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The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change: 1598-1700.

The history of seventeenth-century Spain typically reads like the denouement of a classical tragedy. From the high point of its imperial power during the late sixteenth-century, Spain experienced a century of prolonged and inexorable decline. As John Lynch recounted the story in the second volume of his Spain Under the Habsburgs, published in 1969, Spain's tragic flaw was that its "society and economy were built on the twin foundations of land and silver, Castilian agriculture and American mining," both of which collapsed during the course of the seventeenth-century. In the revised edition of this work, now more aptly entitled, The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change, Lynch recounts the same story in much the same way. He has "not sought to alter the essential character and framework" of the first edition "apart from finer tuning,... the hypotheses and speculations that were inherent in it ..." (x). In the process of including the fruits of just over two decades of further historical labour into his work, Lynch has found it possible to reaffirm and strengthen some of his earlier "hypotheses and speculations" and necessary to moderate or modify others. But on the whole he has left the character and thrust of Spain Under the Habsburgs, volume II, substantially unchanged.

Basic to both editions is Lynch's insistence on the essential interdependence of Spain and her American colonies. His central thesis is that while seventeenth-century Spain and Spanish America suffered from the deleterious effects of recession and profound economic change, overall the colonies suffered less and emerged stronger than the mother country. For Lynch, the resulting transfer of economic power from Spain to the Indies constituted Spanish America's "first emancipation" (p. 286). In the new edition, this thesis has been both moderated and expanded. What the author originally referred to as New Spain's century of "depression" and economic "collapse," for example, has now been scaled down to its century of "recession" and economic "pause." He also now gives far greater credit to the American colonists, particularly the Peruvians, in transforming their economy and reversing the lines of dependence with Spain. Although the revisions in these sections of Lynch's text are significant, neither the main lines of his argument nor his major conclusions are fundamentally changed.

This patter of revision holds true of other sections of Lynch's study as well. For example in his treatment of the economy and society of Spain he has added new detail and either softened or strengthened some of his original speculations and conclusions, but the overall thrust of his analysis remains the same. In the 1969 edition Lynch speculated, on a paucity of evidence, that Spain's economy revived in the late seventeenth-century. Subsequent historical research, especially the work of Henry Kamen, has transformed speculation into substantiated interpretation. Yet, Lynch's central conclusion remains unaltered: over the course of the seventeenth-century Spain's economy declined relative both to those of northern Europe and the Americas.

Revision where necessary but not necessarily revision is even more true of Lynch's treatment of political history. Two examples will suffice. In the preface to The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change Lynch notes that: "the attributes of Habsburg government in its middle phase are now more clearly observed, its kings and their subjects better understood." In particular "The reign of Philip III has been brought onto centre stage ..." (ix). Despite this claim, his chapter on "the Government of Philip III" remains essentially unchanged from the original and Philip remains as peripheral and unappreciated as before. Secondly, in his treatment of politics and constitutional change, Lynch exhibits his awareness of current reinterpretations of the role of parliamentary institutions in Spanish political life, most notably in Castile. However, he incorporates these findings into his revised text in a disappointingly piecemeal and undigested way. The result is contradiction. For example in one part of the revised text he notes that both Philip Ill and Philip IV mere forced by rising defence costs to have "lengthy recourse to the cortes in search of new taxes" and that during the former's reign "the cortes encroached further on the royal prerogative" (p. 123). Nevertheless elsewhere he cites Philip III's absolute aversion to seeking new taxes (p. 45) and comments on the "defunct as ever" nature of Spanish constitutionalism (p. 164).

Lynch's decision to work within the framework, both conceptual and textual, of Spain Under the Habsburgs, volume II, is, consequently, somewhat questionable. The work made a significant contribution in its time. Updated and somewhat revised, it remains valuable. However in certain areas a more serious rethinking of established interpretations is now required than the straight-jacket imposed by "the framework and character" of a 1969 study will allow.
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Author:Jago, Charles J.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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