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The truths that galvanize the Spanish to cross the great oceans are that the world is full of natural riches to be excavated and religious converts to be found.

The acceleration of a dual movement of conquest and unification of territories in the Iberian Peninsula led by the Catholic kings culminated in the 13th century with the emergence of a powerful kingdom composed of Castile, Leon, and Galicia. Under its aegis, the Spanish kings were the lords of a vast European and global empire starting from 1516.

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The political union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, sealed in 1469 with the marriage of Isabella I of Castile to Ferdinand II of Aragon, was formalized with the Treaty of Alcáçovas in 1479. The power of this unified kingdom gradually increased with the conquest of the Emirate of Grenada, participation in the great transatlantic expeditions, and the reunification of the kingdoms of Sicily under the authority of Aragon. This power was further amplified through a strategy of marriages that established alliances with Portugal and the Austrian Habsburgs. These factors, combined with situations elsewhere that were favorable for the dynasty, gave Charles of Habsburg control of a European empire that included the kingdoms of Spain, Sicily, and Naples, as well as the Burgundy and Habsburg family dominions in the Netherlands, Franche-Comté, and Austria. Elected emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519 under the name Charles V, his authority covered parts of the Americas and the Pacific thanks to Spanish conquests in the Caribbean, the Philippines, and over the Aztec and Inca empires. Awarded the title of “Catholic Monarchs” by the Pope following a war against the Islamic states, Isabella I and Ferdinand II launched repressive policies against the religious minorities in their kingdoms. Their descendants would also lay claim to this title and would have an active role in the European wars of the 16th century in that were triggered by the growth of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

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Charles V was raised in Flanders in a French-speaking environment and spoke French for much of his life. He only learned the languages of the states he governed later in his life. He is attributed with the following phrase: “I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.”