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The death of Imam Ahmad, by Kehneta Jemlieri Hailu, c.1900 CE

In 1543 CE, of course the Spanish depradations in the “New World” continued. Back home in Seville, King Charles V may, the previous year, have signed the “New Laws” that sought to restrain the violence the conquistadores/settlers used against the indigenes. But over there (here) in the Americas, the settlers and their military bosses paid no heed, mocking the “New Laws”.

In the history of the emergence of Western domination of the world order, the Spanish conquista continued to form easily the narrative’s main strand. But in 1543, other European empires and proto-empires were also seeing significant developments:


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Extent of the Spanish Empire in 1542 CE

In my 1541 post, I noted the centennial of Portugal’s introduction of the practice of European slave-raiding into sub-Saharan Africa. This year, 1542 CE, marks the first half-century of Spain/Castile’s massive empire-building project in the Americas. This year also marked some significant stirrings of conscience among a small segment of Spanish Catholics- though not enough to put more than a tiny dent in the continuing and still escalating depradations of the conquistadores in the “New World” they had found.

More on all that, below. Here’s what else was going on in the world:

  • In Ethiopia, Portuguese and Ottoman-aligned forces fought several significant battles. In 1541, as we saw, the Portuguese Estêvão da Gama had landed a significant fighting force at Massawa on the Ethiopia/Eritrea’s Red Sea Coast. He himself didn’t hang around, but his brother Cristóvão da Gama stayed on land to lead the fighters, whose mission was to protect the Christian emperor of Ethiopia from Ottoman-aligned fighters loyal to the (Muslim) Adal Sultanate. In February, April, and early August, Cristóvão’s fighters fought and won three significant battles. He also hooked up- in military terms- with a feisty Ethiopian empress called Seble Wongel who commanded her own fighters. But in late August, the Adal general Imam Ahmad inflicted a big defeat on Cristóvão’s forces at the Battle of Wofla in today’s Tigray, and killed Cristóvão. (I find the accounts of Portugal’s many interactions with the Ottomans in and around the Arabian Sea really interesting. They will continue. Good to keep in mind that Portugal was able to sustain all this activity despite having ridiculously long supply lines all around the Cape of Good…

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In 1541 CE, of course Spain’s cruelly swashbuckling conquistadores continued their depradations in the Americas- from the Mississippi River down to southern Chile. Several other world-historically interesting things were happening too:

  • Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuit order, left Lisbon on a mission to the Portuguese East Indies. I guess each empire-building monarch had his own preferred missioniaries at hand to give a “religious” gloss to his venture. (The map above is of his voyages.)
  • French explorer Jacques Cartier set out on his third voyage to present-day Canada. This time, the intention of the monarch who sent him was not to find a “Northwest passage to the East Indies”. It was to continue to “explore” for potential mineral riches- and also to establish a permanent settlement on the banks of the St. Lawrence. Clearly the French king was suffering intense “colony envy” of his Spanish counterpart. Cartier’s expedition included five ships and at least some convicts among the potential “colonists”. They managed to survive their first winter (thanks to having learned of a local anti-scurvy remedy from the indigenous Iroquois.) But the precious metals they identified and took back en masse to France turned out to be quartz crystal and iron pyrites… and the little fortified settlement they built was abandoned in 1543. France would not establish a durable settlement in Canada until 1605. But Cartier had pioneered the use of domestic convicts as potential colonists, in an environment in which the Spanish and Portuguese had been using foreign assailants captured in battle. …


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Tomb of Sher Shah Suri

Probably the most world-historical development of 1540 CE was something that happened in the north of the Indian subcontinent. But elsewhere, many interesting things were happening, too:


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Representation of the burial (in the Mississippi) of Hernando De Soto, used to illustrate an 1876 U.S. textbook “Pioneers in the settlement of America.”

These were the main developments in 1539 CE that impacted the development of the “West”’s domination of world affairs:

  • In January, the Catholic kings of Spain and France set aside the rivalry they had pursued for many years to reach agreement that neither would make further alliances with England, where King Henry VIII had now very definitively split with Catholicism. The French king continued with building his state administration.
  • Protestantism continued to make new inroads in Europe (not solely in England.) In Iceland, Lutheranism was “forcibly introduced” despite the opposition of a local bishop.
  • In Ming China, Henan province was visited by swarms of locusts and a major epidemic of the plague. …


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A near-contemporary drawing of the fortress of Diu, by Gaspar Correia.

