Philip II refused to let his life be written during his lifetime. He thereby saved himself from adulators, whom he hated. But he left the field wide open to detractors. Since then he has consistently been given a bad press. Denigrated in his own day by political foes abroad, by Protestants every-where, and even within Spain by enemies such as his former secretary Antonio Perez, he acquired a sinister reputation that the passing of time only succeeded in blackening yet further.

The image presented by both his defenders and detractors has barely changed over four centuries. On the whole, biographies by his defenders have been appallingly bad. The scholarship of his enemies has by contrast usually been excellent. The splendid research done by modern Belgian, Dutch and English-speaking historians has completely altered our knowledge of aspects of his policies, but barely touched Philip's personal image. 'To historians he is an enigma', the most eminent historian of our time, Fernand Braudel, was obliged to conclude.

The American J. L. Motley penned in 1855 the classic portrait of Philip as the incarnation of evil: 'mediocrity, pedant, reserved, suspicious, his mind was incredibly small... bigot, grossly licentious, cruel... a consummate tyrant'. Some Spanish contemporaries of  Motley shared the same view. One of them affirmed (in 1889) that 'the figure of Philip has always been a somber page in our history... Suspicious, cruel, vengeful... He committed authentic crimes with terrifying cold-bloodedness'. In an influential Spanish study of 1948, notable for its attempt to be fair to Philip, Gregorio Maranon could still portray him as suspicious, week, indecisive and an accomplice in murder.

Through the centuries no historian dared to look closely into Philip the man. The only attempt at a purely biographical study was that by the [XI] Dane, Carl Bratli in 1912. Nearly all the multi-volume accounts (by Prescott, Merriman, and Forneron) are in reality political histories of the reign. The recent short life by Geoffrey Parker (1978) includes several personal details, but is also mainly a political survey and has significant differences of presentation from my own. Until now, in short, we have known very little about the thoughts, motives and preferences of the man who for half a century, during one of the most crucial epochs in history, governed the most extensive empire in the world.

This is the first full-length and fully researched biography of the king ever written. It has been made possible by the use at every point oа entirely new manuscript sources, many of them hitherto unknown. Previous 'biographies' have dedicated themselves largely to foreign politics; this study by contrast places special emphasis on the king and on his principal environment, Spain. At the same time due attention has been paid to the part played by America in forming his outlook.