J. H. Elliott is Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History at Oxford. His most recent book is History in the Making.

Mexicans, Spaniards, Incas, and Their Art

Anonymous Cuzco artist: Virgin of Cocharcas, circa 1730–1750
On August 10, 1519, five ships, under the command of Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese captain in Spanish service, set out from Seville on an epic voyage that would end on September 6, 1522, when the Victoria, with eighteen survivors on board, limped back into Seville, having circumnavigated the globe. Meanwhile …

The Huge, Ignored Uprising in the Andes

Tupac Amaru II, the late-eighteenth-century leader of the Peruvian rebellion against the Spanish crown
Between 1780 and 1782, when the rebellion of the British colonists in North America was reaching its climax, a still more savage drama was being played out in South America. The Andes were in revolt, and Spain, like Britain, was faced with the prospect of losing one of its most …

Queens Against the Flow

Catherine of Aragon after the death of her first husband, Prince Arthur, in 1502 and before her marriage to Henry VIII in 1509; painting by Michiel Sittow, circa 1503–1505
“Some characters appear to triumph with history; some to be overwhelmed by it.” It was with these words that Garrett Mattingly, the American historian of early modern European diplomacy whose book on the defeat of the Spanish Armada brought him international fame, began his classic biography of Catherine of Aragon, …

How They Made the Empire

Siblings John and Betty Johnstone with their grandniece Margaret Wedderburn; painting by Henry Raeburn, circa 1790–1795
In 1763 an impecunious Scottish naval officer, George Johnstone, who had served in the Seven Years’ War with a conspicuous lack of success, was appointed governor of the new British colony of West Florida, which had been ceded to Great Britain by Spain in the peace settlement of that year.

The Very Violent Road to America

Thomas Paine with a scroll of The Rights of Man, 1792
The greatest discovery made by the United States in the twentieth century was the discovery of its own diversity. If E pluribus unum remains, in its widest sense, an abiding aspiration, the country has been brought face to face with the fact that it contains within its borders a multiplicity of ethnicities and ethnic inheritances that the Founding Fathers could never have envisaged. In seeking to secure their own place in the sun, the different ethnic groups of which today’s United States is composed have also sought to claim their share of the past. Historians have responded by attempting to incorporate their stories into the traditional grand narrative and, in doing so, have broken it wide open.

Modernizing the Marranos

The year 1391 marked the opening of a new and terrible chapter in the history of the Jewish population of the Iberian peninsula. A tide of popular hatred, whipped up by Ferrán Martínez, archdeacon of Écija and a canon of Seville cathedral, engulfed one after another of the Jewish communities …

A Question of Coexistence

A Christian consulting an Arabic text during a chess game with a Muslim, in an illumination from the Libro de ajedrez, dados y tables (Book of Chess, Dice, and Tables) of Alfonso X the Learned, 1283; from The Arts of Intimacy
Step into the Great Mosque of Córdoba—the Mezquita—and you find yourself transported to a world in which time appears to stand still and space to be dissolved (see illustration on page 42). Everywhere you look, you are faced by long, receding vistas of columns, some 850 in all, from which …

The First Bolivarian Revolution

“José Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he had drowned.” In the arresting opening sentence of his poignant novel The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garcìa Márquez gives us our first glimpse of Simón Bolìvar …

Barbarians at the Gates

Every empire fears, but needs, the barbarians at its gates. For all the territory under its control and the overwhelming force at its command, there are lands and peoples on its edges impervious to its attractions and unwilling to submit. Untamed, and perhaps untamable, they represent the “Other,” hostile, threatening, …

The Reigns in Spain

“It would be an history of a large volume,” wrote Captain John Smith in his A Description of New England (1616), to recite the adventures of the Spaniards, and Portugals, their affronts, and defeats, their dangers and miseries; which with such incomparable honour and constant resolution, so far beyond belief, …

A Pan-American Flight

Do the Americas have a common history? The question seems first to have been posed in these words in 1941. It was chosen as the title for the English translation, published by the Pan American Union, of an article that originally appeared in Spanish under the title of “Hegel and …

Snakes in Paradise

Ever since the Huguenot pastor Jean de Léry recorded his impressions of the Tupinamba Indians in 1578,[^1] Brazil has proved to be a source of wonder and fascination to foreign observers. A land of captivating beauty and baffling contradictions, it has always eluded simple classification. Tropical paradise or the tristes …

