Philip II of Spain

Annie Lee | May 31, 2023

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Philip II - Spanish Felipe II - († September 13, 1598 in El Escorial near Madrid) was a Spanish monarch from the Habsburg dynasty (Casa de Austria).

As the only surviving legitimate son of Charles V, Philip ruled after his father's abdication from 1555 onwards

Philip II was a devout Catholic and vehemently advocated the Counter-Reformation. He saw himself called upon to enforce Catholicism in the countries he ruled and to forcefully push back the increasingly strong Protestantism (Spanish Inquisition). This led to ongoing military conflicts with the Netherlands (Eighty Years' War 1568-1648) and England (Anglo-Spanish War 1585-1604), against which he sent the Armada in 1588 to no avail. Due to the enormous gold and silver supplies from the American possessions, the Spanish world empire under Philip reached the peak of its global supremacy, which also led to a high flowering of art and culture (Siglo de Oro). Due to numerous military conflicts, however, Spain was already in decline toward the end of his reign, and it had to declare national bankruptcy three times (1557, 1575 and 1596).

Philip had the monastic palace Real Sitio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial built as a representative seat of power. His motto was Non sufficit orbis ("The world is not enough"), surpassing his father's motto Plus Ultra ("On and on"). After a 42-year reign, Philip II died on September 13, 1598.

The early years

Infante Philip of Spain (Spanish: Don Felipe de Austria) was born in Valladolid on May 21, 1527. He was the only surviving son from the marriage of the Roman-German Emperor and Spanish King Charles V to Isabella of Portugal. At the time of his birth, Philip held the titles of Archduke of Austria, Prince of Girona, Infante of Castile and Aragon, and Prince of Flanders and Burgundy. As early as April 19, 1528, the Castilian Cortes in Madrid administered their oath of allegiance to the eleven-month-old heir to the throne, now Prince of Asturias.

Until his mother's death in 1539, Philip grew up at her court, which was characterized by the Castilian way of life, together with his younger sisters Maria and Johanna. Isabella brought up her only son harshly and punished him severely if she thought he did not behave with enough dignity for an emperor's son. In addition to Isabella, her lady-in-waiting, Dona Leonor de Mascarenhas, played an important role in his early education.

As ruler over heterogeneous territories scattered throughout Europe ("composite monarchy"), Charles V spent a total of only about ten years in Spain during his entire reign and was frequently absent due to wars against France and religious conflicts with the Protestants in the Holy Roman Empire. Nevertheless, Charles took special care of Spain, the ancestral homeland of his power; he directed great care to Philip's education and deliberately had the designated heir to the throne brought up in the Spanish-Castilian country tradition. Unusual for ruling houses of the time, Philip could neither read nor write until the age of six, which prompted the emperor to appoint the nobleman Juan de Zúñiga y Avellaneda as prince educator. The latter put together a broad educational program, and Philip received a thorough, academic education in keeping with the spirit of the Renaissance. Philip was taught by the scholar Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda through the works of humanism, the mathematician Pedro Ciruelo gave him scientific content, and from 1534 religious education was under the cleric Juan Martínez Silíceo. In addition to his native Spanish, Philip mastered Portuguese and Latin, but had difficulty learning German and French, which would later have a negative impact on his reign. Through his two noble pages, Rui Gomes da Silva and Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens, the crown prince received additional instruction in hunting, medieval jousting, dance and music. For a contemporary ruler, Philip attained an outstanding education and developed a great passion for collecting, which extended to books and art objects, as well as relics and mechanical instruments. At the end of his life, his private library, considered the largest in the Occident at the time, contained more than 13,500 volumes (including manuscripts in Greek, Hebrew and Arabic). Philip developed great interest in geography, cartography, architecture and natural history.

At an early age, Philip displayed character traits such as introversion, emotional coolness and pronounced religiosity, which became even more pronounced in the course of his life. The strong monarchical consciousness imparted to him from childhood kept him at a distance from his closest surroundings. His lifestyle was determined by the sense of ritual regularity of the court ceremonial originating from Burgundy; his daily routine had to follow a rigid routine and a strict schedule. He paid great attention to health and cleanliness.

Outwardly, Philip resembled a Fleming rather than a Spaniard and had inherited the so-called Habsburg lower lip from his father.

First regency

On May 1, 1539, Isabella of Portugal succumbed to the effects of a miscarriage and died. Eleven-year-old Philip, who, according to the ceremonial, had to open the coffin once more to identify the dead woman, collapsed in a faint at the sight of his mother's face, which had turned to decay. Charles V, who had returned briefly, entrusted the Archbishop of Toledo, Juan Pardo de Tavera, with the regency of Spain and instructed him to introduce his son to the affairs of state. At his father's request, the heir to the throne was also to learn the trade of war, which is why Philip accompanied the troops of the imperial commander Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, and took part in the siege of Perpignan in 1542.

In 1535 Francesco II Sforza died without heirs, and the direct male line of the Sforza became extinct. Both Emperor Charles V and the French King Francis I then claimed succession to the Duchy of Milan for themselves, which again led to the outbreak of war. Charles was victorious and annexed prosperous Milan to his domain in 1545. To substantiate his claim, he had already appointed Philip duke of Milan on October 11, 1540, but left the administration to the authorities there. After Charles had had to hurry back to Flanders, he gave the sixteen-year-old Philip the regency in Spain for the first time on May 4, 1543. The emperor provided Philip with experienced advisors, including the financial secretary Francisco de los Cobos y Molina and the Duke of Alba, who was to become one of the young regent's most important advisors. In a first will, Charles gave his son a wide range of advice and instructions for his future life as monarch:

Charles followed up the intimate exhortations with a second, top-secret testament intended only for Philip. In it, he gave sharp characterizations of the ministers and advisors and instructions on how the young regent was to deal with them.

In those years, the Spanish colonization in South and Central America, but also in East Asia, was advanced. In honor of the new regent, the discoverer Ruy López de Villalobos named the island of Leyte "Las Islas Filipinas," which was soon applied to the entire archipelago of what is still called the Philippines.

