Momentous changes swept Spain in the fifteenth century. A royal marriage united Castile and Aragon, its two largest kingdoms. The last Muslim emirate on the Iberian Peninsula fell to Spanish Catholic armies. And conquests in the Americas were turning Spain into a great empire. Yet few in this period of flourishing Spanish power could define “Spain” concretely, or say with any confidence who were Spaniards and who were not. Speaking of Spain offers an analysis of the cultural and political forces that transformed Spain’s diverse peoples and polities into a unified nation.
Antonio Feros traces evolving ideas of Spanish nationhood and Spanishness in the discourses of educated elites, who debated whether the union of Spain’s kingdoms created a single fatherland (patria) or whether Spain remained a dynastic monarchy comprised of separate nations. If a unified Spain was emerging, was it a pluralistic nation, or did “Spain” represent the imposition of the dominant Castilian culture over the rest? The presence of large communities of individuals with Muslim and Jewish ancestors and the colonization of the New World brought issues of race to the fore as well. A nascent civic concept of Spanish identity clashed with a racialist understanding that Spaniards were necessarily of pure blood and “white,” unlike converted Jews and Muslims, Amerindians, and Africans.
Gradually Spaniards settled the most intractable of these disputes. By the time the liberal Constitution of Cádiz (1812) was ratified, consensus held that almost all people born in Spain’s territories, whatever their ethnicity, were Spanish.