1902 Encyclopedia > King Philip II of Spain

Philip II
King of Spain
(1527-98)




PHILIP II. (1527-1598), king of Spain, was the son of the emperor Charles V. and Isabella of Portugal, and was born at Valladolid on 21st May 1527. He was brought up in Castile under the care of his mother, who died when he was twelve years old. As Philip grew up, his father, though he rarely saw his son, watched carefully over his education and strove to fit him for political life. In 1543 Philip married Mary of Portugal, who died in 1545, soon after the birth of a son, Don Carlos. In 1548 Charles V. summoned Philip to Brussels, that he might gain some experience of the peoples whom he would be called upon to rule. He was not, however, popular with his future subjects. He had already formed his character upon the model of Spanish haughtiness. He was cold, reserved, punctilious about decorum, and wanting in geniality. The Italians did not care for him ; the Flemings disliked him; the Germans hated him. His appearance and manner did not further his father's plan of securing his election to the empire. The scheme failed, and Philip's presence was in no way helpful. In 1551 he returned to the more congenial task of governing Spain.

The death of Edward VI. of England opened out to Charles V. new prospects for his son. Queen Mary regarded the emperor as her only friend, and submitted herself entirely to his guidance. She received with joy a proposal for her marriage with Philip. The English opposition broke down with the failure of Wyatt's rebellion, and in 1554 Philip came to England to claim his bride. Charles V. resigned to him Naples and Sicily that he might not come as a needy prince. Philip was well sup-plied with Spanish gold, and was charged by his father to spare no pains in conciliating the English. He tried his best; but his cold, ungenial manner was a hopeless obstacle to his success. Mary was devotedly attached to her husband, who exercised a moderating influence over the queen's zeal for the re-establishment of Catholicism. Charles V. wished to secure England as an ally, and subordinated religious to political considerations. Philip was not natur-ally fitted for conciliatory action, and was not happy in England. He found that his wife was destined to be childless and that he had no prospect of succeeding to the English crown. At the end of 1555 he joyfully obeyed his father's summons to go to Brussels. Charles V., worn out by the fatigue of a long reign, resolved to abdicate in favour of his son, and this he did on 16th January 1556.

Philip II. was now king of Spain, Naples, and Sicily, duke of Milan, lord of Tranche Comte and the Nether-lands, ruler of Tunis and the Barbary coast, the Canaries and Cape de Verd Islands, the Philippines and Spice Islands, large colonies in the West Indies, and the vast territories of Mexico and Peru. These great dominions had fallen into his father's hands and were united only by their dependence on their ruler. It was Philip's task to give them an organic unity and combine them into a system. First he had to face a threatening league against his power. Pope Paul IV., a Neapolitan, was imbued with hatred of the Spanish rule, and formed an alliance with Henry II. of France. Philip sent the duke of Alva, who speedily reduced the intractable pope. But Philip was too good a Catholic to press his victory. He was content to leave the pope powerless, and Alva on his knees asked pardon for bearing arms against the church. The war against France was pursued with equal success and greater results. Philip's army, led by Philibert of Savoy, entered Picardy and besieged St Quentin. The French were defeated in an attempt to relieve the city, and St Quentin was stormed. The French retaliated by seizing Calais from England, and thence advanced into Flanders, where they were again defeated in the bloody battle of Grave-lines. Both Philip II. and Henry II. were destitute of resources and wished for peace; but Philip II. was the better diplomatist. The treaty of Cateau Cambresis in 1559 restored to him all that France had won by its long war-fare against Charles V. in Italy and the Netherlands.

Thus Philip began his reign with glory, and Europe saw that Charles V. had no unworthy successor. Yet Philip was not anxious for military glory. His finances were embarrassed and he felt the need of a period of peace. For the purpose of maintaining his political supremacy he proposed to continue his English alliance by marrying Elizabeth when she succeeded Mary on the English throne. Elizabeth did not at once reject the proposal; but she gradually entered upon a religious policy which made marriage with Philip impossible. The Spanish king rapidly changed his plans and cemented his alliance with France by a union (24th June 1559) with Isabella, daughter of Henry II. He made arrangements for the government of the Netherlands, and at the end of 1559 returned to Spain, where he remained for the rest of his life.