First marriage with Mary of Portugal

On November 13, 1543, Philip married his cousin Mary of Portugal in Salamanca. The latter was the daughter of the Portuguese King John III, the brother of Philip's mother, and Catherine of Castile, the sister of Philip's father. The political background of this union was an effort to consolidate relations between the Spanish and Portuguese dynasties. The marriage solidified the Habsburg claim to inherit the Kingdom of Portugal, in the event that the House of Avis died out, also bringing the last independent kingdom of the Iberian Peninsula under Spanish rule. The succession occurred with the death of Henry I in 1580.

After two years of marriage, Maria was so badly injured by the helpers during the birth of their son Don Carlos († July 24, 1568) that she began to fever and died four days later on July 12, 1545, probably from an infection in the puerperium.

After Mary's early death, Philip initially sought to marry a Portuguese princess again, but lived until his next marriage to his mistress Isabel de Osorio, daughter of the Count of Astorga.

Stay in the empire

At his father's behest, Philip left Spain for the first time in 1548 and visited the various territories under Habsburg rule for several years. On October 2, 1548, he left Valladolid for Barcelona, landed with his retinue in Genoa on November 25, and traveled along the Spanish Road to Central Europe via Milan, Tyrol, Augsburg, and Luxembourg. Finally, Philip and his retinue made a ceremonial entry into Brussels on April 1, 1549, reuniting with his imperial father after seven years of separation. Numerous festivities were held in honor of the crown prince, which, in addition to balls, featured medieval jousting tournaments. In order to explore his future dominions, Philip then spent a year traveling in the Netherlands and came into contact with the cultural life there, which was to leave a lasting impression on him. Throughout his life, Philip was a collector of works by Dutch painters.

From the Netherlands, Philip set out on a journey to the Holy Roman Empire on May 31, 1550, and attended the Diet of Augsburg at his father's side until February 14, 1551. During his stay there, he met with representatives of the Austrian line of the house. Unlike most Habsburgs of the generations before him, who had generally undergone an extremely polyglot and international socialization, Philip had grown up in Spain with Castilian as his mother tongue, without having sufficiently learned other important languages. Reinforced by his personal aloofness, his poor language skills prevented him from communicating with his other-language environment, and so he soon came to be regarded as haughty within his Austrian kin. At the Imperial Diet, Charles V tried to win over the German imperial princes for the election of his son as Roman-German king and thus make Philip his designated successor in the empire. Charles's younger brother Ferdinand, ruler of the Habsburg hereditary lands since 1521, however, insisted on his own claims. He was not prepared to accept Philip and arranged for his son Archduke Maximilian to take part in the negotiations. After long negotiations, a compromise was finally reached in Augsburg on March 9, 1551, which had little chance of being realized. It provided for Philip to be elected Roman king and thus Ferdinand's successor, with Maximilian following Philip. The plan already failed in initial talks with the electors, who rejected a candidacy of the "Spaniard" Philip and saw the danger of a hereditary monarchy in the background. In the end, Charles was forced to renounce his son's succession to the empire.

Second marriage with Maria Tudor

In July 1553, Mary Tudor ascended the English throne and began to reassert Catholicism in a country that had been Protestant for two decades. Because of the persecution of non-Catholics that began under her reign, she was given the nickname "Bloody Mary" in historiography. Through the diplomat Simon Renard, Charles V sought contact with his cousin, who was thus also Philip's second aunt, and proposed her marriage to the Spanish crown prince to the English queen on October 10, 1553. As heir to Burgundy, Charles hoped to revive the Anglo-Burgundian alliance from the Hundred Years' War; Mary, in turn, hoped to use the union to Spain to secure the Catholicization of England and to give birth as soon as possible to a Catholic heir to the throne who would have excluded her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth from the succession. Mary was both joyful and worried, since she was eleven years older than Philip and the groom would meet with great disapproval in England (Wyatt conspiracy).

On July 21, 1554, Philip landed in England and married Mary four days later in Winchester Cathedral. According to the marriage contract, Philip received the title of King of England, but his real power was reduced to the functions of a prince consort. He was allowed to assist his wife in administration, but not to make any changes in the law. Should any offspring result from the marriage, a daughter would rule England and the Netherlands, and a son would inherit England as well as Philip's territories in southern Germany and Burgundy. Both queen and any offspring were to leave the country only with the consent of the nobility; in addition, a clause secured England against becoming involved in Habsburg wars or having to make payments to the empire. Spaniards were not allowed to join the Crown Council. The treaty was among the most advantageous England had ever made; Philip himself was incensed by its role. Privately, he declared that he did not consider himself bound by an agreement that had been reached without his consent. He would sign, Philip said, only so that the marriage could take place, "but by no means to bind himself and his heirs to keep the paragraphs, especially those that would burden his conscience." Despite the reservations, Philip showed himself to be a dutiful, kind husband to Maria.

Barely two months after the wedding, Mary was considered pregnant and the birth of the child was expected in April 1555. However, when July passed without her giving birth, it became obvious that she was suffering from either an illness or a false pregnancy. Only the prospect of the birth of an heir had kept Philip in England, so he left the country on August 19, 1555, at his father's behest and traveled to Flanders. It was not until March 1557 that Philip, by now after his father's abdication, returned to Mary in England to request military support. He stayed until July and was able to persuade Mary to assist Spain in the war against France and to attack the French coast to relieve the Spanish troops fighting on several fronts.

When Mary died childless on November 17, 1558, Philip briefly considered marrying her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I of England. The latter feared too strong a Spanish influence and rejected the marriage offer.

Assumption of power (1555

On the occasion of his marriage to Maria Tudor, Charles had already transferred the rule of the Kingdom of Naples to his son on July 25, 1554. In a solemn act of state on October 25, 1555, in the Aula Magna of the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels, Charles V handed over rule of the Netherlands to Philip and resigned as Grand Master of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Due to a lack of knowledge of French, Philip's minister Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle read out the new sovereign's personal address to the assembled Dutch estates. Then, on January 16, 1556, the rule over the realms of the Crown of Aragon, the Crown of Castile and the Colonial Empire also passed to Philip II. The dominion in the Habsburg hereditary lands (Austria, Bohemia and Hungary) and the imperial crown were transferred by Charles to his brother Ferdinand, thus dividing the dynasty into two lines. After handing over the sovereign rights, Charles retired to a small palace, which he had built next to the remote monastery of Yuste, in the Spanish Extremadura. He died there on September 21, 1558, and as a new defender of his God-given duties, Philip had himself knighted of the Holy Sepulcher.

