Long anticipated though it had been, Philip II’s death was a momentous event in European history. Contemporaries certainly believed that a great figure had passed on and that the political landscape had shifted substantially with his death. That historians have failed to find agreement on the verdict to be passed on him is hardly surprising, for Philip’s reign lay at the heart of so many of the issues of political and national development, of religious and cultural identity that have helped to define Europe. Debate has been further complicated by Philip’s extraordinary personality, which has lent itself so readily to extreme interpretations. It is perhaps useful to remember how much the ambitions of Philip’s last decade have served to accentuate the division of opinion about him. If Philip had died at Badajoz in 1580 or at Monzón in 1585 his reputation would surely now outshine that of all his contemporaries; he would be seen as the creator of Spain, the victor over Suleiman the Magnificent at Malta, the comptroller of an Atlantic economic and political system and of a pan-Pacific trading system. As it is, Philip is most often remembered for the unbridled intensity with which he pursued the war in the Low Countries, launched his armadas against England and intervened in the civil wars in France in the 1590s.
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