The Spanish empire in America was the first of the great seaborne empires of western Europe; it was for long the richest and the most formidable, the focus of envy, fear, and hatred. Its haphazard beginning dates from 1492; it was to last more than three hundred years before breaking up in the early nineteenth century in civil wars between rival generals and "liberators."
Parry presents a broad picture of the conquests of Cortes and Pizarro and of the economic and social consequences in Spain of the effort to maintain control of vast holdings. He probes the complex administration of the empire, its economy, social structure, the influence of the Church, the destruction of the Indian cultures and the effect of their decline on Spanish policy. As we approach the quincentenary of Columbus's arrival in the Americas, Parry provides the historical basis for a new consideration of the former Spanish colonies of Latin America and the transformation of pre-Columbian cultures to colonial states.