Philip had inherited the permanent conflict with France over supremacy in Europe from his father and was encouraged by him to continue the fight against the French (→ see main article Italian Wars). The armistice of Vaucelles, concluded on February 5, 1556, in which the French king Henry II had been granted the bishoprics of Metz, Verdun, and Toul as well as Piedmont, was short-lived, and France allied itself with Pope Paul IV against Philip. This anti-Habsburg alliance was not successful, however, because the Duke of Alba occupied the Papal States and the Pope had to agree to the Peace of Cave-Palestrina on September 12, 1557. Before the threat of arms with France, Philip had secured the military support of the Netherlands and reluctantly granted concessions to the States General. The Spanish were under the command of Emanuel Philibert of Savoy, and Lamoral of Egmond commanded the Spanish-Dutch cavalry. The reopened war was quickly decided by the battles at Saint-Quentin (August 10, 1557) and Gravelines (July 13, 1558). The English army allied with Spain under William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke did not reach the battlefield in time, but played an important role in the subsequent capture of the town of Saint-Quentin. After this victory over the French, the sight of the battlefield left Philip with a permanent aversion to war, and he subsequently refused to take advantage and pursue the defeated enemy. Instead, he retreated with his force to the Netherlands and concluded the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis with France on April 3, 1559. Henry renounced all claims in Italy but retained the bishoprics of Metz, Toul, and Verdun, which he had occupied in 1552. Philip's rule in the Italian territories as well as the Burgundian possessions were definitively confirmed, and the allied Emanuel Philibert of Savoy received his territories in Savoy and Piedmont back from France.

The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis ended more than sixty years of conflict with France and marked the culmination of Spain's great power politics. In order to be recognized as king in Spain, Philip left the Netherlands in August 1559. He appointed his half-sister Margarethe of Parma, an illegitimate daughter of Charles V with Johanna van der Gheynst, as governor.

Third marriage with Elisabeth of Valois

A condition of the peace treaty was Philip's third marriage to Elizabeth of Valois, Henry II's daughter to Caterina de' Medici, who, however, was initially promised to Philip's son Don Carlos. Philip broke off the engagement between Don Carlos and Elizabeth and sent the Duke of Alba to the French court as his own suitor. Caterina de' Medici finally consented to the marriage of her fourteen-year-old daughter to the much older Spanish king, hoping she could influence him in favor of France. The marriage took place in Toledo on February 2, 1560. The French princess was later called Isabel de la Paz in Spain because her marriage to Philip sealed the long-awaited peace between the two powers. Elizabeth of Valois was praised by contemporaries as a radiant beauty. She won the affection of her royal husband as well as the court and also became popular with the wider Spanish public.

In her new home, Elizabeth initially suffered from homesickness and had difficulty adjusting to her new role as Queen of Spain. As early as February 1560, she fell ill with chickenpox and recovered only slowly. Elizabeth's weakened body was finally attacked by smallpox at the end of the year, so that she had to stay in bed most of the time. Despite the high risk of infection, Philip hardly left her side during this time and nursed her devotedly. Philip, who was described by his contemporaries as cold and aloof, changed in the presence of his young wife into a cheerful and loving husband who read his wife's every wish from her eyes. Although Philip obviously loved Elisabeth sincerely, family life took second place in his daily routine only to the affairs of state. Elizabeth assisted him in the business of government and increasingly transformed herself from the young French princess into an intelligent, charitable, pious and compassionate queen who was concerned about the welfare of the Spanish people.

Elisabeth was pregnant a total of five times. After a stillbirth, her second pregnancy began in May 1564 and with it a martyrdom from which only her early death would free her. In the fourth month she suffered a dangerous attack of fever, which was treated by the Spanish doctors with the then customary purgations and bloodletting. Complications arose during the birth of the Infanta Isabella Clara on August 12, 1566, and she hovered between life and death for several days. She was followed the next year by her daughter Catherine Michaela. The many illnesses and the agonies of childbirth had left their mark on Elisabeth's body; she became increasingly pale and thin, her emaciated body weaker and weaker. Nevertheless, she continued to try to be at her husband's side with advice and support. In the course of another pregnancy, she fell seriously ill in the fall of 1568 and never recovered. On October 3, 1568, she suffered a premature birth, lost consciousness several times, and passed away the same day in the Palacio Real of Aranjuez in the presence of Philip, without having given birth to a male heir to the throne.

His marriage to Elizabeth of Valois produced two surviving descendants:

The two growing daughters became Philip's most important confidants, who, like their mother, who had died early, were allowed to advise him on important political issues. Thus, on January 15, 1582, he wrote to his daughters from Lisbon: "I hear that you are all well - that is wonderful news for me! If your little sister's (Maria, 1580-1583, daughter of his fourth marriage) first milk teeth are coming in, it seems a bit premature to me: this is probably to replace the two teeth I am about to lose - by the time I get over there (to Spain) I will hardly have them!" His relationship with Isabella Clara was particularly intimate, and he described her as the comfort of his old age and the light of his eyes.

Construction of the Escorial

After the overwhelming victory in the Battle of Saint-Quentin (August 10, 1557), the day on which St. Lawrence (San Lorenzo in Spanish) was commemorated, Philip II vowed to build a monastery to thank him. His astrologers chose the small Castilian town of El Escorial (meaning "the pile of rubble") for this purpose. It is located in a sparsely populated mountain range in the Sierra de Guadarrama, about 50 kilometers northwest of Madrid.

