Сontent | Library | Late Middle Ages

Believe me, Your Majesty, if this were not true I would not dare write it to you[1]

'I cannot think where this will stop', the Castilian religious reformer Teresa of Avila commented around mid-century. 'I have seen so many changes in my lifetime that I do not how to go on. What will it be like for those who are born today and have long lives before them?'[2]

The Spain over which prince Philip presided in his father's absence was indeed changing in several ways. Like many countries in Europe, 'Spain' was not a unified state but an association of provinces sharing a common king. The majority of provinces were grouped under the crown of Castile, which included Castile but also the kingdom of Navarre and the autonomous Basque provinces. The eastern provinces, forming the crown of Aragon, comprised the autonomous territories of Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia. Most provinces enjoyed their own laws, institutions and monetary system, and were subject to the political control of their local nobility.

The king - above all an absentee king like Charles - was in no position to rule by absolute authority. He exercised control instead through agreements and the judicious use of influence. Royal power was strongest in Castile, where tradition allowed the king to raise taxation and an army. Fortuitously Castile, which also ruled directly over America, was the largest realm of Spain and contained three-quarters of its population. It became the base upon which Charles, and later Philip, constructed their policies.

Charles's grandfather, Ferdinand the Catholic, had begun the nation's emergence as a European power by his active foreign policy. In 1504, after [21] years of war in southern Italy, he won sovereignty over the kingdom of Naples. Ferdinand's wife Isabella had given particular attention to the conquest in 1492 of the Muslim kingdom of Granada, and had backed Columbus in his voyages to the New World. Charles, on his accession to the Spanish throne, was drawn into this immense range of imperial interests. As sovereign of the Netherlands he enjoyed the title of duke of Burgundy; to his many other titles he subsequently added that of Holy Roman Emperor in Germany. Ruler of the biggest accumulation of states ever know in European history, he drew Spain into an imperial role it had never before experienced.

Spain in mid-century was well poised to make its mark on the world. Charles’s empire was not created by the Spanish, but they were beginning to play an important part in it. Spain’s military fame rested chiefly on its long, valiant battle against the advancing forces of the Turkish empire. In 1535 the emperor, with forces drawn mainly from Italy and Spain, had scored a brilliant victory over the Muslims by capturing the north African city of Tunis. Since then the small Spanish fortresses scattered around the western Mediterranean, such as La Goletta, were the only protection of the Christian west against Islamic power. On constant guard against the great external threat, fearful of the enormous potential Muslim threat at home (in Granada), Spain was uniquely fitted to lead a crusade in defense of the west. Spanish military detachments could be found in Italy, Germany and Flanders. The presence of these troops in other states was inevitably resented. ‘They are loved by nobody,’ a courtier of prince Philip observed.[3] Hostility was the price to be paid for Spain’s growing imperial role.

In good measure, the outside world was suspicious because it did not know Spain. Some non-Spaniards had served in the wars against the Muslims of Granada, some had gone on pilgrimage to the shrines at Santiago in Galicia or Montserrat in Catalonia. Cultured foreigners visited the peninsula, however, only if the royal court was there. It is significant that the Italian humanist Castiglione, who made Spanish his home in mid-century, dedicated himself to producing a book on the theme of The Courtier. Charles’s continuous absence deprived the country of a regular court. Castile without its king tended to become a cultural backwater.

Spain’s isolation from the outside world was commented upon by travellers and ambassadors. Envoys of the republic of Venice, who made frequent visits, seldom failed to present the country in an unfavourable light. In very many ways, the peninsula was indeed off the beaten track. Yet Spaniards who had done a bit of travelling thought their own country quite satisfactory. ‘Of everything that I have seen’, commented one, ‘the best is Spain… The people there are liberal but not so bookish as in Italy, courageous but not so barbarous as the Germans, humane and amiable [22] but without the placidity of the inhabitants of Flanders.’ In Spain there was more tranquillity, more freedom for everyone.


