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About this book

Four hundred years after his death, Philip II remains one of the most controversial figures in history, admired and reviled in equal measure. He is a figure of global importance, the first ruler on whose territories the sun never set. He led Europe in its defence against the seemingly irresistable power of the Ottoman Empire and many of the nations of Western Europe were forged in part by their responses to his ambitions - Portugal was conquered and most of Italy was controlled by him, while the Low Countries, England and France fought long and bitter wars against him. Philip proclaimed himself the leader of Catholic Europe but quarrelled incessantly with the popes of the Counter-Reformation. In consolidating his monarchy in Spain, Philip used the arts as a political tool; Titian and Palestrina did some of their greatest work for him.

This new study traces the development of Philip II and of a kingship that lay at the heart of European political, religious and cultural evolution. It looks in detail at the ministers who worked with this most demanding of kings and at the government that evolved during his reign. It deals also with the pressures of a tortured private life and explores the paradox of a man who as a young ruler was deeply prudent but who became extraordinarily aggressive in his old age and who by his successes and failures - both of them on an epic scale - re-shaped the world in which he lived.

Table of Contents

The Emperor’s Son

Frontmatter

1. Preparation for Power

Abstract
Philip II of Spain was born on 21 May 1527 in Valladolid, the first child of the emperor Charles V and his wife Isabella. Charles was present at the birth and when he was given his son to hold for the first time he joyously roared ‘God make a good Christian of you!’.1 It was a proud and challenging dedication, for Charles was the greatest ruler in Christendom and he had already assumed (at least in his own eyes) the status of a crusader, leading the defence of Catholic Christendom against its enemies — against the heretics who were beginning to suborn it within Europe; against the infidels who were launching a terrifying onslaught on land and at sea; against the pagans who in the New World of the Americas were resisting Christianisation; and, most invidious of all, against the king of France, who while boasting the title of ‘The Most Christian King’ cynically allied himself with Protestants and even with infidels in order to oppose the power of the Emperor. It was to the continuance of this multiple task that Charles dedicated his newborn son; Philip’s would be a crusading kingship.
Patrick Williams

2. King of Spain

Abstract
Charles V greeted Philip in Brussels on 8 September; once again, the emperor was reduced to tears by a reunion with his son. On 25 October 1555 in the Great Hall of the Palace of Brussels, in one of the most romantic ceremonies in European political history, Charles renounced the Low Countries in favour of Philip. He spoke movingly of the forty journeys that he had made on land and sea and of the wars that he had fought against infidel and Christian. He exhorted Philip to have regard above all his other responsibilities for the maintenance of the Catholic religion and for the execution of justice. As a separate but ancillary act, Charles had three days earlier handed over to Philip the command of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the chivalric order founded in 1430 that was the embodiment of Burgundian culture. He now formally confirmed that endowment, emphasising in the most public manner the commitment that he was imposing upon his son to maintain the Burgundian heritage. Replying in Spanish, Philip insisted that he would have preferred Charles to have remained in office until his death, but he swore to execute the responsibilities that now fell to him ‘to the utmost’ of his power. He and Charles embraced emotionally. The audience, or much of it, was moved to tears. Philip then had to address the assembly but because he could not speak more than a few words of French or Flemish he had Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, bishop of Arras, perform the task for him. It was a moment as poignant as it was embarrassing: the Low Countries had passed into foreign hands.
Patrick Williams