By royal command, on April 23, 1563, construction began on the monumental monastic residence, considered the largest Renaissance building in the world. In the process, Philip took up the intellectual design of his father, who spent the last years of his life in a villa attached to the monastery of Yuste, and heightened it to grandeur with the construction of the Escorial. The building was designed by Juan Bautista de Toledo, a pupil of Michelangelo, after whose death (1567) Juan de Herrera took over the construction supervision until its completion on September 13, 1584. Due to Philip's preference for an ascetic lifestyle, the Escorial is kept in the sober style of the Spanish Renaissance (Herrera style) and emphasizes the inviolable dignity of majesty. Philip personally took care of every detail from the laying of the foundation stone onwards: all designs and accounts had to be submitted to him, and if he found them to be correct, he placed a laconic "Está bien así" (Engl.: "It is good this way") underneath. The Escorial is an ideological building that combines monastery and palace complex as an expression of the close relationship between state and church, stone symbol of Spanish world power.

The building complex covers a floor area of 33,000 m² and includes a church, a monastery of the Hieronymite order dedicated to St. Lawrence, the actual royal palace with seamless connection of living quarters and church, a school and a library. In the Pantheon of the Kings and Pantheon of the Infantes the members of the Spanish royal family were buried, and in 1576 Philip had the remains of his parents transferred there.

In total, the building complex includes 2,000 chambers with 3,000 doors and 2,673 windows, as well as 16 courtyards, 12 cloisters, 88 fountains and 86 staircases. It was called the "eighth wonder of the world" or the "heart chamber of the Spanish soul" by contemporaries.

Understanding of rulership and personality

Philip II was heir to the Spanish Empire, which extended over the Iberian heartland (Castile, Aragon, Catalonia, from 1580 also Portugal), the Netherlands and Burgundy. In Italy, the Duchy of Milan, the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia were under his rule, and the monarch's non-European sphere of influence also grew as a result of the enormous expansion of colonial territories in America (Viceroyalty of New Spain, Viceroyalty of Peru) and Asia (Philippines). After his accession to power, Philip definitively shifted the center of Habsburg interests away from the Netherlands to Spain and made Madrid, located in the Castilian heartland, the new capital. Madrid subsequently became the monarchy's permanent political and cultural center (El Madrid de los Austrias).

Philip's style of government was characterized by growing bureaucratization; an emerging, professional civil service took over communication between the king and the governors in the countries. After 1559, he would never leave the Iberian peninsula and rule his empire from his desk alone. This was a new, modern, but also sterile way of ruling that contrasted with the traveling kingship of his father, who had constantly moved from residence to residence in order to be personally present. The paper-based ruling technique made Philip the "archetype of the modern bureaucrat," and his reign is considered by historical researchers to be the "first seamlessly bureaucratized system of the modern era," which earned him the nickname "Rey Papelero" (Paper King) even during his lifetime. At his court, Philip replaced the traditional elite of aristocratic advisors and surrounded himself with secretaries and lawyers of middle-class origin. The king himself subjected himself to an enormous workload, for he was unwilling to delegate tasks. In the process, he all too often lost himself in trivialities and matters of detail, resulting in a cumbersome administrative machinery whose slowness was exacerbated by the limited means of communication available at the time. Arndt Brendecke has provided a classification of Philip's ruling technique for his world-spanning empire in the knowledge stocks and ruling ideas of his time. With his secretaries, especially with his longtime confidant Mateo Vázquez de Leca, Philip exchanged large quantities of short messages on slips of paper, of which about 10,000 lay as a closed fund in the archives of the Count of Altamira until the 19th century, but were later scattered among numerous European archives and collections.

As a monarch, Philip's main focus was on preserving his royal authority as well as maintaining the traditional system; he thought and acted conservatively. He displayed a sometimes cruel, implacable behavior toward renegades, punishing individuals harshly, but also entire cities or regions that showed resistance to royal authority. The complicated, impenetrable set of rules of Spanish court ceremonial made the king unapproachable and aloof; only the very highest grandees often had personal access to him after months of waiting. Philip developed a constant distrust of those around him; minions could never be completely sure of his approval, and he could suddenly drop them. Philip's personality reinforced the distance between king and subjects: he was a secretive loner, shy and reclusive at heart. Due to the early death of his third wife, Elizabeth of Valois, from 1568 Philip fell more and more into a state of lethargy, which he had partially escaped during the short marriage. The king wore only black robes, ate the same food punctually every day, and made the same daily drive across the lonely plateau of the Sierra de Guadarrama. In his later years, Philip left his private chambers of the Escorial only to hear Mass.

Philip was a religious ecstatic and fanatical Catholic for whom religion was above all other things. ("Before I allow the slightest harm to be done to religion and the service of God, I would rather lose all my lands and a hundred lives if I possessed them."). He saw himself as an instrument of divine providence. Therefore, he made himself the patron of the Catholic Counter-Reformation and was convinced that the Spanish monarchy was destined to protect humanity from all forms of heresy and apostasy, which is why Philip avoided any concession. He saw in the totalitarian claim to monoconfessionalism the most important basis of his rule; Catholicism was to serve as the unifying element of his territories. As heir to the "Catholic Monarchs" (Isabella I and Ferdinand II), Philip was an advocate of the Inquisition, which played a decisive role in religious conformity. Its strict laws, repression and violent persecution of heretics, heretics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and forced converts (Moriscos) was increasingly extended to political enemies under Philip.

For a long time, his personality was in conflict with different assessments. On the one hand, Philip II was the focus of the "leyenda negra" (black legend), especially outside Spain, which drew a picture of a bloody and brutal tyranny from Philip's position of world power and transferred these elements to his personality. Thus, in the 19th century, the American historian John Lothrop Motley wrote: "If Philip possessed a single virtue, it escaped the author's careful research. If there are any vices - which may be assumed - from which he was exempt, it is because human nature does not admit of perfection even in evil." On the other hand, especially in Spain, there is the tradition of a representation of the ruler as "rey prudente" or "rey sabio" (wise king), who, according to his self-representation as the new King Solomon from the new Temple Escorial, controlled the world with overview. These outdated evaluations have not yet been replaced by a new master narrative in historical scholarship, which is why Helmut G. Koenigsberger considers Philip II to be "perhaps the most enigmatic and controversial personality of modern times," even ahead of Napoleon Bonaparte and Joseph Stalin.

