chapter  4
The crisis of government 1598–1660
Pages 29

Philip III (1598-1621) was aged twenty when he succeeded to the throne to which he had been heir since the death of his brother Diego in 1582. Philip II had been over-protective to the only surviving male among his children, and his son seems to have reacted by rejecting the advisers placed over him – Cristóbal de Moura had by 1599 been firmly excluded from his intimate circle – and nourishing an admiration for his grandfather Charles V. The new king was in character a contrast to his dominating father, but his several firm policy decisions suggest that he was less pliant than he has usually been painted. A pious Catholic, he was actively concerned to restore the military fortunes of the nation. Unlike his father, he was willing to give greater initiative to his ministers. Immediately after his accession, Philip restored authority to the near-defunct

system of councils, which his father had rejected in favour of a system of select committees. By 1600 a reformed Council of State was in full operation: the Council of War likewise was supplemented with men of known military experience. In effect the Castilian aristocracy was handed back much of the political power it had lost. One enthusiastic grandee remarked after Philip II’s death that the world ‘would see what the Spanish were worth now that they have a free hand, and are no longer subject to a single brain that thought it knew all that could be known and treated everyone else as a blockhead’. Though changes occurred there was also continuity, for Philip retained as his chief political adviser one of his father’s ministers, Juan de Idiáquez, who was destined to remain the single most influential voice in the king’s councils until his death in 1614. As the principal member of the Council of State, Idiáquez more than any other person was responsible for the major policy decisions in both internal and foreign matters. Unlike his father, Philip was not interested in the day-to-day business of

politics and preferred to delegate responsibility to Idiáquez and the resurrected conciliar system. This withdrawal from government was foreshadowed by the king’s commitment in 1599 to a long absence from Madrid (January to October), occasioned by the wish to meet his bride, the fourteen-year-old Margaret of Austria, already on her way from Vienna. Philip met her in Valencia, where the

marriage was solemnised in April. In the early summer (May-July) the court moved north to hold a session of the Cortes of Catalonia, then returned to Valencia. The high point of the whole outing was the hospitality accorded to the king at Denia by the rising star of the reign, Philip’s favourite the marquis of Denia. Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas had been a penurious noble of Valen-

cian origin, in serious economic straits in the 1580s, when he first met the young prince and advanced in his favour. Aged forty-five in 1598, he had recently been made viceroy of Valencia by Philip II, who apparently hoped in this way to remove him from his son’s presence. The marquis, however, returned to court and assumed effective control of the prince’s household. Thereafter his rise was sensational. When they returned from the Valencian visit the king created him duke of Lerma. Enormous grants of money were bestowed on him. His friends and relatives were promoted, most notably his uncle Bernardo de Sandoval, who was made archbishop of Toledo and inquisitor general. Lerma accompanied the king everywhere, sold favours for profit, and dominated court patronage: he accumulated a huge fortune that by the end of the reign was probably worth 3 million ducats. Numerous senior posts throughout Spain were in his hands, and his children married into the wealthiest grandee families, gaining noble titles in the process (his eldest son was made duke of Uceda). ‘He planted the roots of his power in the most fertile soils of Spain’, commented the Venetian ambassador. Lerma’s period of influence began the seventeenth-century pattern of control

through a single favoured minister, drawn from the higher aristocracy and known as a privado or more commonly as a valido. It was a significant constitutional change from the reliance by Philip II on secretaries of state, and reflected the drift of political power to the councils, which now sent their consultas directly to the king rather than through the mediating hands of the secretaries, who continued with only a semblance of their former influence. The king would respond to the consultas normally after consulting with the valido. Lerma held his power by virtue solely of personal friendship, but his position was later given legitimacy by Philip’s decree in 1612 ordering the councils ‘to comply with whatever the duke instructs or orders, and also to furnish him with any information he requires’. The decree was retrospective and confirmed that the valido had the formal powers of chief executive, albeit exercised in the king’s name. The valido was not, of course, all-powerful. In the first place, his survival

depended on the support of a sufficient number of other nobles. Lerma consequently used the patronage system to build up a client group of older aristocrats as well as of newcomers. Among the latter was Pedro Franqueza, subsequently created count of Villalonga, who served as secretary to all the major councils in Madrid, made himself extremely rich and was arrested on charges of corruption in January 1607. An even greater object of popular hostility was Rodrigo Calderón, who began as a retainer in the duke’s household and rose to become marquis of Sieteiglesias and Lerma’s own right-hand man. Inevitably this system

of clientage aroused counter-factions, and the valido had to contend with continuous political opposition. Second, though the valido might control access to the king and to major public offices, he was never in a position to control public opinion or the freely expressed views of nobles and administrators in the councils. He was therefore obliged to accept criticism (his own uncle, the cardinal of Toledo, said pointedly of his nephew’s regime that ‘in all that one sees, reads and hears, clear signs are in evidence which threaten the ruin of this monarchy’) and sometimes to concur, as in the case of Villalonga, in the downfall of his own creatures. Excessive attention by historians to the phenomenon of the valido, and to the