The Prudent King

Frontmatter

3. The Re-ordering of Spain

Abstract
The beginning of a new reign was traditionally a time of joyous optimism, a celebration of the new king, of his good intentions and happy prospects. But there was little to celebrate in Spain in 1559. There was, certainly, widespread relief that the king had returned home but there was also a profound sense of war-weariness and a consciousness of the seriousness of the problems facing the country. Even the climate was hostile, accentuating hunger and famine across Spain. Philip himself seems to have needed time to recover from the emotional impact of the great auto-de-fé; he left Valladolid the day after the auto and spent a month hunting. He performed one pressing task, when at La Espina near Valladolid he formally acknowledged the existence of his half-brother, Don John of Austria.1 But it is difficult to escape the conclusion that Philip was overwhelmed by the range of problems facing him. For years he had ached to return to his homeland but as he began now to fully absorb the realities of the situation confronting him in Spain he baulked at the prospect of dealing with them. At the end of 1559 he wrote to Granvelle that ‘I confess to you that when I was in Flanders, I never believed the situation could be so bad here.’2 He took refuge in inaction; in April 1560, an ambassador reported that Philip ‘avoids business as much as possible’.3 It was not the last time that Philip adopted this attitude when confronted by crisis; the carefully contrived appearance of ‘prudence’ that so impressed contemporaries was, very often, an immobility borne of indecisiveness. But it was also part of the image of majesty that Philip very deliberately created for himself — the image of a king who was coolly aloof and who could not be hurried or pressured into making decisions.
Patrick Williams

4. The Wealth of the Indies

Abstract
Philip inherited territories in the New World that were even more extensive than those he ruled in the Old, stretching some 8000 kilometres from the northern marchlands of New Spain to the southernmost settlements in Peru. It was a matter of the deepest conviction to him that he held these lands both as a political trust that he had inherited from his father and as a divine grant from God and that, moreover, both his political and religious rights had been validated by papal sanction. Accordingly, he was remarkably clear-sighted in defining his objectives in the New World — to protect and exploit his territories and to convert the Indians to a true understanding of the Catholic faith — and he was ruthless and unyielding in pursuit of them. Indeed, he was so successful that his management of the affairs of ‘the Indies’ is often described as the greatest achievement of his kingship, for he demonstrated an ability to design powerful systems and a sensitive judgement in choosing the men who would implement them for him. He demonstrated, too, that he could do in the Americas what he was incapable of doing nearer home, of giving his subordinates wide powers and entrusting them with their responsibilities over extended periods of time.
Patrick Williams

5. Crusade, Crisis and Revolt in the Low Countries

Abstract
On 15 June 1559, in Brussels, Philip took the decision to send an expedition to reconquer Tripoli, which had been conquered in 1551 by the celebrated Barbary pirate corsair Dragut.1 Philip’s decision was motivated in part by a perfectly natural ambition to announce the beginning of his reign in Spain with a great victory against the infidel. More generally it emphasised his determination to reverse the successes of the Ottoman Turks and their co-religionists, the Barbary pirates, and to prevent them taking joint action in the western Mediterranean against Spain, her territories and her allies. Charles V had never concentrated fully on the defence of the western Mediterranean, although he had organised occasional large-scale expeditions; he had, for instance, succeeded in conquering Tunis in 1535 but had failed humiliatingly against Algiers in 1541. In consequence, Mediterranean Christendom suffered a rhythmic and escalating series of losses: Algiers had fallen in 1529; La Goletta in 1534; Tripoli in 1551 and Bougie in 1555. Algiers and Tripoli in particular became major pirate lairs and no one trading in the western Mediterranean, or living on its coast, was safe. Ottoman Turkey did not ordinarily send large fleets into the western Mediterranean but in 1558 a small expedition descended on Menorca and took thousands of Spaniards off into captivity. In Algiers it was said to be ‘raining Christians’.2 The assault on Tripoli was Philip’s declaration that he intended to fight back — and that he intended in doing so to claim for himself the leadership of Christian Europe as well as to protect his lands, his subjects and their commerce.
Patrick Williams

