Spain in the 16th and 17th Centuries

By the 16th century Spain had become the largest empire ever known with extensive territories in the newly discovered America and others that included Italy, the Netherlands, Africa and the far East. The extent of the territory led to multiple political problems. Spain was permanently at war. For more information about the wars of the Spanish Empire, click here. Some of Spain's greatests adversaries during the 16th century were those whom the empire saw as religious and political threats: The Ottoman empire, the Native Americans, and the Protestants in the Netherlands. Spain became the paladin of the Roman Catholic religion. After the Reformation occurred, Spain became influenced by the Counter-Reformation.

The Spanish Empire's Territories around 1600

Image Source

The Counter Reformation

The Counter-Reformation was a movement within the Catholic Church during the 16th and 17th-century that tried to improve problems within the Church and respond to the Protestant Reformation. There was an intentional attempt to reform and address doctrinal and disciplinary questions raised by the Protestants. An important moment is the Council of Trent (1545-1563) whose formulations dominated the Church's thinking for the next 4 centuries. The Counter-Reformation showed a renewed enthusiasm for evangelization, the establishment of religious schools mostly led by the Jesuits, organization of works of charity and reformation of existing orders. Part of this reform took shape as an interest for contemplation and Mysticism.

Here are some suggested videos for students:

In English:

Tom Richey’s “The Catholic Counter-Reformation” (Made for High school AP European History but excellent for an Introductory college class too).

Dr. Betty Ann Brown from California State University, Northridge “Art History Genres: What is Baroque?” (A brief overview of the Counter-Reformation with a focus on Art)

In Spanish:

From Historia y Ciencia Televisión “Historia del Arte Universal: El Barroco.” This is a longer video with detailed Historical and artistic information around the Counter-Reformation and the Baroque in Europe. There is a ‘transcript’ option in Youtube that could allow students to read the captions of the video.

Spanish Kings after the Council of Trent

(1556-1700) (House of Hapsburg)

Click on any of the pictures to learn more about the ruler and view the original image source.

Portrait of Felipe II Portrait of Felipe III Portrait of Felipe IV Portrait of Carlos II

Felipe II


Reign 1554-1598

Felipe III


Reign 1598-1621

Felipe IV


Reign 1621-1665

Carlos II


Reign 1665-1700

Spain's Biggest Rivals

The Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman had been a thread for the Christian European countries since the fourteenth century.

Map of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

One of Ottoman Empire’s biggest hits to the Christian World was the Fall of Constantinople.

Recommended video

The History Channel’s “History’s Turning Point – AD 1453 Siege of Constantinople”


England starts emerging during the 16th century as a dangerous enemy for Spain with a powerful navy.

Queen Elizabeth I


Reign 1558-1603

If you want more information on Queen Elizabeth click here.

Recommended Movie

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) (An interesting account about the rivalry between England and Spain in the late 16th century from the English perspective)

Suggested Class Projects:

Individual/Group research projects. Have students research and present any aspect around the History of the Counter-Reformation, Spain’s Kings from the mid-16th century to the end of the 17th century or Spain’s relationship to England and/or the Ottoman Empire.