I’ve put together a quick and dirty timeline of major political, religious, and literary events leading up to and including the life of Miguel de Cervantes. I included some events involving Spain’s arch-enemy, England, and left out most of Spain’s despicable activities in the New World (I would be surprised if most Spaniards were very much aware of them).

I find it quite interesting that despite vigorous censorship in Spain and England, these times produced the greatest literature of both countries. No doubt the influx of wealth from newly discovered lands and trade routes increased artistic patronage, though Cervantes himself saw little of it. I also read that censorship in Spain led to the great flowering of Christian mysticism and mystical literature in that country, an interesting counterpoint to the craze for chivalric romances.

Most of the information comes from the EBSCO Literary Reference Center (check with your library to see if you can access this online resource). Please feel free to add other interesting dates in the comments.

1510     Spain begins massive extraction of gold from New World
1515     The ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church forbids the printing of any book without the Church’s permission
1515     Teresa of Avila, mystic Carmelite writer, born (d. 1582)
1516     Beginning of Hapsburg rule of united Spain
c. 1517     The Golden Age of Spanish Literature begins (1517 — 1681)
1517     German theologian Martin Luther nails his “95 Theses” to the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral.
1519     Cortez lands in Mexico
1522     A Bible was printed in Alcala, Spain, in Hebrew, Greek, Latin and Aramaic.
1529     King Henry VIII of England requires that all books and pamphlets be reviewed prior to publication; a licensing office established to do so
1533     Michel de Montaigne, French writer and humanist, born (d. 1592)
1534     The English Parliament passes the First Act of Supremacy, making Henry VIII the head of the Church of England
c. 1540     Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) and followers found the Society of Jesus (Jesuits)
1542     Juan de la Cruz, Spanish mystic Carmelite poet, born (d. 1591)
1547     Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” born (d. 1616)
1551     Theater censorship begins in England
1552     Geography and astronomy books destroyed in England because they are considered corrupted by magic
1557     The influx of New World silver caused bankruptcies in France and Spain.
1558     Queen Elizabeth I takes the throne after the death of her sister Mary
1562     Félix Lope de Vega Carpio, popular Spanish author of some 1800 plays, born (d. 1635)
c. 1563     Spanish mystic poetry reaches height of popularity
1564     The first “Index of Forbidden Books” is published by the Roman Catholic Church
1564     Christopher Marlowe, English dramatist and poet born (d. 1593)
1564     William Shakespeare, English dramatist and poet, born (d. 1616)
1569-71     Revolt of Moriscos (converted Muslims in Spain)
1571     Spain, Venice, and papacy defeat Ottoman navy in Battle of Lepanto (Cervantes loses use of one hand)
c. 1572     John Donne, English Metaphysical poet, born (d. 1631)
1575     Cervantes taken by pirates, enslaved in Algiers for 5 years, released for ransom
1576     El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 1541–1614) settles in Toledo
1577     Sir Francis Drake sails around the world
1584     Cervantes marries Catalina de Salazar y Palacios (no children; leaves wife soon after)
1588     England defeats the Spanish Armada
1588     Opening of the Vatican Library
1592     William Shakespeare’s first plays performed
1593     London’s theaters closed until early 1594 due to an outbreak of the Plague
1597     Cervantes jailed in Seville for financial impropriety
1599     Devestating plague hits Castile
1599     Velazquez, Spanish painter, born (d.1660)
1600     William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet” first performed
1602     Cervantes jailed again; starts Don Quixote in prison, according to legend
1602     The Bodleian Library is established in Oxford, England
1603     Heavy outbreak of plague in England
1603     Elizabeth Ist dies. Succeeded by King James VI of Scotland
1604     The Treaty of London is signed between England and Spain, ending England’s involvement in the Eighty Years’ War
1605     Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” Part I published
1607     Dutch fleet destroys Spanish fleet at the Battle of Gibraltar
1608     Spanish royal decree legalizes slavery of Chilean natives
1608     John Milton, English poet, author of “Paradise Lost” born (d. 1674)
1609     Edmund Spenser’s epic poem “The Faerie Queen” published
1609     Galileo Galilee demonstrates his first astronomical telescope in Venice
1609-1614     Expulsion of Moriscos from Spain
1611     King James Bible published
1611     Homer’s “Iliad” translated into English by George Chapman, published
1615     Homer’s “Odyssey,” translated into English by George Chapman, published
1615     Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” Part 2 published
1616     Nicolaus Copernicus’ “De revolutionibus” placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by Roman Catholic Church
1616, April 23     William Shakespeare, English dramatist, dies (b. 1564)
1616, April 23     Miguel de Cervantes, author of “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” dies (b. 1547)