Don Carlos

As the only son from his marriage to Mary of Portugal, Don Carlos was the legitimate heir to the throne of Philip II and was recognized by the Spanish nobility as Prince of Asturias in 1560. Possibly as a result of his parents' close relationship, the prince was physically retarded and considered mentally weak, which is why the king was skeptical about his firstborn's abilities. Don Carlos was placed under strict clerical supervision by his father. When the king appointed the Duke of Alba as commander against the Dutch rebellion in 1566 instead of his son, Carlos opposed his father. Out of disappointment, he drew up a list of the people he hated most, with his father at the top of the list. In order to pacify his son, Philip appointed him Minister of the Council of State, in which Carlos initially got along quite well. However, he soon fell back into his old behavior, whereupon his distrustful father withdrew the task from him again.

The prince planned his escape to the Netherlands to join the rebels there. The plans were discovered and Philip had his son arrested for treason under dramatic circumstances. In full armor and in the presence of the court, the king arrested his son on January 18, 1568 and issued orders to imprison Don Carlos in his chambers. During the summer months it became unbearably hot in these rooms, so the imprisoned man had the stone floor sprinkled with water. He walked barefoot, drank large quantities of ice water and caught a severe cold. When he felt death approaching, he demanded to see his father in order to reconcile with him. The latter, however, refused to meet him for the last time. When the prince died a short time later on July 24, 1568, Philip's adversaries claimed that the king had ordered the murder of his own son. It is more likely that Don Carlos died of high fever and severe colic.

Friedrich Schiller adapted the story of Don Carlos in his drama Don Karlos in 1787. It criticizes only superficially and in the spirit of the Enlightenment the conditions at the (Spanish) court and its connection with the Catholic Church, especially the (Spanish) Inquisition. For Schiller, Philip II, among others, served as an example of "tyrannical absolutism" that ultimately requires transformation into "enlightened absolutism." It was not Schiller's intention to write a historically accurate drama.

Netherlands uprising

In the second half of the 16th century, Spanish-English enmity revived, especially as both sought to impose their respective confessions beyond their national borders. Philip II continued even more consistently the persecution of heretics that had already begun under his father Charles V and had caused unrest in the Netherlands. In 1559, as part of an ecclesiastical reorganization, he appointed new bishops who would also be represented in the Estates General of the provinces, the so-called States General, and reduced the size of the bishoprics. He appointed his half-sister Margaret of Parma as governor in the Netherlands and placed the bishop of Mechelen, Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, as her first minister. Some members of the Dutch Council of State, led by William I of Orange and Counts Egmond and Hoorn, protested vehemently against these changes and forced Granvelle's resignation in 1564. The protest against Spanish rule reached a first climax in the same year with the iconoclasts of the Calvinists. Philip then abolished the Inquisition, but in 1567 he sent Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, as the new governor on a punitive expedition to the Netherlands. Alba also initially succeeded in suppressing the regional uprisings of the Dutch with the help of special courts, the so-called Blood Council of Brussels. The Count of Egmond placed himself at the regent's disposal to subdue the uprising, took a renewed oath of allegiance to her, and helped to consolidate the royal regiment on a new basis. Nevertheless, Philip was angry with him for his earlier opposition. Egmond, however, feeling quite secure, disregarded the warnings of William of Orange at their last meeting at Willebroek, went to meet Alba as far as the frontier, and rode into Brussels at his side. He was captured on September 9, 1567, and brought before Alba's Council of Blood. However, the claim that the Inquisition condemned to death virtually all the inhabitants of the Netherlands is attributed to a forgery. Egmond's privilege as a Knight of the Fleece was not respected; as a high traitor and rebel, he was sentenced to death and beheaded together with Count Philip of Hoorn on June 5, 1568, in the Great Market in Brussels.

The subsequent Eighty Years' War began with the first military clash between the two sides at the Battle of Heiligerlee, in which Adolf of Nassau, brother of William of Orange, fell. On July 21, 1568, Alba defeated an insurgent army under Louis of Nassau in the Battle of Jemgum (Jemmingen) and devastated the surroundings of Groningen. The Dutch privateers, known as the "Wassergeusen", in particular, subsequently caused the Spaniards a great deal of trouble with their continuous attacks on sea transports and bases. In the years that followed, Alba once again defeated the Dutch troops led by William I of Orange, but his harsh regime made him unbearable. On October 17, 1573, the Duke of Alba was replaced by the previous governor of Milan, Luís de Zúñiga y Requesens. Although the new governor was initially more successful than his predecessor, the rebels once again achieved a great victory: they flooded the country, sailed to Leiden and liberated the city from the Spanish besiegers (Siege of Leiden). On October 3, 1574, the Seegeusen liberated Leiden, and the Spanish suffered a losing defeat. Philip II authorized Requesens to conduct peace negotiations with the States General, which began in Breda on March 3, 1575. Spain demanded the return of the Netherlands to the Catholic faith. Catholics were promised restitution of property confiscated during Alba's governorship (1566-1573). Protestants were to emigrate within the next six months, and they were also to be granted a period of eight to ten years to sell their property in the Netherlands. But by July 13, 1575, the negotiations had already ended without result. Despite the simultaneous Spanish national bankruptcy, Requesens began the siege of Zierikzee on September 28, 1575. During that year, a brief rapprochement of Spain with England took place. Queen Elizabeth I of England ordered the English ports closed to the Dutch rebels. Requesens died unexpectedly in March 1576; because of the lack of pay, mutinies were already occurring in the army, which escalated on November 4 with the sack of Antwerp.

The new Spanish governor was Philip's half-brother Juan de Austria, an illegitimate son of Charles V with Barbara Blomberg, who had been officially introduced to the Spanish court at his father's testamentary request. He formally accepted the demands, yet unrest continued. The Ghent Pacification was to be the last joint act of the 17 Dutch provinces. On July 24, 1581, the provinces of the Union of Utrecht formed the Republic of the United Netherlands and declared their independence. William I of Orange was appointed governor of the new republic. The parts of the southern provinces that had not joined the Union of Arras were subdued between 1581 and 1585, partly after difficult sieges, by the Spanish under the new governor Alexander Farnese, the son of Margaret of Parma. Although William was assassinated by a Catholic in 1584, the States General were able to agree relatively quickly on William's son Moritz of Orange as his successor. When Alexander Farnese conquered Antwerp in 1585, the provinces of the Union of Utrecht were at the highest risk. However, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, the Provincial Advocate of the Province of Holland, succeeded in negotiating a pact of the States General with England in 1596. With its financial and military support, the war against Spain continued. Large parts of the northeastern Netherlands were also conquered by the Spanish during these years, but these conquests were reversed by the Dutch after 1589. In the end, only the War of Independence in the north was successful.

