Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/554

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The discovery of America by Colombo gave the Spaniards access to an enormous territory of which they were complete masters, and which they were free to develop on any lines that seemed good to them. It is no part of our present purpose to discuss by itself the colonial policy which the monarchs followed; we have rather to consider the aims pursued by them for their empire as a whole. The large mass of bullion that was imported, together with the great commerciahopportunities that were opened up, exercised a remarkable influence upon economic conditions in the peninsula. The amount of gold and silver which the Spaniards acquired was quite unprecedented, and'might have been used to form a very large capital indeed. The West India islands supplied increasing quantities of gold from the time of their discovery until 1516. In 1522 the exploitation of Mexico began; silver was acquired in greater and greater masses, and the introduction, in 1557, of a simpler process of reduction of the ore by means of quicksilver diminished the cost of production and still farther augmented the yield of bullion. In 1533 the Spaniards also obtained access to Peru, from which additional supplies of silver were procured. Altogether, an enormous stream of bullion poured into Spain during the whole of the sixteenth century.

The Spaniards were able to rely on the best possible advice as to the organisation of business of every kind. Genoese financiers were ready to give every assistance, and the South-German capitalists, who had so much experience of mining and enterprise of every sort, were closely attached to the interests of Charles V; after his accession to the throne of Spain they were attracted to that country in large numbers, as great privileges were conferred upon them. They were able to take part in colonisation, and to engage directly in mining. The Fuggers undertook to develop the quicksilver deposits of Almaden; they formed business connexions in the New World, and founded settlements in Peru. The Welsers established a colony in Venezuela, and undertook copper-mining in San Domingo. There was at the same time an incursion, chiefly to Seville, of other German capitalists, who were prepared to devote their energies to developing the industrial arts of Spain. With all these material and technical advantages it seems extraordinary that the dreams of Charles V and Philip II were not realised, and that they failed to build up such a military power as would have enabled them to establish a complete supremacy in Europe.

It would be exceedingly interesting if we were able to examine in detail the extent to which the precious metals came into circulation in Spain, and the precise course of economic affairs in different parts of the country; but the material for such an enquiry does not appear to be forthcoming. Yet one thing is obvious; the Spanish colonists devoted themselves almost entirely to mining for the precious metals, and they were largely dependent for their supply of food of all kinds on the