chapter  3
A world power: Philip II 1556–1598
Pages 75

In the summer of 1554, in a Winchester cathedral bedecked with tapestries and alive with music from its great organ, the marriage was celebrated of Queen Mary of England and Charles V’s son and heir Philip, who enjoyed the titles of prince of Spain, duke of Milan and king of Sicily but after the marriage added on that of ‘king of England’. Philip’s stay in his new realm was uneventful and short. Just over a year later he travelled with his court to Brussels, where in a moving ceremony in October 1555 his father resigned to him the government of the Netherlands. In January 1556 a formal act transferred also the crown of Spain, and he was proclaimed king a few weeks later in the town square of Valladolid. From that spring, Philip was ruler of the most extensive empire in the world, comprising Spain, England, America, the Netherlands with Franche-Comté, and half of Italy. International matters, principally his obligations in England and the outbreak

of war against France, kept him in northern Europe. In August 1557 the army of Flanders, under Philip’s direction but commanded by the duke of Savoy and the count of Egmont, took the field against an advancing French force and inflicted a crushing defeat on them at St Quentin. Philip’s advisers agreed that there was no money to continue the campaign; negotiations began and were interrupted by the death of Mary in November 1558. Under the terms of the marriage treaty, Philip’s rights in England lapsed with her death. Peace with the French was agreed at Cateau-Cambrésis in April 1559, one of the conditions being the marriage of Philip to the daughter of Henry II of France, Elizabeth of Valois. The king sailed from the Netherlands in August 1559 and landed at Laredo in September. He had been absent from home for over five years, and never left the peninsula again. His reign turned out to be the most decisive one in all Spain’s history. Aged

twenty-eight at his accession, he was already an experienced ruler, having been regent for his father from 1543 until his sister Juana took over the charge in 1554. His fair hair and blue eyes betrayed his Habsburg origin, but no ruler

could have been more Spanish. Brought up in Castile and trained by excellent tutors, he preferred Spaniards as advisers and spoke only Castilian fluently, though he had a working knowledge of Latin. Uniquely among European rulers of his day, he had extensive experience of the ways of the world, had spent nearly seven years travelling through Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and England, had personally met every person of importance in Europe, and was the last Habsburg king of Spain to fight actively in battle for his country. Pensive by disposition, and always reluctant to rush into decisions – hence the tag of ‘prudent’ king – he had a deep sense of duty that governed both his personal and public life. The stern side was what foreign ambassadors saw and reported, and Philip cultivated the public reserve expected of a king; but his relaxed and affectionate private side emerges clearly in his private correspondence. Above all, the Catholic religion gave him comfort and conviction. He was four times married: in 1543 to the Portuguese princess Maria, who died two years later giving birth to Don Carlos, direct and only heir to the throne for the next twenty-five years; in 1555 to Mary Tudor, who was eleven years older than he; in 1560 to Elizabeth of Valois, who was only fifteen at the time and who bore him two daughters; finally in 1570 to his niece Anna of Austria, twenty-two years younger than he, who in six years gave birth to five children and died in childbirth of the sixth. There is no doubt that his father was the ruling influence on his life. In his

Instructions of 1543, which were meant to be a code of conduct for the prince’s first regency, Charles commended him to serve God, uphold the Inquisition, suppress heresy, dispense justice and hold the balance between his advisers. He also urged him to pay particular attention to finance, ‘upon which the success or failure of my policies depend’. He must never recede from an inch of territory, and should maintain integrally the inheritance given by God: a policy carried out stubbornly in the Netherlands, which Philip like his father considered his patrimony. There was basic continuity of political policy from Charles through Philip, though the latter obviously reacted differently to specific problems. His desire to find a suitable resting place for the emperor’s remains was the principal reason for building the gigantic monastery-palace of El Escorial, begun in 1563 in the hills north of Madrid under the personal direction of the king, and not completed till 1584. Philip tried to respect his father’s priorities, but there were always substantial

differences between them, even in the 1540s when the prince governed Spain. For both, the war against heresy and against the Turks was fundamental, ‘peace with Christians and war against the infidel’ being a principle repeated ritually since the days of the Catholic Monarchs. The priority given by Philip to religion, however, was never absolute. It would be an error to judge his policy solely by the statement he made in 1566 through his ambassador in Rome, informing the pope that ‘I would prefer to lose all my dominions and a hundred lives if I had them, because I do not wish to be lord over heretics’. The declaration was made specifically to impress the pope, who at that time was criticising the king for doing nothing to control heresy among his subjects in the Netherlands.