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HOME PAGE - Mallorca Through the Ages - The 16th Century

The 16th Century

In 1499 an uprising by the Moors in Granada brought matters to a head and the right to practise Islam in Castile ended in 1502. While most Muslims converted, some headed for the Barbary Coast where they sought their vengeance. A raid against Mallorca by 40 Turkish galleys in 1512 was the start of over half a century of attacks. Two years later Sheredan Aruj al-Din (better known as Barbarossa or Redbeard) besieged Bougie in Algeria and the Viceroy of Mallorca had to raise a contingent of 800 soldiers to help rescue the town's garrison. Practising Islam was banned in Mallorca in 1525 and again some emigrated to the Barbary Coast with vengeance on their minds.

Charles I of Spain (1516-1555)

Ferdinand died in 1516 and his daughter Joanna 'the Mad' was bypassed in favour of her 16 year-old son Charles, King of Castile, Lord of the Netherlands, Duke of Burgundy and Archduke of Austria. On the death of his grandfather three years later, taxpayers funded his bid to be the Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of most of Europe and many overseas colonies. In 1520 he was crowned Charles V and the Pope confirmed his title in 1530.

The Spanish nobles began plotting in his absence while burghers and the middle classes rioted in several cities against rising taxes and corrupt officials. Matters came to a head in 1521, when the Germania, or Brotherhoods, rose against the nobility in Valencia following poor harvests. Brotherhoods were also formed in Mallorca and you can find out about the war on the island on the Brotherhoods Uprising webpage.

Charles had no interest in Mallorca, or indeed Spain, and spent most of his time waging expensive wars against the French and the Protestant Dutch and German princes. His only contribution was to raise taxes to pay for them. Droughts and famines and piracy only added to the island's problems as a deep economic depression set in.

16th century mallorca
Charles I of Spain was also the
Holy Roman Emperor.
16th century mallorca
One of over 80 watchtowers built around Mallorca's coastline.

Mallorca was getting poorer and people were leaving. The population had fallen to 55,000, the same level as it was when James II encouraged people to come to the island 200 years earlier. The island's merchant fleet and dockyard were finished because the trade routes had moved to northern Europe, the Atlantic and the New World. Piracy replaced trade and the Ottoman Empire wanted to capture the Mallorca so they could use it as a base to attack mainland Spain. Check out the Watchtowers and Pirates webpage to learn how Mallorca defended itself against the pirate raids.

After over 30 years of warfare, Charles's campaign in northern Europe was not going well and when the Lutheran princes allied with France in 1552, he had to escape from Innsbruck. Three years later he made peace with Germany having bankrupted Spain and its Empire. In 1556 Charles summoned his brother Ferdinand and nephew Phillip to Brussels and abdicated before heading back to Spain where he died two years later.

Philip II (1556-1597)

Ferdinand was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1558, taking control of large parts of Europe. Ferdinand's son Philip (husband of Mary I of England, otherwise known as 'Bloody Mary') inherited the Spanish Empire (including the American colonies), the Duchy of Burgundy, the Netherlands and parts of Italy. While he made peace with France in 1559, he was the head of a bankrupt Empire.

While Spain was in financial difficulties there was a Catholic revival, or Counter Reformation, across Spain and the Inquisition flourished, stifling free thought and debate. While the war against the Protestants was over, Phillip went on the offensive against the Ottoman Empire in 1560 only to see the first Spanish-Italian expedition against Tripoli to fail. While Dragut the Turkish Admiral renewed attacks on Christian shipping and raided Mallorca, Spain regrouped and found new allies.

16th century mallorca
Phillip II inherited a bankrupt Empire.
16th century mallorca
The Battle of Lepanto.
In October 1571 the Holy League's fleet, formed from a coalition of southern European states, defeated the Ottoman Empire's fleet at Lepanto, off western Greece. While there were a few more raids against the Balearic Islands, Spain and Turkey signed a truce in 1581 so they could concentrate on other enemies. Turkey wanted to face Persia while Spain wanted to turn its attentions to Protestant countries in northern Europe. The first Armada sent against England was defeated by poor weather in the English Channel in 1588 while a second Armada in 1603 was destroyed by a storm in the Mediterranean.

espite the threat of the Ottoman fleets, Mallorca had a prosperous time during the second half of the 16th century. Not only was a ring of watchtowers built around the coast, work started on rebuilding Palma's walls in 1575, to protect the town against high velocity cannons.

Meanwhile, the local economy was also on the up after many difficult years thanks to a rising population. Wheat had become Mallorca's biggest crop but it was under state control and exports were often banned, making olive oil the leading agricultural export. In 1556 the Crown gave Mallorca a temporary tax exemption on vineyards and the wine industry flourished, particularly around Llucmajor and Binissalem . A local brandy called aiguardeni , or burning water was also produced but it was often banned except through apothecaries 'for medicinal purposes'.

Despite the upturn in the economy, Spain and Mallorca were still burdened by the debts accrued after years of high taxation. While outstanding pensions still had to be paid and corruption was still a significant burden, Mallorca had weathered half a century of piracy and was on the up. Between 1566 and 1585 Mallorca's population more than doubled to 113,000 and in 1577 steps were taken to value property and goods across the island so future taxation could be distributed fairly.

16th century mallorca
Palma's walls were rebuilt to withstand
new high velocity cannon balls.

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