chapter  5
21 Pages

Fleets and States in a Composite Catholic Monarchy

Spain c. 1500–1700
WithChristopher Storrs

It is widely held that the Spanish Habsburgs (c.1516–1700) had little interest in sea power and thus were doomed to defeat in the maritime struggle—witness the disastrous Armada of 1588. In fact, a global empire embracing the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Pacific could not—and did not—ignore the sea. Indeed, following—not entirely coincidentally—1588, Spanish policy was characterised by a ‘turn to the sea’. Hitherto historians have explored this change in narrowly political or strategic terms. However, this essay seeks to understand what it reveals more broadly about the polity, society, and culture of Habsburg Spain. It does so by considering the question of salutes, the composition of Spain’s fleets, the relative importance of the public sector (‘the state’) and the private sector and the extent to which the Habsburgs sought, by what might be regarded as social engineering, to encourage their subjects to embrace service at sea.