rise of Spanish Empire and the fall of Al Andalus is eerily similar to the rise of Ottoman Empire and the fall of Byzantium both suffered defeats in 11th century Byzantines losing
    Anatolia during Menzikert while Andalusians lost Toledo during the same time. They had their capital taken in 13th century Cordoba and Constantinople by the crusaders. Nasridis
    went further south while the romans were able to recover their city. However the most important battle came in 15th century which was a victory for the Ottomans and Spanish.
    Coincidentally both Spanish and Ottomans declined around the time and their main enemies would turn out to be Russia and US who would go on to have their own rivaley.

  10. 1:00 Am I going crazy or is Germany morphing your English phonemes? I think you’re realizing /θ/ and /ð/ as [s] and [z]. It’s cool how living somewhere new can change a person.

  11. Dude, New Spain declared independence in 1810, not 1821, the war for independence lasted 11 years but technically Mexico was born in 1810, please do a better research next time


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