The history of the Spanish Empire during the Age of Exploration is filled with tales of exploitation and enslavement, all done for the glory of the Empire. This is known as the Black Legend.
The Black Legend
The Black Legend is a style of propaganda that criticizes the Spanish Empire, first described by Julian Juderias in his book, The Black Legend and Historical Truth. The legend infers that no good came of the period of exploration except for the gains of the Spanish. In this lesson, we’ll examine how the following claims applied to the Spanish Empire and the Black Legend:
- Being exploitative
The word ‘cruelty’ may be a little tame when it comes to the Black Legend. In the further exploration of the Western Hemisphere, when initially coming upon a village, the Spanish would issue a requerimiento, a document that was read to the natives, basically telling them that they were to do what they were told to do.
The majority of the natives were also used in the system called the encomienda system, which was essentially a system of forced labor. The Spanish first used this system after conquering the Moors in Spain. Since they were in a need of a cheap labor supply, this system worked. Many people were also enslaved for the good of the Spanish Empire.
The Spanish Empire was in perfect position to exploit whosoever they saw fit. Once the Spanish had established their dominance, the conquistadors considered the forced labor of the natives to be tribute. Basically, the natives were enslaved and got nothing for their labor but their lives.
The Spanish believed they gave the natives the right to work the land as a way to pay tribute to them. After all, tribute was then paid to the Crown, and the conquistadors and later landowners needed their cut of the profit, too.The Spanish did allow the natives to work a small portion of the land to feed themselves.
However, when first used in the West Indies, this system basically destroyed the native population. Sadly, millions of natives died in the Americas from the labor exploitation and disease brought by the Spanish Empire.
The Spanish felt that they were ordained by God to take possession of lands in the New World, control the natives, exploit them if necessary, and even to fight the natives. Those who resisted were believed to be defying God.
Catholic theology was used to justify their conquests as the natives were seen as without proper religious instruction.However, the Spanish were not more self-righteous in their explorations than they were at home. In order to solidify the Spanish Empire, the King got permission from the Pope to carry out an inquisition.
Any non-Catholic was subject to be tried for heresy. The people would give the names of supposed heretics to officials, who would have them judged by a tribunal. They were given a choice to repent and become Catholic, be jailed, or be burned at the stake.
The Black Legend refers to the idea that the Spanish Empire was only out for its own gain and tells us that during this time, the Spanish were power-hungry conquerors that took what they wanted and had little concern for the natives.
The natives are argued to have gained nothing while the Spanish gained everything. The Spanish Empire was cruel when it wanted to be and exploitative to any it saw fit to be, while often believing in its own self-righteousness and thinking that God was on its side.