Spanish Royalty: Philip II (1527-98)

Figure 1.--.

Philip II was the son of Emperor Charles V. He was a fervent Catholic and set out to destroy Protestantism. He fought the Protestants in both the Netherlands and France. He married Quen Mary of England in an effort to end Protestantism in England. After Mary died without issue he left Englnd. With his decission to send the Armada against England and Protestabt Queen Elizabeth, he waisted vast amounts of wealth. The gold and silver from the Americas proved in the end a curse. (Not unlike many modern oil producing countries.) Spanish manufacture suffered as it was easier to purchase rather than make products. In addition the religious persucution led by Holy Office of the Inquisition which expelled the Jews and during Philip's reign pursued conversos. It acted to supress thought as well. Thus Spain did not share in the European Renaisance which was in the 18th century to lead to the Industrial Revolution.


Philip was the only son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and Queen Isabella of Portugal.


Philip was born in Valladolid (1527).


Accension (1556)

Philip ascended the Spanish throne when his father Holy Roman Emperor Charles V abdicated (1556). He had previously given Philip several territories, including Naples and Sicily, the Netherlands, Franche-Comté, and the duchy of Milan. Philip with his heritance and the riches of the Americas flowing into Spain had the potential to achieve great things for Spain. In addition Philip did not have the very demanding resonsibility that his father had to govern the German Holy Roman Empire. Philip also did not have the entense rivalry with France that the German Hapsburgs faced. This meant that Philip had emense wealth without major European power to impose him. Unlike Elizabeth England, Philip did not turn his energies on improving the ell being of the Spanish people and Spanish economy. It is from his accension that Spanish power and dominance begin to erode and England emerges as a major naval power.

Spain in the 16th Century

Philip inherited the strongest army in Europe. There was the superbly-disciplined Spanish infantry forged in the fires of the Reconquista. Spain was one of the most populace realms in Europe. The new American colonies also provided enormous wealth. European monarchs in the 16th century were enormosly poweful, but they were not absolute. Laws and tradition as well as the Church limited their powers in numerous ways. Philip II expanded the bonds of his already extensive royal authority through the use of the Spanish Inquisition. Philip used the Inquisition as both a political and religious tool. Philip combated both political oposition and heresy with the same religious zeal. Philip often did not differentiate between the Spanish state and the Church. Philip saw believed that his subjects had a Christian duty to given him unquestioning loyalty. Philip's not only wanted to destroy Protestantism, but want to establish absolutist rule in the Netherlands. While Philip inherited the Netherlands, the tradition there were more pluralistic and thgere were well-established political rights. Philip suceeded in cencentrating power in his hands. There was no national assembly to ballance the poer of the asembly. Rather Spain had separate assemblies in the diffrent kingdoms that came to make up the country. There was a Cortes in Castile and a comparable assembly in Navarre. Aragon had three different assemblies based on the three regions. Thesee regional assemblies were in ineffectual in balancing Philip's authority. Philip's great uthority combined with his suspious nature and desire to micromanage affairs resulted in great inefficiencies. Any effort at decenbtralizing administration were reolutely resisted by Philip.

Spanish Empire

The Spanish empire was largely established by the time Philip cam to power. There werw, however, two additions during Philip's own reign. The Philippine Islands in the Pacific were conquered and became a Spanish bastion. In addition a colony was established in Florida.


Maria of Portugal

Philip married Maria of Portugal (1543). She died giving birth to Don Carlos (1545-68). Philip came to believe Don Carlos conspired against him and as a result ordered his arrest. Don Carlos died shortly in custody. The results are not known with any certainty. His enemies claim that he ordered the murder of his son.

Queen Mary of England

Philip married Englnd's Catholic Queen Mary I as part of a political allince (1554). He was still a prince at the time. The marriage was unpopular with the English people. Philip saw it as primarily a political alliance. Both hoped to restore Catholicism, but there was no children. Mary almost had her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth executed, but Philip counseld against it. Philip continued his father’s confrontation with France and induced England to join the war. Spain defeated the French at St.-Quentin (1557), but England lost Calais (1558). Philip succeeded to the Spnih throne when his father abdicated (1556), but did not return to Spain until his father's death (1558). When Mary died (1558), Philip proposed to Elizabeth, the new queen, but she declined.

Elizabth of Valois

Spain and France had been at war off an on for years. With the rise of the Spanish Inquisition, religious elements became increasingly important in Philip's foreign policy. At the same time, English attacks on Spanish trasure ships turned Philip against Elizabeth and Protestant England. Philip ended the 60-year war wih France with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, validated by Philip’s marriage to Elizabeth of Valois (1559). Elizabeth was the daughter of Henri II of France. Elizabeth was younger than Philip and had been promised to his son, Don Carlos. She produced two daughters, but no son. So after thre mariages, Philip still

Anne of Austria

Philip's fourth wife was, Anne, daughter of the emperor Maximilian II. She produced a second son. As a result of Don Carlos' death, it was this son who suceded Philip as Philip III.


