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1492: A Brave New World

Columbus discovery led the west to dominate the world for five centuries.

1492 ended the transition from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern Era which began earlier in the 15th century. The French and English concluded a peace treaty that led to rapprochement. Meanwhile, the Catholics finally expelled the Muslims from Spain. Ferdinand and Isabella assumed control of the country and turned it into a superpower. Spain's power and wealth derived from plundered New World gold. Columbus' voyage to the Americas began the process. As a result of actions in 1492, Europe dominated the globe until 1945.

William the Conquered tied France and England together with his 1066 invasion. The two nations intertwined, splintered apart, and then became rivals. The rivalry lasted until the 20th century. The kingdoms completed the separation process by the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453. However, the English did not recognize this until after Elizabeth I's reign. England claimed lands in France for over a century following the end of the Hundred Years' War.

France decided to support a pretender to the English throne as a matter of national security and to protect their lands. In 1495, they assisted Perkin Warbeck's invasion of the British Isles. The attempt coup against Henry VII failed. In response, Henry invaded France to curtail French activities. This forced the French to the bargaining table. The two sides came to terms in 1492 with the Peace of Etaples. Under the terms of the treaty, England surrendered its claim to Brittany while France abandoned Warbeck and paid a large fine. Afterward, a détente developed between England and France which lasted until Henry VII's death.

Henry VII also developed closer ties to Spain. By 1492, the Spanish completed the liberation of their country. The Muslims invaded in 711 occupying most of Spain. The Spanish slowly pushed back the invaders. 781 years later, Ferdinand and Isabella's forces successfully completed the Reconquista. The final Islamic state, Granada, fell to Christian forces in 1492.

Ferdinand and Isabella did not stop with the Muslims. They ordered the expulsion of 200,000 Jews in order to protect Christian gains. The royal government feared that recent Jewish converts to Christianity may relapse without drastic action. As a result, they decided to evict the Jewish populace. Some converted to remain in their homeland. Many died during the forced relocation. Ship captains charged high rates to move the displaced peoples only to toss them overboard to drown. Others died en route from disease or were murdered by bandits. Survivors ended up in Turkey, Italy, North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Europe.

On the same day the Spanish monarchy ordered the Jews' expulsion, Christopher Columbus earned his commission. Columbus believed he could reach the east by sailing west. The Ottomans conquered the Byzantine Empire in 1453. As a result, Europe desperately hoped to find a route eastward to avoid the Muslim middlemen in Constantinople. The Portuguese had searched for a route east around Africa. Ferdinand and Isabella decided to fund Columbus' attempt to discover an alternate route and defeat the Portuguese. Columbus miscalculated the Earth's circumference. He did not realize two continents existed between Europe and Asia. As a result, the voyage lasted longer than he expected. His crew feared they had signed up for a suicide mission. Some grew desperate as the days passed without land. On October 12, they finally made landfall in the Bahamas. Columbus believed he landed in the East Indies.

Columbus accidental discovery touched off the global power shift. The Spanish conquered the New World within a few decades. Aztec and Inca gold financed an empire. Spanish success created a competition within Europe for New World colonies. This competition led to the European conquest of North and South America. The conquests strengthened the Europeans and forced technological innovation. In the end, Europe dominated the globe for nearly five centuries.

The modern world began in 1492. England and France reached an agreement which led to an easing of tensions. However, their rivalry lasted until World War I. The Spanish evicted the Muslims and began an aggressive expansion. Christopher Columbus' voyages created new opportunities and touched off a competition for colonial power which lasted until World War II. The conquest made Europe the dominant global power. The Europeans retained this status until they surrendered it to the United States and Soviet Union in 1945.

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