Reading History: The Decline of Spain

Geoffrey Parker looks at the Decline of Spain.

It is not often that middle-aged academics are able to recommend to students the works that they themselves used as undergraduates but, for better or worse, the decline of Spain in the seventeenth century is still dominated by vintage items from the '60s and even before. The two best introductions are still probably Pierre Vilar's brief article, 'The Age of Don Quixote', first published in 1956 and reprinted more accessibly in P. Earle, ed., Essays in European economic history 1500-1800 (Oxford University Press, 1974), and John Elliott's slightly longer 'The Decline of Spain', Past and Present , 20 (1961), reprinted in T. Aston, ed., Crisis in Europe 1560–1660 (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965). These articles did not open up a virgin terrain to the historian's plough – far from it, for in the seventeenth century itself many contemporary observers wrote tracts speculating on why Spanish power had diminished. And yet, in recent years, the subject has attracted more attention than ever before.

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