Philip inherited the Portugese throne. The direct line of the Portuguese royal family died out (1580). This allowed Philip to claim the Portuguese crown through his mother, who was a Portuguese princess. When the Portuguese resisted, he invadedand annexed the country. Portugal would be a Spanish province for 60 years. Revenue from the Portuguese Epire added to Philip's ciffers,

The Counter Revolution

Philip II proclaimed himself as the leader of the Counter Reformation. Philip was determined not only to rule their inherited territories, but to use the the power he inherited to turn back the Reformation. Philip used the powers of the Spanish state to enforce political absolutism and persue the Counter-Reformation. The gold and silvr from the America'salong with the income from his realm gave Philip the wealth to ggressively persue the Counter Reformation. Although Philip began his reign without a major European power oposing Spain, his policies involved Spain in wars throughout Europe in the Netherlands, Portugal, England, Italy, and France. In assessing these cnflicts its difficult to determine towhat extent tgey were affected by the religious zeal of the Counter Reformation and that of Spanish national expansionism.

Reformation in the Netherlands

Philip was devouted to the Roman Catholic Church and attempted to supress the Reformation, but often subordinated religious matters to Spanish diplomacy. Despite his Catholcism, Philip had poor relations with the papacy, in part because of Spain's Itlalian possessions. Much of reign was concerned with the Netherlands. Philip appointed the Duke of Alba to replace his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, as Governor General in the Netherlands (1567). Alba’s methods achieved some success in the south, but failed to defeat the Dutch revolt in the north. Philip subsequently supported more conciliatory tactics and reconquered the southern portion of what had been the Spanish Netherlands.

The Spanish Inquisition

The Spanish monarchy was a strong supporter of the Inquistion. In fact Isabella and Ferdinand had founded the Spanish Inquisition. Philip's image in history is in large measure formed by his use of the Spanish Inquisition to both deal with religious heresy and deal with his policy of centralizing power and absolutist rule. Phillip known as his "Mot Catholic Majecty" was as a devout Catholic that one could imagine as a head of state. He was known to have remarked at a royal auto-de fe that, "If my own son was a heretic, I would carry wood to burn him myself." The religious persucution led by Holy Office of the Inquisition which expelled the Jews acted to supress though as well. Thus Spain did not share in the European Renaisance which was in the 18th century to lead to the Industrial Revolution.

The Ottomons

Philip's repression of the Moriscos is often noted as an example of religious supression (1568-71), but was also part of a joint efforts with his half-brother, John of Austria (1545-78) against the Ottomons. While Philip is best known for the Great Armada, another campaign was much more siccessful. The Ottomons after the death of Suleiman the Magnificent (1566_, the Turks continue to expand in the Mediterranean continued. The Turks sized Cyprus from the Venetians (1570), the last important Christian outpost in the Eastern Mediterrean. The Pope and Christian Europe appeled to Philip to confront the expanding Tuks. Philip formed a Holy League to confront the Turkish navy in the Mediterranean. Spanish and Venetian warships, joined by volunteers across Europe, decisively defeated the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto. John of Austria also played a major rold in defeating the Ottomons.


It wasElizabeth, the young English princess that he helped save that was to be the bane of Philip's existence. Elizabeth I was one of the greates monrarchs in English history. She presided on the emergence of England as an important naval power. She was like her father a skilled politican and egotistical, unliked her father she had a sence of the responsibilities of office and duty to her people. She was immensely popular throughout her reign.

Mary Queen of Scotts

English Catholics viewed Elizabeth as illigitimat. Philip did as well, but was pragmatic enough to deal diplomatically with her. Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic great-granddaughter of Henry VII, was seen as the legitimate queen. Mary was held prisoner by Elizabeth. Her execution provided Philip an excuse to invade and seize the crown for himself.