Fourth marriage with Anna of Austria

The death of his third wife and only son Don Carlos left Philip still without a male heir to the throne in 1568, so he decided to marry a fourth. After negotiations with his cousin, the Roman-German Emperor Maximilian II, it was agreed that he would marry his eldest daughter, Archduchess Anne of Austria, who was originally to have been married to Don Carlos. As Maximilian's daughter with Mary of Spain, a younger sister of Philip, she was his niece, which is why Pope Pius V granted the dispensation for the marriage only after prolonged opposition. Anna was accompanied on her bridal journey by her younger brothers Albrecht and Wenceslas, who were educated at the Spanish court from then on and did not return to Austria. The marriage between Anna and Philip was contracted in Segovia on September 12, 1570.

The union produced five descendants, including four long-awaited male heirs, of whom, however, only the future Philip III was to reach adulthood:

Anna, who had herself grown up at the Spanish court, had a cheerful disposition and, in addition to her own children, also took care of the two stepdaughters Isabella and Catherine, with whom she built up a close relationship of trust. As queen, she would occasionally succeed in breaking through the rigid court ceremonial to some extent and develop a lively marital relationship with her husband. During a joint trip to Portugal in 1580, which was to consolidate Philip's claim to the Portuguese throne, the king fell seriously ill with influenza. Anna, newly pregnant, contracted the disease while nursing her husband and did not survive. The doctors bled her to death. After days of agony, she had a premature birth unfit for life and died on October 26 in Talavera la Real.

The death of his wife hit Philip hard; two years later he wrote about the night of his death to his daughter: "I will always remember that night, even if I should live a thousand years."

War in the Mediterranean

The ongoing attacks and depredations of North African corsairs severely disrupted the Mediterranean trade routes and had a negative impact on the Spanish economy. When Spanish possessions on the Levantine coast came under direct attack, Philip II succeeded in 1560 in forming a military alliance between Spain, the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Papal States and the Order of Malta. Under the command of the Genoese Giovanni Andrea Doria, the alliance assembled a fleet of about 200 ships with 30,000 soldiers in Messina and captured the island of Djerba in the Gulf of Gabès on March 12, 1560. Djerba had long been a key bastion of Muslim corsairs under Khair ad-Din Barbarossa and Turgut Reis. In response, a strong Ottoman fleet, led by Piyale Pasha, was dispatched, which recovered the island on May 14, 1560, after the successful naval battle of Djerba. The Christian alliance lost about 20,000 soldiers and half of its ships, after which Ottoman naval domination of the Mediterranean reached its peak (see Siege of Malta, 1565).

The Moriscos (Christianized Arabs) living in Spain were blamed for the military defeat. At the instigation of the Inquisition and with the support of royal edicts, efforts were made to eradicate their culture in Andalusia. In an edict (Pragmática de 1567), the strict Catholic Philip decreed forced conversions as well as a ban on Islam and the use of the Arabic language, which led to an uprising of the Moors in the Alpujarras Mountains in 1568. To prevent the imminent loss of Granada, Philip appointed his half-brother Juan de Austria as the new commander-in-chief of the Spanish troops in April 1569. He succeeded in defeating the last insurgents militarily by October 1570, after which some 80,000 Moriscos were expelled to other parts of the country and to North Africa. This led to a decline and widespread collapse of the Andalusian economic system.

The conquest of Cyprus by the Ottoman Empire on August 1, 1571, gave the Christian powers in Europe reason to seek direct confrontation with the Ottoman fleet. In order to contain the further advance of the Ottomans ("Turkish danger"), Spain, Venice and Genoa, mediated by Pope Pius V, joined together to form the Holy League and decided to send a joint fleet to the eastern Mediterranean. Under the supreme command of Don Juan, the Ottomans were defeated in the naval battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571. This is considered the largest galley battle in history and ended with the near total destruction of the Ottoman fleet. Despite the victory, Philip refused to take further action against the Ottomans, initially behaving defensively and only allowing Don Juan, who was praised in the Christian world as the conqueror of the Ottomans, to take up the fight against the corsairs allied with the Ottomans in the North African barbarian states in 1573. From Naples, the Spanish fleet conquered Tunis, which, however, was already recovered by the Ottomans in 1574.

Perez affair

After the death of Philip's childhood friend and advisor Rui Gomes da Silva, Prince of Eboli in 1573, his widow Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda feared for her influence at court and therefore turned to the royal secretary of state Antonio Pérez. The two became involved in the Peace Party against the Duke of Alba's harsh policies in the Netherlands and sold state secrets to the highest bidder. Pérez, as secretary for Dutch affairs, was able to intercept all reports and manipulate them to his own advantage.

In the rebellious Netherlands, the situation threatened to escalate in 1576 due to a mutiny in the Spanish army and the death of the previous governor, Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens. Philip II succeeded in persuading the popular Don Juan to accept the governorship, and after long negotiations on February 12, 1577, Don Juan signed the Perpetual Edict with the States General. The edict initially calmed the situation and Don Juan was able to solemnly enter Brussels on May 1, 1577. Due to the great popularity of his half-brother, the king became increasingly suspicious and refused him further support. Antonio Pérez and Ana de Mendoza tried to exploit this circumstance to their personal advantage. On the initiative of Pérez, the secretary Juan de Escobedo had already been installed in Don Juan's immediate environment in order to spy on him. Contrary to expectations, however, Escobedo remained loyal to his new master and was sent on a diplomatic mission to Madrid to request financial aid. In this move, Philip saw treason against his person and secretly gave Pérez consent to act against this conspiracy, removed himself from Madrid, and had Escobedo stabbed to death on the night of March 31, 1578. Don Juan, who had fallen ill in the meantime, also barely survived an assassination attempt in the Netherlands, which was planned for him from the English side, since the English queen Elizabeth I feared that he and his army might forcibly liberate Mary Stuart and marry her, or even that he might succeed in subjugating the Netherlands. He retreated to a military camp near Namur and died on October 1, 1578, probably of typhoid fever. However, there are also reasons to believe that he was killed by poison in his food over a long period of time, especially since Don Juan had been wasting away for months.

