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HOME PAGE - Mallorca Through the Ages - The 17th Century

The 17th Century

king philip II of Mallorca (Majorca)Philip III (1598-1621)

In 1598 Philip III inherited a shrinking Empire which was paying too much foreign interest and the riches arriving from American colonies could not cover the debt. While peace was made with England in 1604, a truce was signed with the Netherlands five years later.

Meanwhile, Mallorca took advantage of the peace and in 1615 attempts were made to even out the balance of power between the city and the landowners. Old families had to compete with rich merchant families and new titles were awarded, bought or acquired through marriage. While landowners were amassing huge tracts of land from bankrupt farmers, they preferred to stay in their baronial houses in Palma, leaving managers to control their estates. It meant that the average farmer was little more than a servant and while the rich enjoyed city life, epidemics and poor harvests left the peasants hungry.

Philip IV (1621-1665)

Philip IV inherited the Crown in 1621 and he immediately revived the wars with the Netherlands and England. Many young Mallorcan men were conscripted into the armed forces while others preferred to live as bandits in the mountains, leaving the fields empty of labourers. When France invaded Roussillon in 1636 Spain's northern border was threatened but worse was to come. The rising taxes resulted in a rebellion against Philip and Castilian rule across Catalonia, Andalusia and Portugal in 1640/41.

king philip IV of Mallorca (Majorca)The loss of Roussillon and the closure of the Catalonia ports reduced Mallorca's overseas trade and when Naples, Sicily and Aragon rebelled in 1647/48, the island's ailing economy was again hit hard. Some barons compensated for their losses and there were violent confrontations when the locals rebelled against rising taxes.

Money was forgotten about when a plague from Africa reached Valencia and refugees headed for the Balearic Islands to escape it. Unfortunately, the plague followed and it killed 20,000 people in Mallorca (one fifth of the population); 10,000 died in Palma alone.

The government authorised a new way of raising money and creating employment by legalising pirating. Sea captains were allowed to capture merchant ships as long as they handed over twenty percent of their gains. Read about one of the main sea captains, Captain Antonio Barceló, on the Pirates of the Mediterranean webpage.

The Thirty Years War finally ended in 1648 with the independence of the Dutch republic. Fighting continued along the northern and southern borders of France but when the French army defeated the Imperial Army in Flanders in 1657, Spain's power ended in Europe. The loss of Roussillon was confirmed with Louis XIV 'the Sun King', at the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. The prolonged wars had done nothing for Mallorca apart from ruin its economy.

Charles II (1665-1700)


king philip II of Mallorca (Majorca)

Charles II inherited an Empire deep in debt and both industry and agriculture collapsed, the economy stagnated and taxes increased. Once again the burden fell on the poor. It did not help when war resumed with France in 1674 and the Franco-Dutch fleet defeated the Spanish fleet off Palermo two years later. Following a short peace Catalonia was invaded in 1683/84 and then there was the Nine Years War after 1689, another war against the Protestant English and Dutch.

One of the main changes on the island was the end of slavery, or rather the replacement of one form of slavery with another. Day-workers who had no land of their own were employed when required and they were cheaper than slaves. Many slaves were ransomed or exchanged for Mallorcans who had been captured by pirates and enslaved but others were freed because they were too expensive to keep. Some of the slaves were baptised and became day-workers in the country or domestic servants in the towns.

After a century of war, neither Spain nor Mallorca had money or naval power. They had also failed to embrace the industrial innovation like northern Europe and the scientific advances in England and France were seen as a threat to traditional values.

Mallorca particularly clung to its old values fearing for their home grown industries. The island was controlled by self-serving absolutists who rendered the middle classes powerless and suppressed the lower classes. By 1680 Majorca could not afford to pay its annuities and it had neither the cash nor the credit to purchase grain. Following one poor harvest, the Consell held lotteries to determine who would be paid while the people starved.

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