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About the Author

Henry Kamen obtained his doctorate at Oxford and has been a professor at universities in Britain, Spain and the United States. He is emeritus of the Higher Council for Scientific Research, Spain, and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, London. An eminent authority on Spanish history, he has show more written over twenty studies in the field, including Philip of Spain (1997), Spain's Road to Empire (2002), and The Escorial (2010) and The Spanish Inquisition (new edition, 2014). show less

Works by Henry Kamen

Philip of Spain (1997) 307 copies
The Duke of Alba (2004) 97 copies
European Society, 1500-1700 (1984) 40 copies
The rise of toleration (1967) 39 copies
Golden Age Spain (1988) 21 copies
W. Churchill 1 copy

Associated Works

Spain: A History (1994) — Contributor — 205 copies


Common Knowledge

Legal name
Kamen, Henry Arthur Francis
Places of residence
Rangoon, Burma (birth)
Oxford University (St. Antony's)



Long before there was a Britain to have an empire upon which the sun never set, Spain established a presence that spanned the globe. From the Caribbean and Central America to the Philippines, the Spanish empire thrived as the first expression of European global dominance — an achievement even more remarkable when set against the unpromising circumstances from which it started. How Spain achieved this is the subject of Henry Kamen's book. A longtime scholar of Spanish history, Kamen marshals a career of study to explain the nature of Spain's dominance, one that he reveals is all too often misunderstood.

At the core of this misunderstanding is the nature of Spain itself. Kamen begins by highlighting the often-overlooked fact that in the 15th century "Spain" was an abstraction consisting of a collection of Iberian territories united only by a common monarchy. Because of this, the monarchs were constrained in their ability to deploy Spanish resources to achieving their goals. Fortunately for them, their resources were not confined to Spain alone. One of Kamen's main contentions is that the "Spanish" empire was actually more of a pan-European one, as Spain's leaders in the 15th and 16th centuries frequently drew upon the resources of their extended empire —including Italy, the Netherlands, and the Holy Roman Empire —to finance and staff their presence throughout much of Europe

While this mobilization was key to Spain's presence in Europe, their overseas empire was more of a purely Spanish operation. Because of this, as Kamen makes clear, their control was far less secure than their cartographic assertions made it appear. Spain's "empire" in the New World was concentrated mainly in the Caribbean, Mexico, Peru, and a few other coastal regions, while their control over the Philippines was limited mainly to their outpost in Manila. Much of this depended upon cooperation with (or co-option of) local elites, further underscoring the non-Spanish nature of Spanish control. While effective and profitable, this structure came under increasing strain as European competitors emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, first to displace Spanish dominance in Europe, then to undercut Spain's presence in the wider world. Though the Spanish fought back against this, Kamen makes it clear that their efforts were ultimately unsustainable with their traditional imperial structure, forcing them to follow the example of their competitors and establish more of a truly "Spanish" empire by the 18th century.

Kamen ends his book short of Spain's loss of their Latin American empire early in the 19th century. While he makes it clear that the writing was on the wall by that point, it is unfortunate he did not carry his analysis forward to that point, for he has provided a superb overview of the rise and decline of Spain's empire in Europe and elsewhere. It does so by blending the political, social, cultural and economic history together, showing the multifacted interactions that defined Spain and the Spanish presence in the world. While this comes at the understandable cost of a lack of coverage of events within Spain itself, supplementing this book with a national survey covering these years (such as J. H. Elliot's classic [b:Imperial Spain, 1469-1716|1599538|Imperial Spain, 1469-1716|J.H. Elliott|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1450599976s/1599538.jpg|2579383] or Kamen's own [b:Spain, 1469-1714|1464634|Spain, 1469-1714 A Society of Conflict|Henry Kamen|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1375671948s/1464634.jpg|1455535] fills this gap nicely, giving readers a good understanding of Spain and its "Golden Age" of global preeminence.
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MacDad | 2 other reviews | Mar 27, 2020 |
Though he ruled over Spain at the peak of its "Golden Age" of power and influence, Philip II has long suffered from a negative historical image. Henry Kamen's book seeks to address this by providing a rounded portrait of a conscientious and diligent monarch, one who was surprisingly modern in many respects. Kamen succeeds in describing both the grandeur of Philip's reign and the many challenges he faced as a monarch, from perennially impoverished treasury to the unrest and rebellion in the Netherlands. Yet the biography suffers from a lack of analysis: space used to detail innumerable processions and court intrigues would have been better spent explaining the operations of Philip's government or the factors underlying the problems he faced. This limits Kamen's achievement with this book, which demonstrates the need for a better understanding of this important ruler without fully meeting the demand for it.… (more)
MacDad | 5 other reviews | Mar 27, 2020 |
Interesting biography of a very French prince (grandson of Louis XIV) who ruled as the first Bourbon King of Spain in the first half of the 18th century. Philip was earnest and hard-working and took the interests of his new dominion to heart, but in his adulthood he was plagued with a severe mental illness which the author Kamen believes (credibly) to have been bi-polar disorder. As a result of his often debilitating episodes, the King's efforts to steer Spain toward a financially sound future were significantly hindered. (The personal was the political, even in the 18th century.)

To help him through his often paralyzing mood swings, Philip V relied to an exceptional degree upon his consort Queens, who exerted political power to an unusual degree: his first wife the remarkable Marie Louise of Savoy, the second the equally indomitable Elizabeth Farnese. Because they were foreign, intelligent, and politically savvy, the Queens were the subject of considerable opposition and scurrilous rumor-mongering. Kamen admirably humanizes the royal subjects of his study, and strengthens the book with a deep knowledge of the primary economic and literary sources for the era.
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1 vote
yooperprof | 1 other review | Jan 3, 2017 |


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