Philip II of Spain

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Philip II
King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily and England
Reign 1556-1598
Born May 21, 1527
Died September 13 1598 (aged 71)
Madrid, Spain
Predecessor Charles I of Spain
Successor Philip III of Spain
Consort Maria of Portugal
Mary I of England
Elisabeth of Valois
Anna of Austria
Issue Don Carlos, Prince of Asturias
Isabella Clara Eugenia
Catherine Micaela
Philip III of Spain
Royal House House of Habsburg
Father Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Mother Isabella of Portugal

Philip II (Spanish: Felipe II de Habsburgo; Portuguese: Filipe I) (May 21, 1527September 13 1598) was the first official King of Spain from 1556 until 1598, King of Naples and Sicily from 1554 until 1598, King of England (as King-consort of Mary I) from 1554 to 1558, King of Portugal and the Algarves (as Philip I) from 1580 until 1598 and King of Chile from 1554 until 1556. He was born at Valladolid and was the only legitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.


Revolt in the Netherlands

The Estates General of the seven United Provinces passed an Oath of Abjuration of the Spanish king, who was also Sovereign of the Netherlands, in 1581 following the Union of Utrecht of 1579. It should be noted that the Netherlands were at this time a personal union under King Philip as he was lord of each separate Dutch Province (e.g., Duke of Guelre and Count of Holland). The rebel leader, William I, Prince of Orange (William the Silent) was outlawed by Philip, and assassinated in 1584 by a Catholic fanatic after Philip had offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who killed William the Silent, calling him a 'pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of the human race'. Nevertheless, the Dutch forces continued to fight on, and increasingly used their substantial naval resources to plunder Spanish ships and blockade the Spanish-controlled southern provinces.

Economic troubles

Aside from draining state revenues for failed overseas adventurism, the domestic policies of Philip II further burdened Spain, and would, in the following century, contribute to its decline. For one, far too much power was concentrated in Philip's hands. Spain was subject to separate assemblies: the Cortes in Castile along with the assembly in Navarre and three for each of the three regions of Aragon, each of which jealously guarded their traditional rights and laws inherited from the time they were separate kingdoms. This made Spain and its possessions cumbersome to rule. While France was divided by regional states, it had a single Estates-General. The lack of a viable supreme assembly would lead to a great deal of power being concentrated in Philip's hands, but this was made necessary by the constant conflict between different authorities that required his direct intervention as the final arbiter. To deal with the difficulties arising from this situation authority was administered by local agents appointed by the crown and viceroys carried out instructions of the crown. Philip, a compulsive micro-manager, presided over specialized councils for state affairs, finance, war, and the Inquisition. A distrustful sovereign, Philip played royal bureaucrats against each other, leading to a system of checks and balances that would manage state affairs in a very inefficient manner, sometimes damaging state business (leading to the Perez affair - see Antonio Perez). Calls to move the capital to Lisbon from the Castilian stronghold of Madrid — the new capital Philip established following the move from Valladolid — could have perhaps led to a degree of decentralization, but Philip adamantly opposed such efforts.

Philip's regime severely neglected farming in favor of sheep ranching, thus forcing Spain to import large amounts of grain and other foods by the mid-1560s. Presiding over a sharply divided conservative class structure, the Church and the upper classes were exempt from taxation (to be expected, considering their lack of parliamentary powers) while the tax burden fell disproportionately on the classes engaged in trade, commerce, and industry.

Due to the inefficiencies of the Spanish state structure, industry was also greatly over-burdened by government regulations, though this was the common defect of all governments of the times. The dispersal of the Moriscos from Granada (motivated by the fear they might support a Muslim invasion) had serious negative economic effects, particularly in the region it affected.

Inflation throughout Europe in the sixteenth century was a broad and complex phenomenon, but the flood of bullion from the Americas was the main cause of it in Spain. Under Philip's reign, Spain saw a fivefold increase in prices. Due to inflation and a high tax burden for Spanish manufacturers and merchants Spanish industry was harmed and Spain’s riches were frittered away on imported manufactured goods by an opulent, status-obsessed aristocracy and Philip's wars. Increasingly the country became dependent on the revenues flowing in from the mercantile empire in the Americas, leading to Spain's first bankruptcy (moratorium) in 1557 due to the rising costs of military efforts. Dependent on sales taxes from Castile and the Netherlands, Spain's tax base, which excluded the nobility and the wealthy church, was far too narrow to support Philip's grand plans. Philip became increasingly dependent on loans from foreign bankers, particularly in Genoa and Augsburg. By the end of his reign, interest payments on these loans alone accounted for 40% of state revenue.