At Philip II's request, his half-brother's body was to be transferred to Spain, for which it was dismembered and smuggled in saddlebags through France to Madrid and reassembled. Philip became increasingly suspicious of his secretary's motives and realized that he had consented to a crime. He dropped Pérez and decided to take decisive action against him. By order of the king, Pérez was arrested and imprisoned in Turégano after a lengthy trial. Ana de Mendoza was accused of treason and sentenced to lifelong house arrest in her castle in Pastrana.

Union with Portugal

On January 31, 1580, the Portuguese Cardinal King Henry I died, leaving the House of Avis, which had previously ruled Portugal, without a male heir to the throne. Because of his close kinship with the Spanish Habsburgs, the deceased had designated Philip II, a son of Isabella of Portugal, as his successor in his will. The resulting personal union with Spain met with rejection in Portugal. The ambitious António of Crato took advantage of the discontent and on July 24 declared himself Portuguese counter-king, supported in particular by the lower clergy, artisans and workers. Philip was determined to maintain his claim to the throne and instructed the Duke of Alba to enforce it militarily. In the Battle of Alcântara on August 25, the Spanish army was able to defeat the troops of the opposing king, and the hapless António of Crato was forced into exile in France. By paying large sums of money and assuring them of their rights, Philip was able to win over the Portuguese nobility. He was proclaimed - in absentia - Philip I of Portugal by the united Cortes in Tomar on September 12. Philip arrived in Portugal in December 1580. On April 15, 1581, the Portuguese Cortes swore allegiance to him at Tomar.

From 1580 to 1583, Philip resided in Lisbon's Paço da Ribeira, which he had generously remodeled in the Mannerist style according to designs by Filippo Terzi. Before returning to Spain, he appointed his nephew and son-in-law Albrecht as viceroy. The personal union established by Philip lasted until 1640.

War against England

The extensive gold and silver imports from the South American colonies were elementary for the Spanish economy and allowed Philip II to exert great pressure on his opponents and secure his own supremacy in Europe.

The increasing attacks by English privateers such as Francis Drake and John Hawkins on the convoys of the silver fleet and bases in the West Indies from 1568 onward brought the flow of precious metals to Europe to a standstill and threatened Spanish supremacy. The English Queen Elizabeth, especially after the annexation of Portugal from 1580, disputed the Spanish-Portuguese claim to discovery as well as the papal division of the "New World" (Treaty of Tordesillas). The growing Spanish-English antagonism was further aggravated by the religious question, and in the European power structure England advanced to become Spain's main adversary. Elizabeth supported the Protestants in the Netherlands and France, while the strict Catholic Philip supported the Catholic movement in England. If England was defeated, it would have meant the collapse of the rebellious Netherlands at the same time. Since the war with the Ottomans and the union with the naval power Portugal, the Spanish fleet was strong enough to strike a blow against England. From 1582

Philip approved enormous financial resources for the planned invasion, which further burdened the already notoriously strained state budget. To build the armada, the king had had to sell crown estates and noble titles to raise the sum of about ten million ducats that the fleet ultimately cost. He entrusted Admiral Álvaro de Bazán with the execution of the enterprise, who died while the fleet was still being assembled in Lisbon on February 9, 1588. He appointed Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, Duke of Medina-Sidonia, as his successor against his express wishes. The duke had previously worked in the administrative service and had no nautical knowledge, which is why he wanted to persuade the king to withdraw the appointment. In a letter he pointed out to Philip his ignorance of naval matters, his poor health and tendency to seasickness; facts that made it impossible for him to accept the supreme command. The appointment was not rescinded and Philip issued him the following order on April 1, 1588: "If you receive my orders, you will sail out with the whole Armada and sail straight for the English Channel, through which you will continue to Cape Marget, there to shake hands with the Duke of Parma, my nephew, and clear and secure the way for his passage..."

On May 19, 1588, the Armada departed from the mouth of the Tagus with 130 ships, replenished at A Coruña and reached the English Channel in early August. At Gravelines, the scheduled embarkation of strong landing forces under Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma was to take place. However, counterattacks by the nimble, more modernly armed English fleet under Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham and Francis Drake, and the use of boarders on August 8 brought disorder to the Spanish squadron (Naval Battle of Gravelines). In the Straits of Dover, the fleet suffered further losses at the hands of pursuers and was unable to carry out the planned reception of landing forces. About 30 galleons were brought up or lost by the enemy; English casualties were about half those of the Spanish and were largely due to disease. The Duke of Medina-Sidonia, untrained for the enterprise, aborted the venture, ordered the retreat across the Scottish north coast and around Ireland, the onset of storms inflicted the heaviest losses on the Armada, which is why only 65 ships reached the port of Santander at the end of September 1588. When Philip was told of the defeat, he is reported to have said, "I sent my ships against men, not against water and winds."

Although the Spanish fleet was still quite powerful in the period that followed, as was to be shown in 1589 when the English Armada repelled the counterattack, the defeat marked the beginning of Spain's stagnation. England had successfully defied the Empire, demonstrating the need to protect a vast colonial empire with an adequate fleet. In response to the outcome of the naval battle, it was not until after 1588 that Philip increasingly began to systematically build an ocean-going fleet for use in the Atlantic. The Anglo-Spanish conflict did not end until 1604.

What Philip II really lost in 1588 was the propaganda battle associated with the Armada. Elizabeth I was able to win this battle so effectively that even historically educated people have unquestioningly believed until recent times that Spanish naval supremacy was indeed dramatically and persistently weakened at that time.

New war against France

On August 2, 1589, King Henry III of France was assassinated, and the male line of the Valois was thus extinct. Philip claimed the throne for his daughter Isabella Clara Eugenia, since she was Henry's niece. The claim to the throne had no legal basis, however, since Salic law in France excluded female succession and Elizabeth of Valois had renounced all her claims to the French throne at her marriage. The rightful king under French hereditary law was the Protestant King Henry of Navarre, who ascended the throne as Henry IV.