The policy of Philip was steadily directed towards welding his dominions together in dependence on himself and extending his influence over Europe. The power of Charles V. had had no definite centre. The emperor had recognized the claims of his separate dominions upon him, and had striven to be neither German, Spanish, Flemish, nor Italian. Philip identified himself entirely with Spain. Castile was to be the seat of his monarchy, and that monarchy was to be absolute. He was devoted to Catholicism, and during his reign superseded the pope as the head of the Catholic party in Europe. But the interests of Catholicism were in his mind identified with his own personal interests, and under the cover of zeal for the church he pursued the aggrandizement of Spain. In Spain itself his care for the maintenance of the Catholic faith accorded with the temper of the people. The long continuance of war against the Moors had identified ortho-doxy with purity of race, and heresy was regarded as a taint in the blood. The rigour of the Inquisition preserved the national honour ; the auto-da-fe was a means of ridding, the land of dangerous elements. This uncompromising spirit of Spain in religious matters its king wished to extend to the rest of his dominions.

Philip had none of his father's personal activity. Though his mind was always engaged in the business of the state, he did not care for the excitement of personal conflict. He was no warrior, and never took the field. He felt himself best qualified to direct his policy from afar. He was resolved to make the fullest use of others, yet to keep the guidance of affairs in his own hands. He increased the number of councils for the management of the business of the different provinces of his realm, and in these councils natives of the various provinces had seats. But the general direction of affairs was in the hands of a privy council, entirely composed of Spaniards. At first this council consisted chiefly of the members of Philip's house-hold, the men whom he had known in early days. Fore-most amongst them were the duke of Alva and Ruy Gomez de Silva, prince of Eboli. Alva was a general, Gomez a courtier, and the two men were in permanent opposition. This exactly suited Philip's views. He was never present in person at the sittings of the council. All questions on which he wished for its opinion were reduced to writing and laid before it. Its recommenda-tions were similarly submitted to the king in writing. There was no initiative except by his pleasure, no decision which was not due to his personal approval. He gained all the advantages of opposing views amongst his ministers without identifying himself with any. No minister could become a necessity to him, and he could withdraw his favour at will. Philip's regents and ministers in the several provinces had large authority, but were never allowed to forget their dependence on the central power. Every land was submissive except the Netherlands, where the nobles resented their exclusion from the government, and saw with alarm the steady advance of Philip's system. A new ecclesiastical organization increased the number of bishops, who were all dependent on the king, and dimin-ished the revenues of the monasteries, which furnished provisions for the younger members of the noble families. The introduction of the Spanish Inquisition threatened to destroy entirely the political importance of the nobles. In the general discontent the Protestant feeling of the towns made common cause with the national jealousy of the nobles. A strong opposition was formed, and in 1566 the Netherlands were in revolt. For a time Philip wavered between a policy of conciliation and a policy of repression. At last he listened to the advice of the duke of Alva, and sent him to reduce the rebels. Alva treated the revolted provinces with merciless severity; he crushed, but he could not subdue. The Netherlands were still unpacified, while Alva's cruelty destroyed their commerce. Their wealth had been the chief source of revenue to Charles V.; Philip II. no longer found it flow into his coffers. For seven years Alva resolutely tried his policy of repression; but, the spirit of the Netherlands remained unbroken, and round their slumbering revolt all the enemies of the Spanish monarchy began to gather. Alva was recalled and fell into disgrace. A more pacific successor, Don Luis de Requesens, was sent to try a more conciliatory policy.





