The Spanish Empire (Spanish: Imperio Español; Latin: Imperium Hispanicum), historically known as the Hispanic Monarchy (Spanish: Monarquía Hispánica) and as the Catholic Monarchy (Spanish: Monarquía Católica) was one of the largest empires in history. From the late 15th century to the early 19th, Spain controlled a huge overseas territory in the New World and the Philippines, what they called "The Indies" (Spanish: Las Indias). The Spanish Empire was the first global empire in history, the world's most powerful country during the 16th and early 17th centuries, reaching its maximum extension in the 18th century. The Spanish Empire was the first country to be called "the empire on which the sun never sets", centuries before this title was attributed to the British Empire.
Castile became the dominant kingdom in Iberia because of its jurisdiction over the overseas empire in the Americas and the Philippines. The crown's main source of wealth was from gold and silver mined in Mexico and Peru. The structure of empire was established under the Spanish Hapsburgs (1516–1700) and under the Spanish Bourbon monarchs, the empire was brought under greater crown control and increased its revenues from the Indies. The crown's authority in The Indies was enlarged by the papal grant of powers of patronage, giving it power in the religious sphere. An important element in the formation of Spain's empire was the dynastic union between Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, known as the Catholic Monarchs, which initiated political, religious and social cohesion but not political unification. Iberian kingdoms retained their political identities, with particular administration and juridical configurations. Although the power of the Spanish sovereign as monarch varied from one territory to another, the monarch acted as such in a unitary manner over all the ruler's territories through a system of councils: the unity did not mean uniformity. In 1580, when Philip II of Spain succeeded to the throne of Portugal (as Philip I), he established the Council of Portugal, which oversaw Portugal and its empire and "preserv its own laws, institutions, and monetary system, and united only in sharing a common sovereign." The Iberian Union remained in place until in 1640, when Portugal overthrew Hapsburg rule and reestablished independence under the House of Braganza. Under Philip, Spain, rather than the Hapsburg empire, was identified as the most powerful nation in the world, easily eclipsing France and England. Furthermore, despite attacks from other European states, Spain retained its position of dominance with apparent ease.
The Battle of Pavia (1525) marked the beginning of Spanish dominance in Italy. Spain's claims to Naples and Sicily in southern Italy dated back to the 15th century, but had been marred by rival claims until the mid-16th century. While Venice, the Papal States, Este, and Savoy retained their independence, the rest of the Italian Peninsula either became part of the Spanish Empire or looked to it for protection. There would be no Italian revolts against Spanish rule until 1647. The death of the Ottoman emperor Suleiman the Magnificent in 1566 and the naval victory over the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 gave Spain a claim to be the greatest power not just in Europe but also in the world.
The Spanish Empire in the Americas was formed after conquering large stretches of land, beginning with Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean Islands. It comprised territories and colonies of the Spanish monarch in the Americas and the Philippines, with some territory in North Africa and Oceania. In the early 16th century, it conquered and incorporated the Aztec and Inca Empires, retaining indigenous elites loyal to the Spanish crown and converts to Christianity as intermediaries between their communities and royal government. After a short period of delegation of authority by the crown in the Americas, the crown asserted control over those territories and established the Council of the Indies to oversee rule there. Some scholars consider the initial period of the Spanish conquest as marking the most egregious case of genocide in the history of mankind. The death toll may have reached some 70 million indigenous people (out of 80 million) in this period.
The structure of governance of its overseas empire was significantly reformed in the late 18th century by the Bourbon monarchs. Although the crown attempted to keep its empire a closed economic system under Hapsburg rule, Spain was unable to supply the Indies with sufficient consumer goods to meet demand, so that foreign merchants from Genoa, France, England, Germany, and The Netherlands dominated the trade, with silver from the mines of Peru and Mexico flowing to other parts of Europe. The merchant guild of Seville (later Cadiz) served as middlemen in the trade. The crown's trade monopoly was broken early in the seventeenth century, with the crown colluding with the merchant guild for fiscal reasons in circumventing the supposedly closed system. Spain was unable to defend the territories it claimed in the Americas, with the Dutch, the English, and the French taking Caribbean islands, using them to engage in contraband trade with the Spanish populace in the Indies. In the seventeenth century, the diversion of silver revenue to pay for European consumer goods and the rising costs of defense of its empire meant that "tangible benefits of America to Spain were dwindling...at a moment when the costs of empire were climbing sharply."
The Bourbon monarchy attempted to expand the possibilities for trade within the empire, by allowing commerce between all ports in the empire, and took other measures to revive economic activity to the benefit of Spain. The Bourbons had inherited "an empire invaded by rivals, an economy shorn of manufactures, a crown deprived of revenue... taxing colonists, tightening control, and fighting off foreigners. In the process, they gained a revenue and lost an empire." The Napoleonic invasion of the Iberian peninsula precipitated the Spanish American wars of independence (1808-1826), resulting the loss of its most valuable colonies. In its former colonies in the Americas, Spanish is the dominant language and Catholicism the main religion, enduring cultural legacies of the Spanish Empire.