From 1590 to 1598, Philip, supported by the Pope, intervened on the side of the French Catholics in the religious war against Henry IV. Spain's governor in the Netherlands, Alexander Farnese, moved into France in 1590 with a strong army and sacked Paris, which was besieged by Henry. He supplied the city with food, stormed Lagny, and advanced as far as Corbeil, which cut off Paris' supplies. Meanwhile, the Dutch under Moritz of Nassau captured several towns in the Dutch hinterland and threatened Brussels. Farnese had to hurry back, but was not given enough time by the king to properly sort things out and had to re-enter France in 1591. He captured Caudebec and, invading Normandy, also sacked Rouen, which was besieged by Henry. Farnese could not accomplish more, since not only did he constantly face Henry's far superior force, but also the allied Duke of Mayenne suspiciously refused him troop support. In failing health, Farnese was forced to retreat after a futile attempt to capture St. Quentin; his already weakened troops were still at Arras when fever struck him there on December 2, 1592. In March 1594, the last Spanish garrison left Paris, which then became the new capital of Henry IV. In January 1595, France formed a strong coalition with England and the States General against Spain, where the costs of war led to a new national bankruptcy. On May 2, 1598, the new governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Archduke Albrecht, brokered the Peace of Vervins with Henry IV, which restored the territorial state of 1559.

State bankruptcies

The prosperity of the Castilian heartland was the material basis for Philip's empire. The immense gold and silver imports from the American colonies (see Cerro Rico in Potosí) and later the revenues from the Portuguese possessions (India trade) enabled him to exert greater military pressure on Spain's foreign policy enemies, but led to an increased dependence of the domestic economy on precious metals.

The gelt-consuming aristocracy appropriated much of the wealth from the Americas and spent it on importing manufactured goods. Instead of investing in means of production, raw materials were exported and expensive manufactured goods were imported into Spain. This created an unfavorable balance of trade; Spanish products were no longer competitive on the European market, which led to a constant lack of money. Trade and commerce fell, and inflation, caused by high government spending on warfare, increased (prices rose fivefold during Philip's reign). Castile became increasingly impoverished, and Philip had to finance the high expenditures by borrowing from foreign lenders, especially from the banking houses of Genoa and Augsburg. By the end of his reign, annual interest payments on the loans accounted for 40 percent of state revenues. The king was forced to cover the loans with ever new bonds ("juros"). Although more gold and silver were imported from America in the last years of the 16th century than ever before, Spain was effectively insolvent.

As a result of this economic policy, Philip II was forced to declare state bankruptcy to his creditors three times during his reign: In 1557, 1575 and 1596, payments could no longer be made. In 1557, the Welser merchant house was particularly affected by bankruptcy. He decreed the last suspension of payments in his reign on November 29, 1596.

Nowadays, a sovereign default is considered very threatening; at that time, it simply meant that a head of state declared that he was no longer willing or able to serve his creditors. It was feared that, as a consequence, other potential creditors would not be willing (anymore) to lend money to a state, but this did not happen - they were still willing to lend money to the king.

End of life

At the end of his life, the failure of Philip II's policy was apparent and he witnessed the rise of those he had bitterly opposed. Despite his brutal policy of oppression, the Netherlands was in open conflict with Spain, England had become a naval power under Elizabeth I, and France was united under Henry IV after the Huguenot wars. Spain itself was also beginning to show signs of decline - accompanied by local revolts and an economic crisis; the country's exhaustion led to its slow decline during the 17th century.

Philip's resignation was reinforced by his progressive physical deterioration. From 1595, gout, from which his father had also suffered, forced him, in severe pain and almost immobile, into a wheelchair made especially for him. Due to a malaria infection, he suffered from bouts of fever. In the last years of his life, his relationship with his eldest daughter Isabella Clara was particularly intimate, and Philip described her as the comfort of his old age and the light of his eyes. She helped her father with government business, arranged his papers, read him important messages, and translated Italian reports into Spanish for him. During the last three months of his life, Philip was bedridden, festering ulcers appeared on his body, and from August 1598 his health deteriorated visibly. To ease the agony of his last days, Philip turned to religion and died at the age of 71 on September 13, 1598, at about five o'clock in the morning in his chambers at El Escorial. He was buried in the "Pantheon of the Kings" beneath the palace church of the Escorial.

He was succeeded by his eldest son Don Felipe as Philip III.

Philip II wore glasses towards the end of his life and was the first known monarch to do so in public, as Geoffrey Parker has pointed out. However, in a short message from the king to his secretary Mateo Vázquez, the latter showed his unwillingness to be seen wearing glasses when leaving in the carriage, which is why he did not take any work with him ("muy ruin vergüenza es llevar anteojos en el carro").


  1. Philip II of Spain
  2. Philipp II. (Spanien)
  3. Manuel Fernández Álvarez: Felipe II y su tiempo. Espasa, Madrid 1998, S. 631.
  4. J. H. Elliott: A Europe of Composite Monarchies. In: Past and Present. Bd. 137, 1992, S. 48–71.
  5. ^ He was titled as Philip II (Spanish: Felipe II) in Spain, while in Portugal and his Italian kingdoms he ruled as Philip I (Portuguese: Filipe I).
  6. ^ Spain was a composite monarchy, and besides being the second Philip to rule Castile, he was the first to rule Aragon and the fourth to rule Navarre.
  7. ^ This appreciation is noted by Martin Hume in his aforementioned work ("Philip II of Spain", London 1897), pointing out how difficult is to show Philip II in a more favorable light to his fellow Englishmen because of that.
  8. This appreciation is noted by Martin Hume in his aforementioned work ("Philip II of Spain", London 1897), pointing out how difficult is to show Philip II in a more favorable light to his fellow Englishmen because of that.
  9. a b c d El título de duque de Borgoña comprendía al conglomerado de territorios heredados del Estado borgoñón.
  10. Traducción del latín: «Ni por esperanza ni por miedo».

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