Hugh Thomas shows Spain at the dawn of the sixteenth century as a world power on the brink of greatness. Her monarchs, Fernando and Isabel, had retaken Granada from Islam, thereby completing restoration of the entire Iberian peninsula to Catholic rule. Flush with success, they agreed to sponsor an obscure Genoese sailor’s plan to sail west to the Indies, where, legend purported, gold and spices flowed as if they were rivers. For Spain and for the world, this decision to send Christopher Columbus west was epochal—the dividing line between the medieval and the modern.
Spain’s colonial adventures began inauspiciously: Columbus’s meagerly funded expedition cost less than a Spanish princess’s recent wedding. In spite of its small scale, it was a mission of astounding scope: to claim for Spain all the wealth of the Indies. The gold alone, thought Columbus, would fund a grand Crusade to reunite Christendom with its holy city, Jerusalem.
The lofty aspirations of the first explorers died hard, as the pursuit of wealth and glory competed with the pursuit of pious impulses. The adventurers from Spain were also, of course, curious about geographical mysteries, and they had a remarkable loyalty to their country. But rather than bridging earth and heaven, Spain’s many conquests bore a bitter fruit. In their search for gold, Spaniards enslaved “Indians” from the Bahamas and the South American mainland. The eloquent protests of Bartolomé de las Casas, here much discussed, began almost immediately. Columbus and other Spanish explorers—Cortés, Ponce de León, and Magellan among them—created an empire for Spain of unsurpassed size and scope. But the door was soon open for other powers, enemies of Spain, to stake their claims.
Great men and women dominate these pages: cardinals and bishops, priors and sailors, landowners and warriors, princes and priests, noblemen and their determined wives.
Rivers of Gold is a great story brilliantly told. More significant, it is an engrossing history with many profound—often disturbing—echoes in the present.
The legacy of imperial Spain was shaped by many hands. But the dramatic human story of the extraordinary projection of Spanish might in the second half of the sixteenth century has never been fully told—until now. In World Without End, Hugh Thomas chronicles the lives, loves, conflicts, and conquests of the complex men and women who carved up the Americas for the glory of Spain.
Chief among them is the towering figure of King Philip II, the cultivated Spanish monarch whom a contemporary once called “the arbiter of the world.” Cheerful and pious, he inherited vast authority from his father, Emperor Charles V, but nevertheless felt himself unworthy to wield it. His forty-two-year reign changed the face of the globe forever. Alongside Philip we find the entitled descendants of New Spain’s original explorers—men who, like their king, came into possession of land they never conquered and wielded supremacy they never sought. Here too are the Roman Catholic religious leaders of the Americas, whose internecine struggles created possibilities that the emerging Jesuit order was well-positioned to fill.
With the sublime stories of arms and armadas, kings and conquistadors come tales of the ridiculous: the opulent parties of New Spain’s wealthy hedonists and the unexpected movement to encourage Philip II to conquer China. Finally, Hugh Thomas unearths the first indictments of imperial Spain’s labor rights abuses in the Americas—and the early attempts by its more enlightened rulers and planters to address them.
Written in the brisk, flowing narrative style that has come to define Hugh Thomas’s work, the final volume of this acclaimed trilogy stands alone as a history of an empire making the transition from conquest to inheritance—a history that Thomas reveals through the fascinating lives of the people who made it.
Praise for World Without End
“Readers will not find a more reliable guide to the maturing Spanish Empire. . . . World Without End reminds us that the far-flung Spanish Empire was the work of many minds and hands, and by the end their myriad stories carry a cumulative charge.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A sweeping, encyclopedic history of the arrogance, ambition, and ideology that fueled the quest for empire.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Literary power is a vital part of a great historian’s armoury. As in his earlier books, Thomas demonstrates here that he has this in abundance.”—Financial Times
“A vivid climax to Hugh Thomas’s three-volume history of imperial Spain.”—The Telegraph
“Thomas clearly excels in the Spanish history of religion, politics, and culture, [and] successfully shows that Spain’s global ambition knew no bounds.”—Publishers Weekly
From the Hardcover edition.
Ringing with the fury of two great empires locked in an epic battle, Conquest captures in extraordinary detail the Mexican and Spanish civilizations and offers unprecedented in-depth portraits of the legendary opponents, Montezuma and Cortés. Conquest is an essential work of history from one of our most gifted historians.
The Golden Empire also presents the legendary men whom King Charles V sent on perilous and unprecedented expeditions: Hernán Cortés, who ruled the “New Spain” of Mexico as an absolute monarch—and whose rebuilding of its capital, Tenochtitlan, was Spain’s greatest achievement in the sixteenth century; Francisco Pizarro, who set out with fewer than two hundred men for Peru, infamously executed the last independent Inca ruler, Atahualpa, and was finally murdered amid intrigue; and Hernando de Soto, whose glittering journey to settle land between Rio de la Palmas in Mexico and the southernmost keys of Florida ended in disappointment and death. Hugh Thomas reveals as never before their torturous journeys through jungles, their brutal sea voyages amid appalling storms and pirate attacks, and how a cash-hungry Charles backed them with loans—and bribes—obtained from his German banking friends.
A sweeping, compulsively readable saga of kings and conquests, armies and armadas, dominance and power, The Golden Empire is a crowning achievement of the Spanish world’s foremost historian.
From the Hardcover edition.
La isla de Cuba fue, desde la segunda mitad del siglo XVIII, un territorio clave para el control del tráfico marítimo de las rutas hacia el Nuevo Mundo. Su privilegiada situación geográfica y la mezcla de culturas y tradiciones han hecho de esta pequeña isla un lugar esencial en el Caribe. Hugh Thomas examina su historia desde la captura de La Habana por parte de los ingleses en 1762 hasta la llegada de la revolución de Fidel Castro y la crisis de los misiles con Estados Unidos en los años sesenta, ofreciendo una visión general de la historia de la isla caribeña y de la forja de su carácter nacional.
Con un singular talento narrativo, y sin olvidar los hechos simbólicos y los detalles que constituyen la intrahistoria de una nación, el texto recorre más de dos siglos de historia, que incluyen la dominación de ingleses, españoles y estadounidenses, la lucha por la independencia, la caída de la dictadura de Fulgencio Batista, la llegada al poder de los «barbudos» liderados por Fidel Castro y el inicio de las conflictivas relaciones con Estados Unidos que perviven hoy en día.
«Da la impresión de que Thomas ha hablado con todos los que no han muerto o están encerrados, y de que lo ha leído todo. Es escrupulosamente imparcial.»