Spain's expansion could not disguise its backwardness. The crown of Castile had a population of some five million; the crown of Aragon about a million and a half. Spain regularly had to import grain to feed these people, but the aridity of much of the countryside meant that in times of drought it faced severe difficulties. When Philip was entrusted with the realm in 1543, a new poor law to deal with begging had just been issued, cardinal Tavera had just founded in Toledo a hospital for the poor, and at Salamanca university the theologian Domingo de Soto was giving lectures on the problem of poor relief. Two prominent studies of poverty which appeared in 1545 were presented by their authors to the prince, who despite his privileged environment was made aware of the problems facing his people. Philip's concern for the poor was to remain one of the recurring themes in his correspondence.


In February 1548 Philip summoned the Cortes of Castile to Valladolid to settle outstanding matters, mainly of finance. When the deputies assembled on 4 April the prince informed them of his impending departure, but his message was not well received. Castilians had already lived nearly six years without their king; now they were losing their prince as well. They petitioned Philip not to leave the realm, and sent a letter of protest to Charles. ‘If the absences of their rulers continue,’ they said, ‘these realms will be left even poorer and more ruined than they are’. ‘Castile does not accept the absence of its princes,’ a historian of the time observed.

On 13 September the archduke Maximilian, who was due to exercise the regency during Philip’s absence, arrived from Vienna with his retinue of Austrian and Czech courtiers. A marriage had been arranged between him and Philip’s sister Maria. Son of the emperor’s Spanish-born brother Ferdinand, Maximilian spoke perfect Spanish, as well as five other languages. Since April this year he had borne the honorary title of king of Bohemia. Two days after his arrival he was formally married to the Infanta Maria. The extensive celebrations included the staging of a comedy by Ludovico Ariosto.

At daybreak on 2 October Philip’s party set out from Valladolid for Barcelona. The prince left the bulk of Cortes business in the hands of his administrators. A summary of the petitions of the Cortes, well over 200, was brought to him in Catalonia shortly before his departure. He gave his formal assent to half of them; the most pressing ones, expressing opposition to his departure, were studiously ignored.

It was a bad time to leave. The Castilian countryside was afflicted by drought. Grain was scarce, with prices ‘never before seen in Castile’. In [35] Valencia there had for months been rumours of an insurrection among the Moriscos, who constituted a third of the population of the province. One of Philip's last acts before leaving was to set up a special committee under Inquisition Valdes, made up of eighteen persons including ‘theologians and lawyers from all the councils’, to discuss the problem. After each had given his view in writing, ‘I have now ordered them to meet again and reduce their opinions to only one,’ the prince informed his father.

The royal party was a large and distinguished group that included Alba, Ruy Gomez, and a number of leading nobles. There were noted humanists, among them Gonzalo Perez as secretary, Honorat Juan as tutor, Constantino Ponce de la Fuente as preacher, and Cristobal Calvet de Estrella as chronicler. Foreigners in the entourage included the German cardinal of Trent, who was with Philip during the entire journey. The prince was also accompanied by his musicians, among them his guitar-teacher Luis Narvaez and the blind composer Antonio de Cabezon. The prince's stewards, Vicente Alvarez, went along to supervise food arrangements, and his spare time wrote a journal of the whole trip.

Although the travellers encountered violent rainstorms in Catalonia, Philip managed to make a three-night stay at Montserrat. In Barcelona, which he entered on 14, he resided at the palace of Estefania de Requesens, who over the years had been as a second mother to him. A sumptuous banquet was laid on by the cardinal of Trent for the prince and other guests, during which over 150 different dishes were served. At the three-hour feast, the prince became exceptionally merry and ‘began to drink a bit more than he was used to’. The group left on 18 October and headed north for the port of Rosas, where bad weather delayed their departure. The group left Barselona on 18 October and headed north for the port of Rosas, where bad weather delayed their departure. They eventually sailed in the fleet of fifty-eight galleys commanded by the great Genoese admiral, the eighty-two-year-old prince Andrea Doria, on 2 November.


