1494: How a Family Feud in Medieval Spain Divided the World in Half

Stephen R. Bown. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-61612-0
Historian Bown (Scurvy) offers an entertaining, though often repetitive, chronicle of intrigue, deception, and power struggles in the early modern world. When Columbus returned from the New World to Spain in 1493, Portugal’s King João II claimed that a series of papal decrees clearly guaranteed that these rich lands belonged to him. The Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella sent an envoy to Pope Alexander VI, and following the pope’s decree that Ferdinand, Isabella, and their heirs had exclusive rights to travel in and trade with Columbus’s newfound lands, Spain and Portugal signed the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. It extended an imaginary line on a north-south axis in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; Portugal retained all lands east of the line, and all lands to the west of the line were the Spain’s sole domain. As Bown points out, both nations benefited from this treaty; Portugal quickly grew rich from its monopoly on the trade routes to India and the Spice Islands, while Spain overtook the Aztec, Mayan, and Inca empires, shipping home vast quantities of gold. Bown’s captivating study presents a fresh glimpse into the origins of the age of exploration and conquest as other nations challenged the primacy of Spain and Portugal. 24 illus.; maps. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/14/2011
Release date: 02/14/2012
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