The Great Armada

English support for the Dutch and attacks on Spanish treasure ships led Philip to the building of the enormously expensive Great Armada which was destroyed by the English and storms (1588). the Great Armada was rooted in the struggle between Philip II of Spin and Elizabeth I of England. Elizabeth first met Philip when he came to England to marry her half-sister Mary. The initial contacts were pleasant enough despite the religious differences. Philip in fact played a role in moderating Mary's treatment of her. Perhaps saving her life. After Elizabeth became queen their relationsjip deteriorated. The primary issue was the Sea Dogs and their depredations on Spanish treasure ships. The situation worsened stll when it became obvious that Elizabeth herself was authorizing thgese attacks and profiting from them. This situation was of course exacerbated by the religious differences. Philip's decession to supress the Protestant Reformation was a major concern to Elizabeth, less from religious reasons, but because of the economic importance of the Low Countries (Spanish Netherlands) to England. France had traditionally been England's enemey, but under Elizabeth it was Philip II and Spain that emerged as her principal foreign foe. Philip after the death of his wife Queen Mary, Elizabeth's half sister, returned to Spain and gradually began to conceive od returning to England with a massive invasion force. Elizabeth's execution of Mary the execution of the Queen of Scots Is reported to assed to his determination to dethrone Elizabeth. In fact with Mary gone, the England could be added to his own domains. With the gold and silver flowing in from the Americas, Philip built a huge fleet and hurled it at England and its tiny navy (1588). Sound tactics, more effective gunnery, and superior tactics and as so often in war fortunate circumstances alowed Elizabeth's small navy to defeat Philip's Great Armada. It was a great personal achievement for the Queen. It demonstrated that a woman could not only effective govern in time of peace, but also lead a modern nation in time of war.

French Wars of Religion (1590-98)

Philip entered the French Wars of Religion (1590-98) to assist the Catholic League along with with the Papacy and the Duke of Guise against the Protestant Henry of Navarre (Henry IV) (1590). In the process, Philip claimed the French throne for his daughter Isabella, but was finally had to admit defeat and recognize Henry (1598). Even so, his intervention had prevented Henry from taking Paris. He was forced to convert to Catholocism. He was thus anle to ebter Paris, assuring his posession of the crown. This had enormous consequences because it mean his son an heir would be raised as a Catholic.

American Gold

Huge quantities of gold and silver flowed into Spain from the Americ's during Philip's rule. The Spanish economy, however, was adversely affected. One result was severe inflation. This was a phenomenon throughout Europe, but as most of the bullion first came to Spain, it was the country most affected. There was a fivefold increase in prices during Philip's reign. It thus became more economical to import manufactured goods than to produce them domestically.

The Economy

Philip’s rule was disastrous for the Spanisg economy. He neglected farming which was still the critical ector in most countries. Rather Philip supported sheep ranching. As a reult, Spain was importing large quantities of grain and other food stuffs by the mid-1560s. Despite the American gold, Philip was forced to impose burdensome taxes. The wars against France, the Dutch, and the English were tremendously expensive. The never ending strugle in the Netherlands and the cost of constructing the Armada placed a huge economic strain on Spain. The tax base simply could not support the cost of these wars. Wores still, the taxes fell upon the productive sectors of the economy. Spain had deeply conservative class structure. The Church and the nobility were largely exempt from taxation. The tax burden fell primarily on those involved in trade, commerce, and industry. Not only taxes burdened industry, but the inefficent Spanish state also created regulations that impaired prodyction. Industry was also affected by rligious persecution. The Jews and the Moors expelled meant the loss of much talent, including financiers and craftsmen. Certainly the religious climate created by the Inquisition was not condusive to innovation. It is no accident that the intellecual ferment of the Renaissance which resulted in the development of scientific thought and experimentation was lacking in Spain which after Philip led to a steady decline in Spnish power. The overall result was that Spain's productive sectors were impaired. The burdnesome taxes helped to promote opposition in the Netherlands, one of Philip's most productive territories. Philip was forced to borrow enormous sums, which he repudiated four times. At Philip's death, Spain had ben seriously weakened both militarily and economically (1598).


A in Elizabethan England, there was a floweing of literature under Philip. The most remembered work is Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Some view it as a satire on Philip's quixotic foreign adventures. I am not sure tis was Cervantes' intentions. Certainly if the Spanish censors would hve preceived this they never would have allowed the book to be published.


Spain as a result of the Reconquista and Columbus' discoveries emerged as a great European power. England at the time had no American colonies and was a European backwater. Commentators at the time would be incredulous to learn that vEngland would become the preminent world naval power and command of an emense world empire. A central question in world history is why Spain collapsed a a wotld power and why tiny Englan was able to rise to such a commanding point of power. Philip’s rule is generally seen by historians as a great failure and a turning point in Spanish history. He took command of a powerful nation and was blessed by huge revenues from the American colonies as well as the Netherlands--one of the most productive provinces in Europe. There were some successes, especially the defeat of the Turks at Lepanto. Mostly there were failures such as the loss of the the northern Netherlands and the defeat of the Great Armada. The many wars combined with misguided economic and tax policies not only bankrupted Spain, but severely damaged the Spanish economy. Religious and political oppression spearheaded by the Inquisition under Philip further impaired Spanish intelectual and cultural life. Thus the world power that Philip inherited became under his successors a European backwater.


Philip's son by Anne of Austria, Philip III, suceeded him.


Hanson, Neil. The Confident Hop of a Miracle: The True History of the Spanish Armada (Knopf, 2005), 489p.


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Created: October 3, 2003
Last updated: 2:33 AM 10/12/2009