The empire on which the sun never sets
The phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" (Spanish: el imperio donde nunca se pone el sol) is a phrase that has been used to describe certain global empires that were so extensive that there was always at least one part of their territory that was in daylight.
It was originally used for the universal monarchy of the European and American dominions under Emperor Charles V by Fray Francisco de Ugalde, Ludovico Ariosto, Rabelais, and others. Following the abdication of Emperor Charles V and the centralization of the Spanish Empire (described by historians as the first global empire) in Madrid by his son Philip II of Spain and successors, the term continued to be used for the Spanish Empire in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. In more recent times, it was used for the British Empire, mainly in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a period in which the British Empire reached a territorial size larger than that of any other empire in history. In the 20th century, the phrase has sometimes been adapted to refer to the global reach of American power.
γῆν τὴν Περσίδα ἀποδέξομεν τῷ Διὸς αἰθέρι ὁμουρέουσαν. οὐ γὰρ δὴ χώρην γε οὐδεμίαν κατόψεται ἥλιος ὅμουρον ἐοῦσαν τῇ ἡμετέρῃ
"We shall extend the Persian territory as far as God's heaven reaches. The sun will then shine on no land beyond our borders."
A similar concept in the Old Testament might pre-date Herodotus and Xerxes I where Psalm 72:8 speaks of the Messianic King: ‘He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth’ for ‘as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations’ Ps 72:5. This concept had existed in the Ancient Near East before the Old Testament. The Story of Sinuhe (19th century BC) announces that the Egyptian King rules “all what the sun encircles.” Mesopotamian texts contemporary to Sargon of Akkad (c. 2334 – 2279 BC) proclaim that this king ruled “all the lands from sunrise to sunset.”
Habsburg Empire of Charles V
Charles V of the House of Habsburg controlled in personal union a composite monarchy inclusive of the Holy Roman Empire stretching from Germany to Northern Italy with direct rule over the Low Countries and Austria, and Spain with its southern Italian kingdoms of Sicily, Sardinia and Naples. Furthermore, his reign encompassed both the long-lasting Spanish and the smaller German colonizations of the Americas. A quote attributed to Charles V himself is "My empire stretches from Vienna to Peru and on my realms the sun never sets". Ludovico Ariosto notably wrote: "Charles V...whom God made Emperor not only of the [Holy] Roman empire but of all the far extreme lands. So that the sun never sets, and the seasons don't pass, on his empire".
Charles was born in 1500 in the Flemish region of the Low Countries in modern-day Belgium, then part of the Habsburg Netherlands, from Joanna the Mad (daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon) and Philip the Handsome (son of Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor). He inherited his homeland from his father as Duke of Burgundy in 1506, became jure matris king of Castile and Aragon in 1516, and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519. As ruler of Castile and Aragon, he has been referred to as King of Spain. As Holy Roman Emperor, he was crowned King of Germany and King of Italy. He also adopted the title of King of the Indies (Americas) in 1521.
As prince of the Low Countries he made Brussels the capital in the Holy Roman Empire with the palace of Coudenberg serving as his residence and court: there, he announced his legacies in 1515 and announced his abdication in 1555. As ruler of Spain he inherited the possessions of the Crown of Aragon in the south of Italy, and ratified the conquests of the Castillan conquistadores: Hernan Cortes annexed the Aztecs and subjugated Middle America following the Fall of Tenochtitlan, and Francisco Pizarro conquered the Incas and extended colonial rule to South America following the Battle of Cajamarca. As Holy Roman Emperor he managed to defend his German territories in Austria from the Ottomans of Suleiman the magnificent (Siege of Vienna) and his Italian territories in the Duchy of Milan from the French of Francis I (Battle of Pavia): to finance the Ottoman-Habsburg Wars and the Italian Wars the Empire made large use of the gold and silver coming from the Americas. Charles V ratified also the German colonization of the Americas and financed the expedition of the explorer Magellan to the Philippines. Unable to create a universal monarchy and resist the rise of protestantism, Charles V announced his resignation. His abdication divided his territories between his son Philip II of Spain, who took the colonial tertitories, and his brother Ferdinand of Austria, Bohemia and Hungary who took the Holy Roman Empire. The Habsburg Netherlands and the Duchy of Milan continued to be part of the Holy Roman Empire, but were also left in personal union with the King of Spain.
