Distant Tyranny: Markets, Power, and Backwardness in Spain, 1650-1800

Distant Tyranny: Markets, Power, and Backwardness in Spain, 1650-1800

Distant Tyranny: Markets, Power, and Backwardness in Spain, 1650-1800

Distant Tyranny: Markets, Power, and Backwardness in Spain, 1650-1800


Spain's development from a premodern society into a modern unified nation-state with an integrated economy was painfully slow and varied widely by region. Economic historians have long argued that high internal transportation costs limited domestic market integration, while at the same time the Castilian capital city of Madrid drew resources from surrounding Spanish regions as it pursued its quest for centralization. According to this view, powerful Madrid thwarted trade over large geographic distances by destroying an integrated network of manufacturing towns in the Spanish interior.

Challenging this long-held view, Regina Grafe argues that decentralization, not a strong and powerful Madrid, is to blame for Spain's slow march to modernity. Through a groundbreaking analysis of the market for bacalao --dried and salted codfish that was a transatlantic commodity and staple food during this period--Grafe shows how peripheral historic territories and powerful interior towns obstructed Spain's economic development through jurisdictional obstacles to trade, which exacerbated already high transport costs. She reveals how the early phases of globalization made these regions much more externally focused, and how coastal elites that were engaged in trade outside Spain sought to sustain their positions of power in relation to Madrid.

Distant Tyranny offers a needed reassessment of the haphazard and regionally diverse process of state formation and market integration in early modern Spain, showing how local and regional agency paradoxically led to legitimate governance but economic backwardness.


“SPAIN IS DIFFERENT.” Many Spaniards and quite a few non-Spaniards over the age of forty remember this slogan. It appeared on brochures and posters distributed by the Franco regime to entice tourists to spend their valuable hard currency on Spain’s beautiful beaches. They came in the millions. The advertising campaign was so successful because it basically affirmed what in the 1960s Spaniards and non-Spaniards alike thought of as an obvious truth: Spain was not really a European country at all. When in 1975 at the start of the transition to democracy the new Spanish king Juan Carlos I declared that the “The idea of Europe would be incomplete without reference to the presence of the Spaniard … and we Spaniards are Europeans,” it was for his audience a bold statement of ambition rather than an obvious fact.

This book is an attempt to return the history of Spain in the long eighteenth century to where I think it belongs: at the very heart of European history. Its objective is twofold: first, to explain the painful slowness and regional diversity in the development of Spain toward a nation-state and toward a domestically integrated economy within a European context; and second, to explore what the history of nation-state building and marketbuilding in Spain can teach us about our established models of European states and markets. The argument is simple. If we stop thinking about Spain as somehow outside the European norm, we can first of all understand Spain better. Second we can revisit whether there was a European norm, and if so, what kind of norm historians should consider more generally.

The main focus of this book is the historical political economy of Spain. At the core of European political-economic development in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries are the twin processes of the emergence of the nationstate and the creation of nationally unified markets. The chapters that follow offer a revisionist view of how these processes proceeded in Spain. They are underpinned by an approach that integrates social and political history into the economic analysis in order to understand the complexities of historical development more fully. Methodologically the research thus consciously straddles the boundaries of academic disciplines in the social sciences and the humanities.

At the same time, this interdisciplinary examination of Spanish history challenges the currently dominant model world within which political economy and historical sociology analyze nation-state building and market integration in general. Some of the fundamental assumptions of our existing models are patently inapplicable to Spain. This book hence also offers an

Wattley Ames, Spain Is Different.

Cited in Preston and Smyth, Spain, the EEC and NATO, 24. Cf. Hontanilla, “Images,”

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.