Key Facts & Summary:
- Philip II. – King of Spain, born in 1527, was son of Charles V. Duke of Milan from 1540, he became, by the abdication of his father, first king of Naples and Sicily (1554), few months after ruler of the Netherlands (1555) and finally king of Spain (1556 ).
- In fact, he was the son to whom Charles V. left Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and the colonies of America too. He was not a naturalized half-stranger, but a true Spaniard, born in Spain. Charles V., who hoped for a moment to be able to yield to him his entire empire, had sent for him early to Flanders and Germany. He had magnificent receptions everywhere.
- Without being of austere morals, he did not like long meals and drinking, and he was displeased with his coldness. He was small, fair, and pale; he had a sad and severe countenance. Nothing attractive in him. Charles the Fifth, a real Flemish man, a big eater, had loved the broad and sumptuous life. Philip II liked to surround himself with silence, to isolate himself from his subjects by a rigid label.
In the first years of his reign, Philip continued the war with France: he won in 1557 the victory of Saint-Quentin, but he did not know how to profile his success. He concluded in 1559 the peace of Cateau-Cambresis, which was followed by his marriage to Elizabeth of France, daughter of Henry II.
Having wanted to introduce the Inquisition to the Netherlands, he excited a violent revolt in these provinces and, after a disastrous war, he lost them definitively in 1581. In 1588, a storm destroyed the Invincible Armada, which he had armed against the Queen of England-Elizabeth. After having for a long time maintained the civil war in France, in the hope of seizing the throne by carrying his daughter Isabelle, he was forced to sign with Henri IV the peace of Vervins, in 1598.
He died that same year. The losses he had to bear in his northern states had been offset by the acquisition of Portugal, which he had seized upon the death of Cardinal King Henry, despite France and despite the Portuguese themselves (1580).
Marriage to Mary, the Queen of England
Philip II had already married 1554 Mary, Queen of England, but without having any authority over the English. An ardent defender of the Catholic faith, Philip fought throughout his reign against the progress of the Reformation. He pursued it everywhere: among the English, who, at his instigation, were severely repressed by Queen Mary; in the Low Countries, where his severity excited revolt; in France, where he supported the League and the Guises; in Spain, where he vigorously protected the Inquisition, and from which his rigors drove the Moors fleeing.
Philip II. Was not, like his father, a nomad ruler, constantly changing country, capital, and language; On the contrary, he set up his residence in Spain and shut himself up in his lugubrious palace at El Escorial, which he had built, not far from Madrid, in a solitude of the Sierra de Guadarrama, a veritable desert.
He hardly went out, living there in the midst of a cold ceremonial, surrounded by his ministers, all Spanish, distrusting all and seeing everything himself, stripping in person his correspondence, condemning himself to enormous labor, but using the best of his business to do petty paperwork. He had a passion for absolutism, and he claimed to direct the affairs of his immense empire from his palace.
Having a very high idea of his duty, Philip II weighed and ripened his decisions with so much awareness that they often arrived too late; he showed none the less inflexible obstinacy in execution. Without being mean, he was capable of cold and implacable cruelty. Shut up in the most obtuse religiosity, he brought into the struggle against heresy a still sharper passion and a closer fanaticism than his father. But he was as passionate for the greatness of Spain as for the triumph of the Catholic faith; it was through Spain and to his advantage, to assure his domination of the world, that he dreamed of operating the restoration of Catholicism. So he was the idol of the Spaniards, “who would have feared to offend God himself by transgressing his orders.”
He incarnates for them the idea of royalty, and this reign, under which Spain made the world tremble, remained in their eyes, in spite of the disasters by which it ended, the great reign.
Under this reign, the Spanish colonies of America and the Indies brought back immensely gold and silver, but Philip II consumed all these riches foolishly in vain projects of universal monarchy, and at his death, the treasure was empty and burdened. This dark, suspicious, and cruel prince did not spare even his family.
The death of one of his sons, Don Carlos, was imputed to him. Nevertheless, he protected the letters and the arts; the Escorial, as we have said, owes him his foundation; it was he who made Madrid the capital of Spain (1561). He had some skillful generals to whom he had some success, among others don Juan of Austria, the conqueror of Lepanto (The century of Suleiman), the Duke of Alva, the Duke of Parma (Alexander Farnese) and the Duke of Savoy (Emmanuel Philibert).
There are few princes who have been told better and worse. The Catholics painted him as a second Solomon; Protestants like another Tiberius.
The defense of Catholicism
The fight against Islam
The Turks had control of the sea in the Mediterranean. In 1560, an expedition against the island of Djerba turned to disaster. Patiently, the king formed powerful naval forces and was able to take the Peñón de Vélez, on the Rif coast, and then send Don García de Toledo’s squadron to help Malta besieged by the Turks (1565).
These brilliant results were compromised by the revolt of the Moriscos of Granada, officially converted to Christianity, but secretly loyal to Islam. By claiming to impose Spanish customs on them, an uprising was provoked (Christmas 1568). For two years the insurgents held out against the royal forces, after which Don Juan of Austria soon took command. By expelling the Moorish population and dispersing it in the kingdom of Castile, the combatants were deprived of their support and the revolt ended.
However, the viceroy of Algiers, Euldj Ali (Ali the Renegade), took the opportunity to expel from Tunis an emir favorable to the Spaniards (1569) and Turkey had launched an ultimatum in Venice, demanding the cession of Cyprus.
Faithful to the spirit of the crusade, Pope Pius V strove to unite Christians against the Turkish danger. Laborious negotiations culminated in May 1571 in the constitution of the Holy League, which combined the naval forces of Spain, Venice and the Holy See under the command of Don Juan of Austria. The latter concentrated the squadrons at Messina and, going to meet the enemy, destroyed the Turkish fleet at Lepanto (7 Oct. 1571). This victory had an immense impact in Christianity, but the coalition was weakened by the death of Pius V and the dissensions between Spaniards and Venetians. The Turks having reconstituted their fleet, the campaign of 1572 on the Morea coasts ended in failure.
Overseas Empires and the Conflict with England
The Spanish empire of America did not increase appreciably. To note the definitive foundation of Buenos Aires in 1580 and the donations of the organizer of whom the Viceroy of Peru, Don Francisco de Toledo proved.
The essential fact was the increase in the production of precious metals, and especially silver, thanks to the process of amalgamation with mercury, employed in Mexico, then to the very rich deposit of Potosi, in present-day Bolivia. From around 1580 onwards, the sending of money on behalf of the king and private individuals reached record figures, which enabled Philip II to implement his great policy. In Asia, following the voyages of Legazpi and Urdaneta (1564-1565), who established the link between Manila and Mexico, the colonization and evangelization of the Philippines could begin.
To the Spanish empire was added in 1581 the Portuguese empire. King Sebastian, killed in Morocco in 1578, had been replaced by his uncle, Cardinal Henri. At the death of the latter (1580), Philip II, whose succession rights were very serious, was supported by the nobility and the high clergy, but the popular classes rallied to Don Antonio, prior of Crato.
The army of the Duke of Alba drove him out of Portugal, and Philip II was recognized throughout the empire, except on the Terceira Island of the Azores. A Franco-Portuguese fleet was destroyed in July 1582 by Don Álvaro de Bazán, who then submitted Terceira.
It was the English designs on America that determined the conflict with Spain, as well as Elizabeth’s Protestant policy. At first, Philip II, faithful to his father’s instructions, had sought to maintain the English alliance. He spared Elizabeth and helped to delay the papal excommunication. A first conflict occurred in Europe in 1568, during the seizure of ships carrying money to the Duke of Alba.