Philip's excitement at his first sea voyage shines through in the letters he wrote on arriving in Italy. The bad weather of the past few days continued, so for security the ships kept close to the coastline and Philip slept ashore. On 3 November he passed the night in Cadaques. The next few days were spent mainly on land, visiting Cotlliure and Perpignan. Not until the ninth did the fleet manage to sail from Cotlliure, but off Aigues Mortes they were held up for six days by the wind, and could neither land nor continue. Provisions had to be ferried out. After they resumed the journey, visits ashore were made at the isles of Hyeres and Lerins. Thereafter the weather improved. Doria decided to press on straight to Italy, so they sailed past Nice and Monaco without stopping. The first landfall was made just before dusk on 23 November at Savona, where the feast of welcome, put on by the Spinola family, was remarkable for the presence [36] not only of the highest nobility of northern Italy but also of agents from all the chief Italian banking-houses, the Lomellini, Pallavicino, and Grillo. The prince was not used to such cosmopolitan company, and had difficulty with the language. He spoke very little. His formally seemed rather ‘austerita e severita’, noted an observer.

When not faced with formal courtesies, Philip was very much more at ease. He participated wholeheartedly in festivities, dancing and tournaments; his energy on social occasions was formidable. The voyage ended on 25 November, when the entire fleet sailed into the harbour of Genoa. Philip was the guest for sixteen days of prince Andrea Doria at his palace outside the city. Head of Genoa's leading noble family, the great seafaring admiral had allied himself to Charles V twenty years before. Since that time, his private fleet had been the mainstay of Spain's naval power in the Mediterranean. The high point of the stay was Philip's formal attendance at mass in the cathedral on 8 December. The city was packed with nobles, soldiery and populace. The Spanish guard wore the prince's livery: yellow, white and red. The only event marring the visit was a small public disturbance to protest against the conduct of the Spanish soldiers.

The party left Genoa on 11 December. It was cold, and snowing. They took the route through Alessandria and Pavia, and in each town did a bit of touring and admired the fortifications. On the nineteenth, as they approached Milan, they were met by the duke of Savoy, Carlo III, who accompanied them into the city. Philip himself was duke of Milan, by gift of his father, and entered to a suitably triumphant welcome. The stay, which lasted nineteen days, was taken up with tours, feasts, banquets, tourneys, theatre visits and balls. On New Year's Day the governor, Ferrante Gonzala, put on a great feast followed dancing. Philip stayed up until it ended at four in the morning. His gallantry to women was evident. At the feast he gave up his seat of honour to the governor's daughter and let the fair ladies drink from his glass, ‘something no one had ever seen before’. At the tourney held a few days later, he was ‘looked at admiringly by the ladies because he fought with such spirit and agility’. But the stay was not all gallantry. Philip took time off to meet the great artist Titian, and commissioned some portraits from him.

The journey resumed on 7 January. The route took them through Cremona and Mantua (a four-day stop, as guests of the duke of Ferrara). From here they began the ascent up the mountainous valley of the river Adige. They cross out of Italy now, into German territory, and on the twenty-fourth ariived at Trent.

Philip was welcomed into the city by the cardinals of Trent and Augsburg, and by Charles V's ally the young twenty-seven-year-old Elector of Saxony, Maurice. Triumphal arches covered the streets. Trent was a centre of world attention because of the Church council which should have been in session there. In 1547, however, the prelates at the [37] council were instructed by the pope to move temporarily to Bologna, because of an outbreak of plague. Only prelates dependent on Charles V - the Germans and Spaniards - disobeyed the pope and stayed on at Trent. It was this small group which now took part in welcoming the prince of Spain.Philip managed to speak to the prelates, but the greater part of his time in Trent was occupied in festivities. Every night there was a banquet. On the first night, ‘the dinner was joyous and very German because everyone drank a lot; it ended at ten and then the celebrations began’. There was dancing: ‘the first to dance was the prince, who was picked out by the most beautiful of the Italian ladies’. The next two nights, Friday and Saturday, the prince dined alone. It was a self-discipline which he had practised for many years, and which he apparently continued for the rest of his life. Twenty years later an ambassador reported that he was still following the practice. The last of the five nights the party spent here took the form of a masked ball that lasted almost until dawn. The prince, Elector Maurice and the other nobles wore masks. The gaiety was so general that the cardinals of Trent and Augsburg also danced with the ladies.

The journey to the Netherlands lasted a full six months, an extended pleasure tour which was also intended to be educational. As they went north they were preparing for the cold and snows of the Alps. At Bolzano, where the spent the night of 30 January, Philip was presented with a large block of silver ore, mined in the region. His companions noted the well-being of the people in the Tyrol, the wayside crucifixes, the beauty of the women, the gradual disappearance of vineyards. On 3 February they made their way up to the Brenner pass, and then descended towards Innsbruck, which they entered on the fourth.