Philip becomes King of Portugal

Philip became King of Portugal, and the success of colonization in America improved his financial position, enabling him to show greater aggression towards his enemies. In 1580, the direct line of the Portuguese royal family ended when Sebastian of Portugal died following a disastrous campaign in Morocco. His death gave Philip, his uncle, the pretext for claiming the throne through his mother, who was also a Portuguese princess (see struggle for the throne of Portugal). As a matter of fact, Philip had been brought up by Portuguese courtiers during his early life and spoke Portuguese as his native tongue until the death of his mother and his power helped him to seize the throne, which would be kept a personal union for sixty years. Philip famously remarked upon his acquisition of the Portuguese throne: "I inherited, I bought, I conquered", a variation on Julius Caesar and Veni, Vidi, Vici. Thus, Philip added to his possessions a vast colonial empire in Africa, Brazil, and the East Indies, seeing a flood of new revenues coming to the Habsburg crown. In the ruling of Portugal however, Philip showed tact, trimming his beard and wearing clothes in the Portuguese style, and ruling from Lisbon for the next couple of years, leaving Portuguese privileges and forals alone.

Pope makes Philip "King of Ireland"

In 1555, Pope Paul IV issued a papal bull granting the title King of Ireland to Philip of Spain[1]. This followed the Pope's excommunication of English King Henry VIII, after his break with Rome's papal authority, and was a reaction to Henry VIII arrogating to himself the title "King of Ireland", following the Crown of Ireland Act 1542, thereby subverting the prior feudal overlordship of the Papacy which under the English Pope Adrian IV had granted Ireland as a Lordship to the King Henry II of England in 1169. (see Laudabiliter).

Turkish threat in the Mediterranean

In the early part of his reign, Philip was concerned with the rising power of the Ottoman Empire under Suleyman the Magnificent. Fear of Islamic domination in the Mediterranean caused him to pursue an aggressive foreign policy.

In 1558 Turkish admiral Piyale Pasha captured the Balearic Islands, especially inflicting great damage on Minorca and enslaving many, while raiding the coasts of the Spanish mainland. Philip appealed to the Pope and other powers in Europe to bring an end to the rising Ottoman threat. Since his father's losses against the Ottomans and against Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha in 1541, the major European sea powers in the Mediterranean, namely Spain and Venice, became hesitant in confronting the Ottomans. The myth of "Turkish invincibility" was becoming a popular story, causing fear and panic among the people.

In 1560 Philip II organized a Holy League between Spain and the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Papal States, the Duchy of Savoy and the Knights of Malta. The joint fleet was assembled at Messina and consisted of 200 ships (60 galleys and 140 other vessels) carrying a total of 30,000 soldiers under the command of Giovanni Andrea Doria, nephew of the famous Genoese admiral Andrea Doria who had lost three major battles against the Turks in 1538, 1541 and 1552.

On March 12, 1560, the Holy League captured the island of Djerba which had a strategic location and could control the sea routes between Algiers and Tripoli. As a response, Suleiman the Magnificent sent an Ottoman fleet of 120 ships under the command of Piyale Pasha, which arrived at Djerba on May 9, 1560. The battle lasted until May 14, 1560, and the forces of Piyale Pasha and Turgut Reis (who joined Piyale Pasha on the third day of the battle) had an overwhelming victory at the Battle of Djerba. The Holy League lost 60 ships (30 galleys) and 20,000 men, and Giovanni Andrea Doria could barely escape with a small vessel. The Ottomans retook the Fortress of Djerba, whose Spanish commander, D. Alvaro de Sande, attempted to escape with a ship but was followed and eventually captured by Turgut Reis. In 1596 Ottoman forces took control of Tunis that had been nominally a Spanish protectorate since its conquest by Charles I in 1535 at the behest of Mulay Hassan.

The grave threat posed by the increasing Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean was reversed in one of history's most decisive battles, with the destruction of nearly the entire Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, by the Holy League under the command of Philip's half brother, Don John of Austria. A fleet sent by Philip, again commanded by Don John, reconquered Tunis from the Ottomans in 1573. However, the Turks soon rebuilt their fleet and in 1574 Uluç Ali Reis managed to recapture Tunis with a force of 250 galleys and a siege which lasted 40 days. However Lepanto marked a permanent reversal in the balance of naval power in the Mediterranean and the end of the threat of complete Ottoman control of that sea.

In 1585 a peace treaty was signed with the Ottomans.

War with England

Spanish hegemony and the Counter-Reformation achieved a clear boost in 1554, when Philip married Mary Tudor, a Catholic, the older daughter of Henry VIII, and his father's first cousin). However, they had no children; Queen Mary, or "Bloody Mary" as she came to be known in English Protestant lore, died in 1558 before the union could revitalize the Catholic Church in England.