In domestic life, meanwhile, Philip was unhappy. His son Don Carlos developed an ungovernable temper, and did not hesitate to condemn his father's caution as un-worthy of the traditions of his house. He wished to distinguish himself, and was on the point of quitting Spain when his father, as a measure of precaution, had him imprisoned. In prison Don Carlos yielded to sullen despair, and gave way to excesses, which Philip did not try to check. In consequence of this unwholesome life Don Carlos died in 1568, and it was a bitter blow to the haughty king to inform foreign princes of the facts. It would seem that Philip was glad to be rid of one whom he could not manage ; he did not hasten the death of Don Carlos, but he took no steps to prevent it. A few months later died Queen Isabella, leaving Philip without a male heir. In 1570 he married his fourth wife, Anne of Austria, his niece, who died in 1580. Only one of her sons survived to manhood, and he succeeded his father as Philip III.

Meanwhile the hopes of Spain were fixed on Philip's half-brother, Don John of Austria, who first showed his military skill by putting down a serious revolt of the Moriscos in the Alpuxarras, and was then sent to command the Spanish fleet in the joint expedition of the Mediterranean powers against the Turk. He commanded at the decisive battle of Lepanto in 1571, which stemmed the tide of Turkish conquest. Brave and ambitious, Don John longed for a kingdom, and offered to undertake the conquest of the African coast. But Philip did not wish his brother to gain too much military glory. He sent him in 1576 to succeed Requesens in the Netherlands. Don John was full of great schemes,—to pacify the Netherlands, invade England, release Mary Queen of Scots, and become her husband. But the Spanish treasury was exhausted. Philip would send no more supplies, and left Don John to temporize with the Netherlanders, a task for which he was entirely unfit. Overwhelmed with disappointment and the sense of failure, Don John died in 1578, leaving the work which he could not accomplish to be undertaken by the patient genius of Alexander Farnese.

