The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXV.
THE TRANSFERENCE OF COLONIAL POWER TO THE
UNITED PROVINCES AND ENGLAND.

THE Papal Bull of Alexander VI, whatever its shortcomings, juridical or geographical, succeeded in its main object. Under it the colonial energies of Spain and Portugal were diverted to different channels. With the entrance, however, upon the world's stage of new sea Powers, hostile to Rome's spiritual authority and to its temporal champions, there could not but occur a disturbance of the existing settlement. The union of Portugal with Spain, in 1580, cleared the way for the struggle for colonial leadership. The Spanish colonial empire, although in some ways resting on rotten foundations, was for the most part impregnable against attacks by sea Powers. The islands, which were of course vulnerable, formed no great portion of the Spanish dominion. So long as war lasted Spain might indeed be robbed of the fruits of her colonies, and undoubtedly the crippling of her financial resources by the action of the sea Powers was the main cause of Spain's political impotence in the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, neither the United Provinces nor England were able to strike at the heart of her colonial system.

The Portuguese dominion was of a very different character. The existence of organised kingdoms in the East had prevented the full realisation of Albuquerque's ideals, and the basis of Portuguese influence was to be found in sea power. The Portuguese dominion, by passing into the hands of Spain, was laid open to attack on the part of the United Provinces and England, whose strength was on the sea. Moreover, the material interests of the United Provinces were attacked. Hitherto their ships had been allowed to call at Lisbon, and had secured the profit from the lucrative coasting trade with the European ports. With the closing of Lisbon to their ships the Netherlanders were confronted with the choice of either being deprived of the sinews of war, or else of seeking trade for themselves in the East. For years, however, caution was necessary, and the aggressive policy did not finally prevail till the foundation of the Dutch West India Company

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