I've become aware that, to a degree, Spain like France or Germany or even the modern USA, is a collection of autonomous bodies who agree to act as a single nation for federal purposes (this may be a gross oversimplification, but is stated in effort to clarify my question). However, their autonomous bodies are culturally separate (as opposed to perhaps arbitrary borders in the US). Historically the Iberian Peninsula was even home to several independent kingdoms/states (Asturia, Navarra, Gallecia, Aragon, et cetera).

In the mid-19th century (1840-1870, roughly) did those regional identifiers exist the way they do now/did then? Would an Imperial Spanish citizen consider themselves Gallecian, Aragonese, Castillian, Leonese, et cetera, or would they simply be Spanish?

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    I'm not sure if you're being vitriolic or I'm reading too much into your question about explaining the history of the US, but I'll respond to your second question. My understanding is that each autonomous region in Spain has its own state parliament that is entirely independent of the federal body of Spain (this may be false), but also that autonomy was achieved specifically because they are a culturally unique body. That is the crux of what I'm asking about, perhaps that wasn't clear enough. So, if "Spain" and "Spanish" can be said to mean -- Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 13:44
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    -- "the culture of the peoples behind the Reconquista (and unification of Spain as a single entity)," did people in Spain identify as Spaniards? Or did they identify as their cultural regionalities/nationalities (i.e. Leonese, Aragonese, etc.). Does that help to clarify? Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 13:46
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    As a Spanish citizen myself, and with no data to back me up, I'd say that regionalism has existed since the unification of Castille and Aragon, and that nationalism/independentism is a rather new concept. I would need to investigate about the timelapse you mention, though. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 13:50
  • @called2voyage Right, but those cultures came about differently than Spain's -- historically, Spain was separate cultures all mashed together (like France and Germany, as you pointed out) -- the US, however, developed those cultural differences, or maybe inherited them from the emigrants who settled those regions; I think this is significant enough a difference to point it out. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 14:05
  • @theblackveil That is a good point. US has a settler culture, whereas Spain, France, and Germany are conglomerations of more or less native cultures. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 14:07

2 Answers 2


In general, it is problematic to call "nationalism" anything before the French Revolution, because before that the idea that the nation was a political subject was just political-fiction.

Apart from that, before the second half of the XIX century, to many people it really did not affect much if his country was under the control of a foreign power. Travel was rare and slow, the only mass media were printed newspapers (and those had only regional circulation, and practical only to those who could read), and the presence of the central government was almost unexistent outside the major cities (for example, schooling was in Spanish but there was no compulsory universal schooling in Spain until 1857). So, for most people, life was as it had always been.

Additionally, in Spain it is difficult to talk about regionalism before the Spanish Succession War because, before that, Spain was a personal union: several countries under the same ruler, each country with its own laws, institutions and traditions. A Catalonian in Seville would have been as much of a foreigner as an Englishman (and, for example, could not have legally engaged in trade with the American colonies, which was reserved for Castillians).

That said, there were a couple of movements that could be interpreted as "proto-nationalistic" in that period.

  • The first was Catalonia switching sides in the War of Spanish Succession. The French candidate (Philip V) had been accepted as King by the Courts, but there was unease as he was a representative of the very centralist French Bourbons. So finally Catalonia passed to support Archduke Charles who was seen as more amenable to keep the status quo. Note that the stated intention was not to break the personal union, but to have Archduke Charles as King both of Castille and Aragon1. Regardles of which were his original intentions, that rebellion gave Philip V the opportunity to declare Catalonia as "conquered country" and impose the French centralistic modern to create a "modern" Spain.

  • The second was a century later during the Carlist Wars, when the Carlist (conservative) candidate won considerable support in rural areas of Catalonia and Euskadi with the promise to restore the local laws and institutions suppressed by Philip V (again, not a promise of independence). But the major cities remained firmly under the control of the central government.

Again, take both of these with a grain of salt, principally because none of those officially asked to break the personal union, but to maintain the separate institutions of each kingdom. Also, as these events are used to support or deny current political claims, there is lot of political motivated infighting that make it difficult to objectively assess those events (did the rural Basques support the Carlist before they were conservative as the Carlist pretendent, or because of the promise of the restoration of their laws? How many people did really support Charles?).

1 This is the official, stated posture. Some could argue that given what was at the stake (the partition of the whole Spanish Empire), the Catalonian leaders would not have get support for an "independent" king so they had to settle to support Charles as common King. For contrast, in the Catalan Revolt of 1640 they offered the crow to Louis XIII, which would have broken the personal union.

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    This is a wonderful amount of information regarding the climate leading up to the 19th century, but doesn't quite answer the primary question: by the time people are speaking Spanish in schools in 1857 and just after, would they consider themselves Spanish or by their regional associations? Or, because they didn't have regional identities beyond "home" prior to the Fr. Rev., would they have just fallen into calling themselves Spaniards? Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 11:35
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    @theblackveil they would have failed to their regional or even local identities , only during the peninsular war ( 1808-1812) and at the late 19th century after the end of the 3rd carlist war in the verge of the 80's en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Carlist_War the regional identities diluded into something bigger, althought for a brief period. spain isn't a good example of identitarian homogeinity at all.
    – CptEric
    Commented Aug 18, 2016 at 13:29

The regionalist/nationalist movements started in the final of XIX. century. You have to understand that Spain was a decentralise state in major part of his life. The principal kingdoms of Spain were Castille, Navarra and Aragon.

Isabella (king of Castille) and Fernando (King of Aragon) the Catholic monarchs were the ones who united Spain in one kingdom. Navarre (kingdom of Basques) joined after the pact. The three Basque provinces by giving them the "fueros" I mean a real autonomy and Navarra joining with the Navarre nobility weakening the Queen of Navarra in the regional civil war giving them also the same "autonomy " of the other Basques.

When Charles I arrived to the power, he respected the agreements of the status of those ancient kingdoms including the autonomy of Castile. Each three kingdoms had his own Cortes or Parliament, however, composited by nobility. (there was not any nationalism problems they all felt part of Spain)

After Succession war due to Aragon parliament decided to support the rival king (Austrian) over Philip V (French) was abolished the status of Aragon giving more power to the Castilian Cortes or Parliament in order to centralize the power by being more similar to France.

By mid-XIX, with only "Basques" having the autonomy and with the idea of having "liberal" state that meant centralism provoking the anger of Basques and the Carlist revolution (" the king has broken his word"), instead, the decision was made by Castilian parliament nor the king. In 1876, Basque status was abolished.

That is why Basques and Catalans once they couldn't recover their status by force decided to recover democratically forming regional parties. Properly, the separatism movement started in Second Republic after trying regionalist parties an agreement with Parliamentary monarchy. However, inside his own regions hadn't any strong enough support to separatist rebellion. However, the Civil War worsen the situation because after achieving autonomy, General Franco abolished them.

After Civil war with Franco´s dictatorship the separatism force increased in those regions. Out of this regions has small support and the regions that formed part of Castile kingdom are the most pro-Spanish one because they had the majority of the power in the parliament.

Nowadays, while the socialist party want to have good deal with basques and Catalans, the conservatives only has interest in their Castile provoking tension.

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