The throne went to the formidable Elizabeth, the Protestant daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This union was deemed illegitimate by English Catholics, who did not recognize divorce and who claimed that Mary, Queen of Scots, the Catholic great-granddaughter of Henry VII, was the legitimate heir to the throne.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587 ended Philip's hopes of placing a Catholic on the English throne. He turned instead to more direct plans to return England to Catholicism by invasion. His opportunity came when England provided support for the Dutch rebels. In 1588 he sent a fleet of vessels, the Spanish Armada, to lead an invasion. The fact that the Spanish fleet had no deep bay in which it could deploy its main fleet meant that it was unable to land and was vulnerable to the smaller English ships. The absence of a backup from the troop carrying ships that were unable to link up with the Armada meant that they were isolated and open to the English fire ships and close range artillery. It was by no means a slaughter; it was a tightly fought battle, but the Spanish were caught in an awkward position and were forced back into retreat. Nonetheless, the operation had little chance of success from the beginning with huge delays, lack of communication between Philip II and his two commanders and of course the obvious lack of a deep bay. Eventually, three more Armadas were deployed; two were sent to England (1596 and 1597), both of which also failed; the third (1599) was diverted to the Azores and Canary Islands to fend off raids there. This Anglo-Spanish war (1585-1604) would be fought to a grinding end, but not until both Philip II (d. 1598) and Elizabeth I (d. 1603) were dead.

The stunning defeat of the Spanish Armada gave great heart to the Protestant cause across Europe. Many Spaniards blamed the admiral of the Armada for its failure, but Philip was not among them. The Spanish navy was rebuilt, and intelligence networks were improved. An example of the character of Philip II can be given by the fact that he personally saw that the wounded of this expedition were treated and received a pension, which was unusual for the time.

While the invasion had been averted, England was unable to take advantage of this success. An attempt to use her newfound advantage at sea with a counter armada the following year failed disastrously. Likewise, English buccaneering and attempts to seize territories in the Caribbean were defeated by Spain's rebuilt navy and her intelligence networks (although Cadiz was destroyed by an Anglo-Dutch force in a failed raid to seize the treasure fleet.)

Even though Philip was bankrupt by 1596, (for the fourth time, after France had declared war on Spain), in the last decade of his life more silver and gold were shipped safely to Spain than ever before. This allowed Spain to continue her military efforts.

War with France

From 1590 to 1598 Philip was also at war against Henry IV of France, joining with the Papacy and the Duke of Guise in the Catholic League during the French Wars of Religion. Philip's interventions in the fighting - sending Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma to relieve the siege of Paris in 1590, and again into Rouen in 1592 - to aid the Catholic faction, was disastrous in terms of the Dutch Revolt, allowing the Dutch forces the opportunity to regroup and refortify their defenses. Henry IV of France was also able to use his propagandists to identify the Catholic faction with a foreign enemy (Philip and Spain). In 1593, Henry agreed to convert to Catholicism; this caused most French Catholics to rally to his side against the Spanish forces. In June 1595 the redoubtable French king defeated the Spanish-supported Holy League in Fontaine-Francaise in Burgundy and reconquered Amiens from the overstretched Spanish forces in September 1597. The 1598 Treaty of Vervins was largely a restatement of the 1559 Peace of Câteau-Cambrésis; meanwhile, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, which offered a high degree of religious toleration for French Protestants. The military intervention in France thus ended in a disappointing fashion for Philip, as it failed to either oust Henry from the throne or suppress Protestantism in France. However, the conversion of Henry also ensured that Catholicism would remain France's majority faith.


Under Philip II Spain reached the peak of its power but also met its limits. Having nearly reconquered the rebellious Netherlands, Philip's unyielding attitude led to their loss, this time permanently, as his wars expanded in scope and complexity. So in spite of the great and increasing quantities of gold and silver flowing into his coffers from the American mines, the riches of the Portuguese spice trade and the enthusiastic support of the Habsburg dominions for the Counter-Reformation, he would never succeed in suppressing Protestantism or defeating the Dutch rebellion. Early in his reign the Dutch might have laid down their weapons if he had desisted in trying to suppress Protestantism, but his devotion to Roman Catholicism and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, as laid down by his father, would not permit him. He was a fervent Roman Catholic, and exhibited the typical 16th century disdain for religious heterodoxy.

Philip's wars against what he perceived to be heresies led not only to the persecution of Protestants, but also to the harsh treatment of the Moriscos, causing a massive local uprising in 1568. The damage of these endless wars would ultimately undermine the Spanish Habsburg empire after his passing. His endless meddling in details, his inability to prioritise, and his failure to effectively delegate authority hamstrung his government and led to the creation of a cumbersome and overly centralised bureaucracy. Under the weak leadership of his successors the Spanish ship of state would drift towards disaster. Yet such was the strength of the system he and his father had built that this did not start to become clearly apparent until a generation after his death.