From this point the cardinal of Trent acted as Philip's translator into German. After a rest at Innsbruck, where Philip spent a day hunting in the woods, the entire group embarked in boats and sailed down the river Inn as far as Rosenheim. It was a relaxing journey which they broke every night in order to sleep ashore. From Rosenheim they pressed overland, spending the night at the abbey of Ebersberg. On 13 February the party arrived at Munich where they were greeted by duke Albert of Bavaria and his family. The Spaniards were immediately impressed by the beauty of the town, its little houses and clean streets. There were banquets nearly every night. On the second day they went hunting in the woods round Munich, and had a splendid picnic in the country. That night there was a sumptuous dinner with ‘sweet music and ladies’. ‘During all these entertainments, His Highness was as happy, relaxed and sociable as if he understood the language; as a result everyone was enchanted, above all the duke's daughter.’

Two days after leaving Munich the party, which since Trent also included Maurice of Saxony, entered Augsburg. It was 21 February. [38] Philip for the first time learned what it was like to live among heretics, since the area was largely Lutheran. It did not affect his conduct. His father's firm policy was one of unavoidable coexistence with Lutherans and Philip accept it without protest. Maurice of Saxony, his close companion during the journey, was an active Lutheran and leading ally of the emperor. The prince greeted the city councillors cheerfully, and spent four days in the partly Protestant city. He took the opportunity to visit the magnificent palace of the Fugger family, financiers who had enriched themselves by lending money to his father. The day after departing from Augsburg, Elector Maurice took his leave in order to return to Saxony.

The next important stop was Ulm, where they spent the last two days of February. The entertainment here was a joust between boats on the Danube. The losers were tipped into the river. Philip was now traveling through the solidly Lutheran territory of Wurttemberg. His party made their way north, towards the Rhine. At Vaihingen they were met by the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, the Lutheran duke Albert of Hohenzollern, with a military escort which accompanied them as far as Speyer. In this way they reached Heidelberg, capital of the Palatinate, on 7 March.


The group left on the eleventh and arrived in the evening at Speyer, on the river Rhine. They were met by a Netherlands military escort under the command of the duke of Aerschot, and by the archibishop of Mainz who came downriver to greet the prince. They then struck out westward instead of going down the valley of the Rhine. Passing through Kaiserslautern, Zweibrücken und Saarbrücken, they arrived in Luxemburg late on 21 March. Philip stayed only one day in the town, in which he spent the time examining the walls and defences. He had a passionate interest in military fortifications, and had inspected the defences of every city through which they passed on the journey. He was now on home [39] ground, in the states of his father. The partly spent the last three days of March in Namur.

A few miles outside Brussels, a reception was put on for the approaching travellers by queen Mary of Hungary, sister of the emperor and regent of the Netherlands. Towards nightfall on 1 April, Philip made a formal entrance into the capital. The streets were brilliantly decked and illuminated, there were triumphal arches everywhere and torches in the windows. Over 50,000 people, a witness estimated, were gathered in the city center to greet the prince. Philip made his way to the royal palace, where he was received formally by Mary and by her sister the queen of France, Eleanor. The two queens accompanied him to a room where the emperor was waiting to receive him. The two embraced. Philip had not seen his father in six years.


The political team with which Philip came into contact in these years was his father's. It was made up of men whose professional horizon was the whole of Europe. The usually had a university background, were trained in the humanities, and spoke several languages. They focused their loyalty not on any single nation but on the emperor, a personage transcending nations. When prince Philip was in the north, the most important of these officials was the emperor's chancellor, Antoine Perrenot. A native of Besancos in the France-Comte, Antone (born in 1517) was the eldest of the five sons of Nicolas Perrenot, chancellor for over twenty years. During that period, father and sons worked together in the emperor's service.

[1] Philip to Charles, 25 Mar. 1545, AGS:E leg. 69 ff. 20 - 6.

[2] St Teresa, Life, trans. J. M. Cohen, Harmondsworth 1957, chap. 37, p. 282.

[3] Alvarez, p.134.