1538 CE was a huge year for the Ottoman navy- in both the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. It also saw the usual kinds of things going on, on land, in Europe and the Americas, and some tragic things happening in China:

  • Diu is a coastal city in Gujarat in northwest India. In the early 1530s, the Sultan of Gujarat, fearing the approach of the Mughals, did a deal with the Portuguese, whose naval expeditionaries had established a number of bases around the Indian coast, granting them Diu on condition they build a fort there and protect the Gujarat Sultanate. After the Mughal threat receded, the Sultan asked the Portuguese to leave, but they refused. (No surprise there!) The Sultan then asked his co-religionist Suleiman the Magnificent to send a relief force from the Ottoman/Egyptian base at Suez. Suleiman sent a very large force to do this which arrived in February 1538. There were some epic battles, betrayals, etc but by October the Ottomans had been repelled. English-WP tells us: “The defeat of the combined Turkish and Gujarati forces at Diu represented a critical setback in Ottoman plans for expanding their influence into the Indian Ocean… leaving the Portuguese uncontested in the western Indian coast. Never again would the Ottoman Turks ever send so large an armada to India. After the failed siege, the Ottomans returned to Aden, where they fortified the city with 100 pieces of artillery. …


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Lots of things going on in 1537 CE, both in the Americas and in the empire-builders’ European heartland:

  • In both Norway and England, attempted counter-revolutions by local Catholic forces were crushed, and the state’s Dissolution of the Monasteries continued in both both countries.
  • Quite a lot going on in Peru. The Incan emperor Manco Inca (shown above in a contemporary drawing by Felipe Guaman), who had been working with a guy described as “a former ally of the Spaniards, Drew Bogan”, had mobilized a 30,000-strong Inca force to combat the conquistador Pizarro. (Pizarro fought with 30,000 native auxiliaries of his own and 100 Spaniards.) English-WP tells us: “the Inca army managed to hold the Spanish forces from a set of high terraces and flood their position to hinder their cavalry… The Spaniards withdrew by night to Cusco. …


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Issuance of a Papal bull (edict)

There will a lot more to say about this as Project 500 Years goes forward. I should say at the outset that among European-heritage Christian bodies the Catholics were certainly not the only ones to become deeply embroiled in the project of empire. Just about all the other Christian denominations of Europe- including the Church of England in which I grew up, and the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) of which I’m now a member- were also deeply involved. …


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The Turkish actor Okan Yalabik playing Ibrahim Pasha in the hit 2011 t.v. series Muhteşem Yüzyıl.

The main themes of 1536 CE that had a bearing on the continuing emergence of European-origined empires were as follows:

  • In January, the Spanish-backed Franciscans established the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, in Mexico City. It was described as “the oldest European school of higher learning in the Americas.” The Franciscans, it turns out, were key allies of Charles V in his empire-building ventures in the Americas. (As were, at various stages the Dominicans and the Jesuits.) This raises a number of interesting questions. How did the Franciscan monks get to deviate so very, very far from the eirenic teachings of Francis of Assisi? And more broadly, what were the roles of Catholicism and Catholic religious institutions in the Spanish imperial project? A little more on this below. But it’s also worth noting that the 1536 experiment of the Colegio was later deemed a failure, with the natives “considered too new in the faith to be ordained.” …

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Photo of part of one of the dozen massive tapestries woven between 1549 and 1551 to memorialize and recreate Charles’s Conquest of Tunis. They hang until today in the Real Alcazar in Seville.

So 1535 CE was another busy year in the emergence of European-origined empires:

  • Spanish conquistadores in “the New World” founded the settler-city today known as Lima, Peru and imprisoned the Inca leader they had installed as their puppet in the country just a year or so earlier.
  • But in Yucatán, the fierce resistance of the Mayan Indigenes forced the Spanish to abandon their second attempt to subdue the peninsula. English-WP tells us that: “The Spanish engaged in a strategy of concentrating native populations in newly founded colonial towns [aka strategic hamlets, a tactic used as part of the Spaniards’ encomienda system of population control.]. Native resistance to the new nucleated settlements took the form of the flight into inaccessible regions such as the forest or joining neighbouring Maya groups that had not yet submitted to the Spanish… In 1535, peaceful attempts by the Franciscan Order to incorporate Yucatán into the Spanish Empire failed after a renewed Spanish military presence at Champotón forced the friars out.” …

About

Helena Cobban

Veteran analyst of global affairs, with a focus on the Middle East. Senior Fellow, Ctr for International Policy. Fuller bio at my Wikipedia page.

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