Charles's son, Philip II of Spain, made Spain (his homeland) the metropole of the territories that he inherited. In particular, he placed the Council of Castille, the Council of Aragon, the Council of Italy, the Council of Flanders and the Council of the Indies in Madrid. When King Henry of Portugal died, Philip II pressed his claim to the Portuguese throne and was recognised as Philip I of Portugal in 1581. Therefore he added to the territories in the Americas and the Philippines (named after him), the Portuguese Empire, which itself included territories in the Americas, in the North and the Sub-Saharan Africa, in all the Asian Subcontinents, and islands in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans.
In 1585, Giovanni Battista Guarini wrote Il pastor fido to mark the marriage of Catherine Michelle, daughter of Philip II, to Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy. Guarini's dedication read, "Altera figlia / Di qel Monarca, a cui / Nö anco, quando annotta, il Sol tramonta." ("The proud daughter / of that monarch to whom / when it grows dark [elsewhere] the sun never sets.").
In the early 17th century, the phrase was familiar to John Smith, and to Francis Bacon, who writes: "both the East and the West Indies being met in the crown of Spain, it is come to pass, that, as one saith in a brave kind of expression, the sun never sets in the Spanish dominions, but ever shines upon one part or other of them : which, to say truly, is a beam of glory [...]". Thomas Urquhart wrote of "that great Don Philippe, Tetrarch of the world, upon whose subjects the sun never sets."
In the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller's 1787 play, Don Carlos, Don Carlos's father, Philip II, says, "German: Ich heiße / der reichste Mann in der getauften Welt; / Die Sonne geht in meinem Staat nicht unter." ("I am called / The richest monarch in the Christian world; / The sun in my dominion never sets.").
Joseph Fouché recalled Napoleon saying before the Peninsular War, "Reflect that the sun never sets in the immense inheritance of Charles V, and that I shall have the empire of both worlds." This was cited in Walter Scott's Life of Napoleon.
In the 19th century, it became popular to apply the phrase to the British Empire. It was a time when British world maps showed the Empire in red and pink to highlight British imperial power spanning the globe. Scottish author, John Wilson, writing as "Christopher North" in Blackwood's Magazine in 1829, is sometimes credited as originating the usage. However, George Macartney wrote in 1773, in the wake of the territorial expansion that followed Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War, of "this vast empire on which the sun never sets, and whose bounds nature has not yet ascertained."
In a speech on 31 July 1827, Rev. R. P. Buddicom said, "It had been said that the sun never set on the British flag; it was certainly an old saying, about the time of Richard the Second, and was not so applicable then as at the present time." In 1821, the Caledonian Mercury wrote of the British Empire, "On her dominions the sun never sets; before his evening rays leave the spires of Quebec, his morning beams have shone three hours on Port Jackson, and while sinking from the waters of Lake Superior, his eye opens upon the Mouth of the Ganges."
Daniel Webster famously expressed a similar idea in 1834: "A power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat, following the sun and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England." In 1839, Sir Henry Ward said in the House of Commons, "Look at the British Colonial empire—the most magnificent empire that the world ever saw. The old Spanish boast that the sun never set in their dominions, has been more truly realised amongst ourselves." By 1861, Lord Salisbury complained that the £1.5 million spent on colonial defence by Britain merely enabled the nation "to furnish an agreeable variety of stations to our soldiers, and to indulge in the sentiment that the sun never sets on our Empire".
From the mid-nineteenth century, the image of the sun never setting can be found applied to Anglophone culture, explicitly including both the British Empire and the United States, for example in a speech by Alexander Campbell in 1852: "To Britain and America God has granted the possession of the new world; and because the sun never sets upon our religion, our language and our arts...".
By the end of the century, the phrase was also being applied to the United States alone. An 1897 magazine article titled "The Greatest Nation on Earth" boasted, "[T]he sun never sets on Uncle Sam". In 1906, William Jennings Bryan wrote, "If we can not boast that the sun never sets on American territory, we can find satisfaction in the fact that the sun never sets on American philanthropy"; after which, The New York Times received letters attempting to disprove his presupposition. A 1991 history book discussion of U.S. expansion states, "Today ... the sun never sets on American territory, properties owned by the U.S. government and its citizens, American armed forces abroad, or countries that conduct their affairs within limits largely defined by American power."
Although most of these sentiments have a patriotic ring, the phrase is sometimes used critically with the implication of American imperialism, as in the title of Joseph Gerson's book, The Sun Never Sets: Confronting the Network of Foreign U.S. Military Bases.
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