However, Philip II's reign cannot simply be characterised as a failure. He consolidated Spain's overseas empire, succeeded in massively increasing the importation of silver in the face of English, Dutch and French privateering, and ended the major threat posed to Europe by the Ottoman navy (though peripheral clashes would be ongoing throughout his reign). He succeeded in uniting Portugal and Spain through personal union. He dealt successfully with a crisis that could have led to the secession of Aragon. His efforts also contributed substantially to the success of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in checking the religious tide of Protestantism in Northern Europe. Philip was a complex man, and though given to suspicion of members of his court, was not the cruel tyrant that he has been painted by his opponents. Philip was known to intervene personally on behalf of the humblest of his subjects. Above all a man of duty, he was also trapped by it.

Anglo-American societies have generally held a very low opinion of Philip II. The traditional approach is perhaps epitomized by James Johonnot's Ten Great Events in History, in which he describes Philip II as a "vain, bigoted, and ambitious" monarch who "had no scruples in regard to means... placed freedom of thought under a ban, and put an end to the intellectual progress of the country" [2] Spanish apologists generally classify this analysis as part of the Black Legend.

Philip II died in 1598 and was succeeded by his son, King Philip III.



Philip's ancestors in three generations
Philip II of Spain, I of Portugal Father:
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Paternal Grandfather:
Philip I of Castile
Paternal Great-Grandfather:
Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Mary of Burgundy
Paternal Grandmother:
Joanna of Castile
Paternal Great-Grandfather:
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Paternal Great-Grandmother:
Isabella of Castile
Isabella of Portugal
Maternal Grandfather:
Manuel I of Portugal
Maternal Great-Grandfather:
Infante Fernando, Duke of Viseu
Maternal Great-Grandmother:
Beatriz of Portugal
Maternal Grandmother:
Maria of Aragon
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Ferdinand II of Aragon
Maternal Great-Grandmother:
Isabella of Castile

Marriage and issue

  • Philip sought an alliance with the Kingdom of England, marrying the Catholic Queen Mary I of England in 1554. On occasion of the marriage, he was created King of Chile by his father and received the Kingdom of Naples and the title of King of Jerusalem which came with it, from him. Under the terms of the marriage, Philip became King Consort during the lifetime of his spouse. The marriage was unpopular with her subjects, and was a purely political alliance as far as Philip was concerned, though the aging Mary believed it to be a passionate love-match. On January 16 1556, Philip succeeded to the throne of Spain, as a result of his father's abdication, but he did not choose to reside in the country until his father's death two years later. After Mary died childless in 1558, Philip showed an interest in marrying her Protestant younger half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I of England, but this plan fell through, for a number of reasons.
  • In 1559 the 60-year war with France ended with the signing of the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. A key element in the peace negotiations was Philip's marriage to Princess Elisabeth of Valois, daughter of Henry II of France, who had originally been promised to Philip's son, Carlos. Philip and Carlos were never particularly close, and when Philip suspected his son of conspiring against him, he had him imprisoned in his room. When the prince died shortly thereafter, from starving himself to death in protest, Philip's enemies accused him of having ordered Carlos's murder. Elisabeth (1545-1568) did not provide Philip with a son, but did give him two daughters, Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela.


The Philippines, a former Spanish colony for 300 years, is named after King Philip II of Spain.

Philip in fiction

Philip II is a central character in Friedrich Schiller's play Don Carlos and Giuseppe Verdi's operatic adaption of the same. He will be played by Jordi Molla in Shekhar Kapur's 2007 film Golden Age. Philip's marriage to Elisabeth and the subsequent episode with his son are strongly aluded to in Lope de Vega's Castigo sin venganza (1631). A good novelised account of Philip's personal life and character appears in The Spanish Bridegroom by Jean Plaidy. The plot of Carlos Fuentes' 1975 novel, Terra Nostra, revolves around the construction of Philip II's monastery/palace of San Lorenzo de El Escorial near Madrid.


See also

External links

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Related Resource

Philip II of Spain
Spanish Habsburgs
Born: May 21 1527
Died: September 13 1598
Preceded by:
King of Portugal
Succeeded by:
Philip III of Spain
II of Portugal
Preceded by:
Charles V
King of Naples
King of Spain and Sicily
Duke of Brabant, Guelders, Limburg, Lothier and Luxembourg
Count of Artois, Burgundy, Flanders, Hainaut and Namur

Succeeded by:
Isabella and Albert
Count of Holland, Zeeland and Zutphen
lost to the United Provinces
Preceded by
Lord Guilford Dudley
King Consort of England
Succeeded by
Anne of Denmark
Title last held by
Prince Charles
Prince of Asturias
Succeeded by
Prince Carlos

Original Source

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