The Enigma of Philip II

“If Philip possessed a single virtue it has eluded the conscientious research of the writer of these pages. If there are vices—as possibly there are—from which he was exempt, it is because it is not permitted to human nature to attain perfection even in evil.” John Lothrop Motley’s indictment of …

Going Baroque

In a famous presidential address delivered to the American Historical Association in 1932, Herbert Bolton challenged his fellow historians in the United States to move beyond national history and write an “Epic of Greater America.”[^1] Today Bolton’s address makes disappointing reading; but it has the great merit of raising a …

The Rediscovery of America

Now that we have bid a last lingering adiós to Columbus and his quincentennial,[^1] we can look back on a noisy, and sometimes productive, encounter. “Encounter,” indeed, has been the quintessential quincentennial word, displacing the once respectable but now suspect “discovery,” and firmly placing the emphasis, not (as in 1892) …

The World After Columbus

On September 9, 1522, eighteen gaunt men, candles in hand, walked barefooted to the shrine of Santa María de la Victoria in Seville to give thanks for their safe return. It was just over three years since they had commended themselves to the Virgin in that same shrine, on the …

Two Worlds and Two Wives

There is nothing like a bundle of legal documents for opening windows on the past. The initial stages can be unpromising. The bundle may perhaps carry on the cover a totally unknown name; you gingerly untie the ribbon, and turn over one or two documents, faded, moldering, partly illegible, for …

The Shivering of Empire

As we contemplate the vast historical changes unfolding around us, there is a certain fascination in looking back to earlier ages, when old empires were seen as threatened with collapse, while new ones took their place. This, too, was happening in the seventeenth century, when contemporaries speculated on the long-term …

A Question of Upbringing?

To write a royal biography in the dying years of the twentieth century looks at first blush like an almost willful exercise in nostalgia. How remote the majority of these figures of kings and queens now seem, trapped for all eternity by the starched protocol of the courts in which …

Concerto Barocco

A style, or an age? We all know (or think we know) a baroque building or painting or sculpture when we see one, but, after that, the difficulties begin. Since Burckhardt and Wölfflin first sought to identify and analyze a distinctive style of the baroque, generations of scholars in pursuit …

Conspicuous Consumption

A book with the title of Sweetness and Power suggests a belated attempt to solve the riddle of Samson. The riddle, it will be recalled, ran as follows: “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” For a great British public that has …

Mastering the Signs

Nineteen ninety-two will soon be upon us. Already the committees are being assembled, the foundations being approached, the first tentative projects discussed. Some will propose the construction of monuments; others, the publication of documents; and everyone will propose a conference. But do we need more monuments, or more documents? Do …

The Other Side of the World

Lisbon this summer provided the setting for a great international exhibition—the Council of Europe’s seventeenth exhibition of art, science, and culture—devoted to the Portuguese discoveries and Renaissance Europe. The exhibition was skillfully planned to take advantage of the splendid Lisbon waterfront, where houses, churches, and convents jostle for a view …

Rats or Cheese?

The plague of 1630—that plague so graphically depicted in Manzoni’s I Promessi Sposi—was carried into Italy by German soldiers in the Imperial army on their descent toward Mantua. From Milan it spread to Tuscany, which it reached in August, and it was soon ravaging Florence and the neighboring communes and …

Global Vision

For the best part of five centuries Western man’s vision of the world has been conditioned by the map. It was the advent of the printed map that made it possible for sixteenth-century Europeans to conceptualize global space, allowing them to replace an odd assortment of known details, vague impressions, …

Strangers and Brothers

The search for the origins of modern racism—the word but not the reality is a twentieth-century invention—has a way of leading back sooner or later to the sixteenth century. Understandably so, since this was the first great age of European overseas empire, and imperialism and racism have come to seem …

The Triumph of the Virgin of Guadalupe

Perhaps it is as well to begin with the story, since—rather oddly—Jacques Lafaye, the author of this fascinating book, never actually gets around to telling it. Between December 9 and December 12, 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to an Indian called Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac (now in …

Américainerie

To see ourselves’ as others see us can be a disconcerting experience, but at the age of two hundred it should be possible to absorb the shock. If the Bicentennial celebrations were to include nothing else than the remarkable exhibition of “The European Vision of America,” which opened on December …