activities of Lerma in particular, has diverted attention from the most striking development of the period: the fact that for twenty years Spain lived under the curious dualism of a split between court and government. Every year the king, with Lerma to escort him, spent long months away from Madrid. The country once again had a peripatetic king; but it was a king who travelled for leisure and in order to escape from the routine of administration. Lerma’s role in active government was as a consequence quite small: he seems to have attended only 22 out of 739 meetings of the Council of State over the period 1600-18, and no doubt preferred to exercise his influence more directly by advising the king on replies to the consultas of the councils. As if in reaction to the removal of Philip II’s personal rule, there was a remark-

able reversion of power to traditional institutions: political theory was revised, the Cortes in Castile gained new initiative, authority returned to the councils. With few exceptions, Spanish political thinkers under Philip III followed the

trend under Philip II and rejected the concept of absolutism, stressing that political obedience was dependent upon just rule. A subject was, they argued, strictly speaking under the authority of the law, not of the king. The Jesuit Molina specified that political power derived only from the people, within the conditions and time limits set by them. ‘The concept of absolute power is in fact tyranny’, argued Pedro Agustín Morla in 1599, ‘and was invented by the flatterers of kings’. To some degree these writers were sharing in the CounterReformation’s defence of democratic rights against Protestant kings, a controversy to which the most famous Spanish contribution was the Jesuit Francisco Suárez’s Defensio Fidei (1613), in which he explicitly defended tyrannicide, on the grounds that a free people had the right to reject a tyrant. But there is no doubt that most were engaging in a reasoned analysis of Spain’s constitution. The Catalan writer Antonio Oliván in 1600 defined Spain as a federation of sovereign states in which each had laws based on a contract between the subjects and the king. The idea of a contract, and of a right to resist, is also present in Mariana’s fundamental De rege (1599). By the end of the reign, however, there were other writers who called for a return to stronger royal power: the significant work in this respect was the Royal Art of Government (1621) of Jerónimo Zeballos. The initiative of the Castilian Cortes arose from two considerations: by 1601

over half the crown’s income came from taxes voted in Cortes, of which the

most controversial were the new millones. Introduced in 1590, the millones had to be approved at regular intervals, and so made the crown dependent on the goodwill of the eighteen cities represented in Cortes. Six sessions of the assembly were held under Philip III (1598-1601, 1602-04, 1607-11, 1611-12, 1615 and 1617-20). At all of them the procuradores exploited their hold over crown finance in order to voice opposition to policy. The discontent had been growing under Philip II, but reached a peak under his son. In 1599 the procurador Melchor Dávila presented a programme for tax reform and the exclusion of foreign financiers ‘who are ruining and destroying the state’. In 1601 the crown actually conceded that the Cortes should determine how the money they voted should be spent. But in 1603 the procuradores complained that the agreement, which they saw as a solemn contract, had not been observed. In 1612 Pedro de Sonsoles claimed in Cortes that ‘the king does not have absolute power, [but] has to submit to the wishes of the cities’. During the same session Mateo Lisón y Biedma, procurador for Granada, insisted that the people and the king had binding obligations to each other. The advisory councils, aided by select committees (juntas) for special busi-

ness, functioned adequately in the hands of the men, whether aristocrats or new bureaucrats, to whom the king entrusted it, and the court manoeuvres of Lerma did not seriously impede their work. Even when Lerma attended the Council of State, his voice did not always carry more weight than those of the seasoned statesmen, men such as Idiáquez, the count of Chinchón, the count of Miranda and Baltasar de Zúñiga. The extra amount of business generated by the restoration of authority to the councils brought about an increase in the size of bureaucracy. Under Philip II there had inevitably been an increase in costs. Under Philip III total costs slightly more than doubled, but the really startling increase was in the number of secretaries and administrative personnel, whose wage bill nearly quintupled between 1598 and 1621. The significant increase in central government staffing rendered impossible any return to the austere personal monarchy of Philip II. For the rest of the Habsburg regime in Spain, power rested with the councils. The king’s absences, initiated in 1599, continued into 1600, when he spent

eight months in the royal palaces at Valsaín, Toledo, Aranjuez and the Escorial, and the four months of summer in Old Castile and Valladolid. By the end of the year the decision was made to move the court from Madrid to Valladolid. Philip preferred the city on the Pisuerga for its climate, Lerma favoured it principally because it removed the king from the domineering and therefore rival character of his aunt the Empress Maria, who had returned to Spain in 1576 after the death of Maximilian II and lived as a nun in the convent of the Descalzas Reales. The move took place in 1601 and was intensely unpopular among the aristocracy, who had to spend huge sums on transferring furniture and rebuilding palaces. Eventually the court returned in 1606 (the empress had died in 1603). From this date the town on the Manzanares blossomed into one of Europe’s great cities. In 1619 the beautiful Plaza Mayor was constructed; destroyed by fire in 1631, it was soon rebuilt.