The Spanish Empire at the Time of Philip II
Writing about history I can’t avoid remembering my first teacher, my father, aficionado historian who instilled on his children the love of history, to read only serious books by the most reliable authors no matter their divergent interpretations, and to search for answers also in the common people, the stones of our heritage and the diversity of our landscape. “To worship the truth”, said Unamuno; this was my father’s motto and it should be the guiding light of any student of history.
Growing up in Franco’s Spain, and attending a military school, we were not taught a glorifying version of the Spanish Empire. Against one could expect, we learned that part of our history in full details, with its lights and shadows. Certainly the lectures of our immediate past were another matter, but even here it was impossible to be misled. Decency was more prevalent that some may think.
Living outside my country I often come across a widespread ignorance of Spanish history, clouded with distortions and stereotypes even among the educated. Ironically, much of that tergiversation mirrors a fragmented and biased knowledge of their own history. The problem is usually compounded by a lack of interest, by indifference.
History is as fascinating as it is difficult. Manipulation in the schools for “tribal” or ideological reasons has been common. Then there come the difficulties of any scientific discipline, of researching facts and handling sources, of having good judgment. Nowadays we must add publishers’ induced errors, which stem from of view of the reader as a consumer and for cutting the costs of professional editors.
Knowing the past, including the darkest pages of every people’s history, is indispensable for every society and in international relations. We can only build upon that knowledge to move forward, of course, also accepting and knowing what the positive that past has.
I would like to share with the readers of Beyond Thirty-Nine a review of the book by Hugh Thomas, World Without End. The Global Empire of Philip II, which I have published in The Asian Review of Books. Having this book as reference, I tried to tackle the topic from a less familiar angle. This was also an opportunity to mention some little known aspects of the early relations between China and Spain. This article is partly fruit of my extracurricular studies (where I put my heart, more than in my law studies). Fresh in my memory, I want to pay homage to my masters, the late D. Vicente Rodríguez Casado and D. Luis Suárez Fernández, fondly, with appreciation.