6. War in the Low Countries

Abstract
The appointment of Requesens to replace Alba, badly managed though it was, showed just how determined Philip was to resolve the situation in the Low Countries, for Don Luis was no ordinary adviser. Philip had known him for nearly forty years and trusted him deeply. Insistently, over the first two decades of his reign it had been to Requesens that Philip had turned when his own reputation had been at serious hazard: in 1563 he had sent him to Rome to find a settlement to the Carranza affair, and he had then trusted him to guide (and restrain) Don John in the campaigns in the Alpujarras and at Lepanto; in 1571 he had appointed him to the governorship of Milan so that he could both organise the despatch of troops and resources to Alba in the Low Countries and deal with the turbulence unleashed in the duchy by the enthusiasm with which Archbishop Carlo Borromeo had imposed the Tridentine reforms. Now, in 1573, Philip laid upon his friend the obligation of salvaging his own prestige in the Low Countries after the disasters of Alba’s rule. He wrote to him: ‘I entrust to you the greatest and the most important business that I have had or could have’ and insisted that ‘I will admit no excuses, nor must you for any reason give me [one] … I want you to serve me in this without making any reply’.1 So that Requesens could serve him effectively Philip gave him much greater resources in terms of men and money than Alba had ever enjoyed.
Patrick Williams

The Imprudent King

Frontmatter

7. The Conquests of Portugal and the Azores and the Assault upon England

Abstract
By the autumn of 1579 Philip had spent twenty years in Spain as king — more than his father had done in the whole of his reign — and he had emphatically re-established the power of the monarchy. Certainly, the future of the dynasty seemed secure enough; Anna had presented Philip with three boys to add to his two daughters by Elizabeth and at thirty was still young enough to provide him with more children. Fernando, the eldest of Anna’s boys, died on 8 October 1578; his death was a deep personal loss, for Philip probably loved him more than any of his sons. However, he still had two sons (Diego Felix and Felipe) and Anna gave birth to a daughter on 14 February 1580; she was christened María. With five children now alive, Philip could be confident that the succession was assured. He could be confident, too, that he had provided his monarchy with a functional capital city in Madrid, and since the construction of the Escorial was rapidly nearing completion he had the courtly complex that was so fundamental to his kingship. The dynasty had a stage that was worthy of it. Politically, Philip could be reasonably confident that neither France nor Turkey would drag him into major wars in the immediate future. He had resolved the threat to national security created by the moriscos of Granada. He had reasserted the authority of the Crown over the American colonies and was about to receive his reward; in the years 1581–90 nearly twice as much silver was registered at Seville than in the previous decade (see Table 4.1). This silver would, in conjunction with Castilian taxes, make it possible for Philip to expand his political ambitions almost beyond measure during the next two decades. He was about to reach the very pinnacle of his kingly stature and prestige by adding Portugal and its empire to his monarchy.
Patrick Williams

8. After the Armada: The Struggle for Western Europe

Abstract
In the later months of 1588, Philip slowly recovered his strength; by November he was once again working long hours at his papers and before the year was out he was conducting business with his ministers in person.1 However, the last decade of his life was one of progressive physical decline and latterly of the unremitting agony of a long and lingering death. These years saw the king make a series of grievous errors of judgement — in his handling of the situation in Aragon; in his determination to risk so much on intervention in France and doing so at the expense of the war in the Low Countries; and in sending two more armadas against Elizabeth of England, both of which were ill-prepared and sailed unseasonally late in the year (1596 and 1597). The illnesses and the impairment of judgement were doubtless connected but what was most remarkable about Philip at the end of his life was the way in which he shed the indecisiveness that had characterised so much of his kingship. As he became more conscious of the approach of death, Philip became more determined to take any risk in order to bring his reign to a successful conclusion and to hand on a secure inheritance to his son.
Patrick Williams

9. Crescendo: Failure, Settlement and Death

Abstract
By the spring of 1595, Philip seemed to be surviving on willpower alone. His doctors marvelled at his courage and endurance; after he had weathered twenty-seven continuous days of fever in April–May 1595 they let it be known that ‘his body is so withered and feeble that it is almost impossible that a human being in such a state should live for long’.1 A year later, in April 1596, an attack of gout deprived him of the use of his right arm. He sank into deep depression; noting that an eclipse of the sun was due, he solemnly recalled that his father, his mother and other members of his family had died at such a time.2 But battered though he was, Philip would not give up on his wars; he would make a settlement for his son, but he would do it on his own terms and even now, with his life ebbing away by the day, he would do it in his own time.
Patrick Williams

Epilogue

Abstract
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.
Patrick Williams
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