Following the unification of the lands of Castile and Aragon, which had been taken by the Moors, an intensive development of the Spanish state began. Trade and industry grew rapidly, and soon after the discovery of America, Spain became the greatest colonial state and reached the peak of its might under the rule of Charles I of the Habsburg dynasty, the chosen Roman-German Emperor. Its American colonies supplied Spain with an enormous flow of precious metals. Then the Netherlands' revolution against Spanish predominance broke out (1567-1573). A mighty army with Duke Alba in command was sent to suppress the revolt. This was a time of long and exhausting sieges of Dutch cities. In the sphere of seafaring, Spain was constantly and seriously hampered by Britain, especially by British and Dutch pirates.
Spain, for 3 centuries fought against all the European powers and achieved an overwhelming success. The main reason of such success was the military forces named "Tercio" that ruled Europe for almost 3 centuries. Although other powers adopted the tercio formation, their armies fell short of the fearsome reputation of the Spanish, who possessed a core of professional soldiers, which gave them an edge that was hard for other states to match. That army was further supplemented by "an army of different nations", a reference to the fact that many of the troops were mercenaries from Germany (Landsknecht), and the Italian and Walloon territories of the Spanish Netherlands, as was characteristic of European warfare before the levies of the Napoleonic Wars. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the core of Spanish armies were formed by Spanish subjects, who were frequently praised by others for their cohesiveness, superiority in discipline and overall professionalism.
Despite of the military superiority the poorly managed Spanish economy kept drowning which triggered that many units of Spanish tercios became part of the problem rather than the solution when the time came to pay them: with the Spanish coffers depleted by constant warfare, units often mutinied. For example, in April 1576, just after winning a major victory, unpaid tercios mutinied and occupied the town of Antwerp, threatening to sack it if their demands were not met. Completely reliant on his troops, the Spanish commander could only comply.
This along with the multiple open conflicts against Great Britain, France, Netherlands, Italian territories, German regions, Ottoman Empire and even some American tribes resulted in the dissolution of the Spanish Empire after almost 300 years and the biggest Empire any country has ever reached in terms of territorial extension.
The Spanish state retained only a small portion of its former might in Europe, but still held vast territories in the Americas.
The Spanish army managed many remarkable victories during the Empire's existence, for instance:
- The siege of Breda (1637 Netherlands): Victory against Netherlands and its British allies, German mercenaries and Flemish volunteers
- The battle of Saint Quintin (1556 France): Victory against France
- The sack of Antwerpen (1576 Belgium): Victory against Netherlands, Great Britain, German mercenaries, and Flemish regions.
- The battle of Mühlberg (1546 Germany): Victory against the Schmalkaldic league (Germany and Austria)
- The battle of Lepanto (Greece): Victory against the Ottoman Empire
- The Defense of Cartagena (Colombia): Victory against the British Empire, being one of the biggest humiliations in history of the British army, thanks to admiral Blas de Lezo.
Spain features two unique units in the 17th century:
- Cosolete (replacing the 17th cent. Pikeman; stronger and takes longer to train)
- 17th century Musketeer (also stronger and armored, but more expensive and takes longer to train)
The 18th century offers standard units.
Similar to Poland and Russia, Spain is able to field strong armies in the 17th century, making them a good choice for early pushes. An army of Cosoletes and Musketeers, supported by cavalry, can be a powerful early attack force.
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