Don John had had the art of impressing his great schemes on those around him. He sent his secretary, Escovedo, to urge his wishes on Philip, whose jealous mind was filled with suspicion. Escovedo awakened the personal dislike of Antonio Perez, and was murdered by that minister's instrumentality (see PEREZ). The fall of the old parties in the council brought forward new men and inaugurated a new policy. Cardinal Granvella, Juan Idiaquez, and Chris-toval de Moura became the king's chief advisers. They were men who depended solely on his favour, and were not connected with the old nobility of Castile. Hitherto Philip's policy had been in the main pacific. He had aimed at the internal consolidation of the monarchy, and had striven by every means to overcome the revolt of the Netherlands. But the resolute temper of the Nether-landers was encouraged by hopes of foreign help. England, France, and even Austria in turn displayed their jealousy of Philip's power by helping to keep alive the insurrection. Pound the revolt of the Netherlands centred the chief questions of European politics. Philip at length deter-mined to make the subjection of the rebellious provinces part of a great scheme to extend the power of Spain over Europe. In the second period of his reign he came forward as the disturber of European peace, determined to reduce western Christendom to religious unity under his own rule. He interfered in the internal politics of every country and seized on every opportunity for pursuing his own schemes. His first step in the career of aggrandize-ment was taken in 1580 by the reduction of Portugal, when he claimed the vacant crown by right of his mother. The duke of Alva overran the country before any other power had time to interfere. The last of the great Spanish nobles, who had already felt the weight of the king's displeasure, was still a willing instrument in extending the royal despotism. Philip succeeded in im-pressing on Spain an unreasoning loyalty, which took the place of its old chivalrous patriotism. In the Nether-lands he put William of Grange under the ban, and the assassination of William wf,s the first sign of the fana-tical bitterness which Philip was ready to encourage and to use. In France he resolved to check the power of the court and obtain an influence over French affairs. The strongly Catholic party resented the favour shown by Henry III. to the Huguenots, and was anxious about the succession to the crown. Headed by the Guises, they formed a league with Philip in January 1585, which plunged France into long and bitter warfare. The rapid advance of the League in France and the successes of Alexander Farnese in the Netherlands awakened the alarm of England. Troops were sent to the Netherlands, and the English privateers redoubled their attacks upon the treasure-ships of the Indies in the Spanish Main. Resolved to remove all hindrances from his path, Philip undertook the reduction of England. He trusted to the strength of the Spanish navy, the military skill of Alexander Farnese, and the discontent of the English Catholics. In 1588 the French king had become a mere instrument of the League, and Philip sent against England the "Invincible Armada." Its failure involved the failure of all his schemes, though this fact was not at first obvious. Philip bore his loss with resignation. "I sent my ships," he said, "against men, not against the billows. I thank God that I can place another fleet upon the sea." But he was never able to renew his attack upon England. The murder of Henry III. of France raised the question of the succession to the French crown, and Philip's protectorate over the titular Charles X. was admitted. On the death of Charles the Catholic party were willing to recognize Philip's daughter Isabella as their queen. But the resolute bearing of Henry of Navarre kindled anew the national feeling, and the discussions about Isabella's future husband brought political questions into the foreground and weakened the cohesion of the League. The death of Alexander Farnese in 1592 deprived Philip of the great general who alone could hold in check Henry of Navarre, and Henry's change of religion and absolution by the pope in 1593 did much to remove the religious difficulty to his recognition by all parties in France. Philip's schemes for a general European ascendency entirely failed. He could not even recover the Netherlands for the Spanish monarchy. The northern provinces, banded together as the United Nether-lands, made good their independence. The southern pro-vinces returned to their obedience, but were ceded by Philip to his daughter Isabella and her husband Albert of Austria. The English cruisers became more and more dangerous in the Spanish Main, and in 1596 the English fleet sacked Cadiz. Philip II.'s reign ended in general failure. His resources were exhausted, and in 1597 he repudiated his debts. His economic policy was disastrous. He checked commerce by unwise taxes, trusted unduly to the wealth of the Indies, and encouraged the indolent haughtiness of the Castilians. He raised Spain to a high position, but left it with a ruinous system of govern-ment, which could only end in financial decay. Yet he was resolute and persevering to the end. He bore with constancy a painful and lingering illness, and his last words were, "I die like a good Catholic, in faith and obedience to the Holy Roman Church." But he knew that he left a feeble successor. His jealous temper showed itself in the narrow education and secluded life which he prescribed for his son, and thereby intensified the boy's natural timidity. " God has not been pleased," he sadly said at the last, "to grant me a successor capable of ruling my great realm." He died at the Escorial in September 1598.
Philip IP's character is impressed on the great architectural monument of his reign, the Escorial, built in the solitude of the Guadarrama hills. The mighty mass of buildings contained a monastery, a burying-place for the royal house, and a palace for the king. It was built in con-sequence of a vow made at the battle of St Quentin. The battle was fought on St Lawrence's day 1557, and this fact was commemorated by arranging the building in the form of a gridiron. The cloister of the monastery supplied the bars, and the royal palace projected like the handle. Philip loved solitude. It harmonized with his habits of quiet industry. He governed his dominions by means of des-patches, as a merchant seated in his office transacts com-mercial business in different quarters of the globe. All that could be done by patient industry, without political insight, Philip II. did. His strength lay in his steady persistency. During his reign he was the foremost figure in European history, but the only work which he accom-plished was the formation of the Spanish character into the definite shape in which it influenced European culture.

Literature.—Cabrera, Filipe Segundo ; Leti, Vita di Filippo II. ; Sepulveda, De Rebus Gestis Philippi II.; Alberi, Relazioni Venete ; Weiss, Rapiers cl'État de Cardinal Granvelle; Gaehard, Correspondance de Philippe II., and Don Carlos et Philippe II.; Calendar of State Papers, Mary and Elizabeth ; Documentos inéditos para la Historia de España; Prescott, History of Philip II.; Mignet, Antonio Perez et Philippe II. ; Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, and The United Netherlands ; Froudc, History of England under Mary and Elizabeth ; Ranke, Geschichte Frankreichs, and Fürsten und Völker von Süd-Europa ; Räumer, History of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; Forneron, Histoirc de Philippe II. ; Stirling-Maxwell, Don John of Austria. (M. C.)






The above article was written by: Rev. Mandell Creighton, M.A., Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History, University of Cambridge.



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