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     English and Spanish colonialism


Both England and Spain had considerable overseas possessions for several centuries, something which justifies the label ‘empire’ in both cases. There are similarities and differences between the empires of both countries. Spain was first among the European powers to develop an empire in the New World (along with Portugal) and took possession of large parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America. England arrived on the scene about a hundred years later and began on small islands in the Caribbean and the eastern coast of North America.

Various Spanish possessions in the New World gained their independence in the nineteenth century, much earlier than did most possessions of Britain, except the United States which declared its independence in 1776.

Most of the early Spanish colonials were from the south of Spain, mainly from Andalucia (Seville, Cadiz and Huelva were major ports of departure) or some other provinces like Extremadura or Murcia. This meant that colonial Spanish had a distinctly southern flavour from the start. The first settlers from Britain came from various parts of Britain and also from Scotland and Ireland so that the linguistic input to the early colonies was much more heterogenous than in the case of Spain.

From the beginning Spain was concerned with exploiting its colonies for precious metals – gold and silver – and did not import large quantities of raw goods like sugar and tobacco as Britain did. Furthermore, Spain did not send large numbers of settlers out to the colonies but rather maintained an administrative and military presence at the overseas locations. Emigration to colonies for reason of religious persecution was not a motivating factor among the Spanish, who were all Catholic (the Jews and the Muslims had been expelled from Spain in the 15th century). Nor was land shortage as great a factor for the Spanish as it was in Britain and Ireland. Lastly, Spain did not experience famine with subsequent emigration as did Scotland and Ireland, triggering massive emigration.


The following presentation contains an overview of the development of the Spanish Empire with a comparison of the development of the British Empire. Click on the following link to open the file ‘The_Spanish_Empire.pdf’.

   The Spanish Empire