In 1580, the year of Drake’s return to England, Spain literally bestrode the world, from the Americas where she had established cities, cathedrals,
Shipyards and the new printing presses that were weaving the first crude model of today’s electronic internet,
to the Philippines beyond the formidable far reaches of the Pacific-across which she ran a regularly scheduled annual packet service.
Added to this were the incredibly rich Portuguese settlements now stretching from the Spice Islands to Malaysia, India, the Persian Gulf and West Africa.
From the Indies vessels came around the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa-which Portugal’s great navigator.
Dias had rounded just under JOO years before-and so to the Gold Coast(today’s Ghana)
And then home by way of the offshore “Guinea tack” to the Azores (Portuguese then, as now) and downhill in westerlies and coastal northerlies to Iberia,
home base of the two monarchies.
Iberia, liberated from the 800-year Moorish occupation 88 years earlier, now served as the launching pad for the world ‘s first oceanic worldwide empire.
The Iberians, led by the innovative Portuguese, had mobilized the growing capabilities of Renaissance Europe to achieve this feat.
Seamen like Columbus, bankers from the Italian city states, Islamic mathematicians,
and ship developments ranging from the all-important magnetic compass to the lateen rig, as well as Italian and German artillerymen,
and even the English knights-errant of the Crusades from 1200 onward, had each played their parts in forging this formidable,
world-girdling sea power, audaciously led by Portuguese and Spanish who had mastered everything, or almost everything, they ‘d been taught by all comers to this crossroads of the oceanic world,
and by their own tough experience reconquering their land from the hitherto invincible armies of Islam.
If there were any doubt as to how well the Spanish, the dominant partners in the newly united Spanish and Portuguese empires,
had learned their lessons, surely it was decisively put away by the overwhelming victory of a Spanish-led fleet against the Islamic Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.
It is all too easy to read into past events meanings which only became real in light of later developments.
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