History of Europe

Expansion across the Atlantic

The negotiations held in the city of Santa Fe not only served to close things in Granada, but also opened an exceptional page for the future:in the Capitulations of Santa Fe (April 17, 1492), the conditions of the agreement between the Catholic Monarchs and Christopher Columbus to reach the Indies from the west were established.
Spain will become, after Portugal, the pioneer of a discovering and colonizing company without precedent in the world. However, the delay in the Castilian turn towards the Atlantic was explained by different reasons. On the one hand, the political instability that existed in Castile during the fifteenth century, a consequence of noble rivalries and royal authoritarianism. In addition, the prolongation of the Reconquest and the spirit of the crusade centered on Granada . Also, compliance by Queen Isabel of the Alcaçovas-Toledo agreements. And, finally, the Portuguese initiative undertaken in Africa, which had already sparked tensions and conflicts in the Strait area. However, Spain took advantage of these years to strengthen its presence in the Canary Islands, with the conquests of La Palma (1492-1493) and Tenerife (1494-1496). The islands would become an obligatory stop on trips to the New World.

The Portuguese-Castilian political rivalry represented by papal bulls granted rights and primacy to the expansion of Western European states over non-Christian territories. Until 1492, the Roman curia granted a series of bulls in favor of Portugal (Romanus Pontifex, 1455; Inter Caetera, 1456; and Aeterni Regis, 1481) by which the Portuguese kingdom obtained legitimacy and monopoly, by virtue of spiritual and temporal privileges , to develop its expansion process in Africa. The signing of the Treaty of Alcaçovas he had sanctioned a distribution that would undergo modifications with Pope Alexander VI. The Pope, once the discovery of the new lands was known, would apply the rights in favor of Castile, in terms of exemptions, powers and donations. The four Columbian voyages (1492-1504) allowed the discovery -or encounter between cultures as it has also been called-, the initial task of colonization, exploration and even the first commercial contacts. This discovery company was carried out by private initiative while the Crown limited itself to giving a capitulation of conquest, that is, a license to an individual to begin the conquest of a certain territory.

A small Fernandina bureaucracy, led by Rodríguez de Fonseca and Lope de Cochinillos, would be in charge of organizing American affairs in its early days. In 1503, the Casa de Contratación was created in Seville in order to centralize commercial relations with the New World. From then on, and throughout the 16th century, Seville would become a populous city and one of the nerve centers of Castilian foreign trade, and its port the axis of an international crossroads formed by the triple confluence between Africa, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Only a decade later, in 1513, the distant lands of Florida were reached, by Ponce de León , and to the discovery of the South Sea that posed access to the Pacific , by Vasco Nunez de Balboa. A new continent, America, was expanding more and more in the eyes of Europeans.