Сontent | Library | Late Middle Ages

Philip assumed regency powers in Spain in May 1543 and exercised them until October 1548, when Charles ordered him to join him in the Low Countries. During Philip's absence from Spain, Charles appointed his daughter Maria and her husband Archduke Maximilian as regents. Philip returned to Spain in July 1551 and replaced his sister.[1] He served as regent on this second occasion until June 1554, when business of state again took him north. This time he was replaced by his sister Princess Juana. When he next retuned to Spain in 1559, he was king, and Juana already his regent, not Charles's'.

Philip's exercise of regency powers in his father's absence was customary in Charles's dominions, which called or a member of the ruling house, preferably the heir to the throne, so stand in the stead of an absent sovereign. In practice Charles only employed members of his dynasty as regents in his most important dominions, Spain and the Low Countries; the rest had to be content with viceroys or governors of the high nobility.

Before leaving the sixteen-year-old Philip as his regent, Charles had two matters to settle: to obtain the recognition of Philip (already recognized in Castile in 1528) as heir to the crown of Aragon, and to provide Philip with a wife from Portugal in the interests of both the continuity of the dynasty and the maintenance of the long peace with Portugal. That a Portuguese marriage might lead to the union of Portugal with the other Iberian kingdoms could not have been far from Charles's mind. The death rate of King John III's children was extraordinarily high; in fact he outlived them all, to be succeeded by his sole and ill-fated grandson, Dom Sebastian.

Early in 1543 Charles summoned the General Cortes of the crown [17] of Aragon[2] to Monzon to grant him a subsidy and to acknowledge Philip. Philip was duly recognized and Charles voted the traditional subsidy to succor his military operations.

A final piece of business concerned only the kingdom of Aragon proper. ( Aragon means both the small kingdom with its capital at Zaragoza, and Aragon, Valencia and Catalonia taken together, which were ruled by the House of Aragon.) Charles intended to exalt the place of the crown and minimize the role of the Justicia of Aragon by symbolically altering the ceremony in which Philip, as heir, swore to uphold the famed 'liberties' of Aragon, largely vestiges of the feudal age, which favoured the nobility.[3] The Justicia had the power to overrule the king in cases involving these 'liberties'. The office of Justicia had come to be hereditary in the Lanuza family; but the constitutional issue, whether the office was dependent on the royal pleasure, the Cortes, or both, had never been resolved.

When Charles himself had taken the oath in 1518, the ceremony, held in La Seo, the cathedral of Zaragoza, had been so arranged that he knelt on a dais, his back to the main altar, and faced the representatives of the Cortes and the standing Justicia, who administered the oath. An impression had thus been created that Charles had submitted to the sovereign authority of the magistracy and people of Aragon, or at least this was how many remembered it. Charles now saw to it that when Philip took the oath, he faced the main altar of La Seo, rather than the Justicia and the deputies of Aragon, thereby emphasizing that he submitted himself only to God, not to any temporal magistrates. Certainly in this Charles, and Philip his heir, showed their inclination towards divine right absolutism, and Philip, when king, resolved the issue of the justicia in favour of the crown.

The marriage of Philip to the Portuguese infanta Maria Manuela took place at Salamanca in the autumn of 1543. We can see in Philip a touch of youthful ardour when he rode out to catch a glimpse of her prior to the wedding, as she approached the city in her cavalcade. According to contemporary sources, he fell quite in love with the pretty, buxom infanta, a girl of his own age. On 8 July 1545, she gave birth to a son, whom Philip named Don Carlos after his father. Four days later, the princess died of the complications of childbirth. Philip, who at twelve had buried his mother, at eighteen buried his first wife.

In the conduct of his regency government, Philip proved himself [18] diligent and grave. To guide him he had Charles’s instructions, one of history’s most remarkable political testaments, written on 4 and 6 May 1543,[4] as the Emperor embarked at Palamos to journey north to Germany and the Low Countries. These instruction deserve to be discussed in some detail, because of their impact on Philip’s thinking.

Charles began by commenting on the gravity of the responsibilities being placed upon one so young, but he expressed confidence that Philip, with God’s help, would give him ‘reason to thank God for making me the father of such a son’. Claiming that he was a poor preceptor, Charles prayed that God would ‘take me as His instrument’ an expression frequently invoked by Charles and later by Philip – so that the advice offered would be sound, since it was ‘in His service’.

He urged Philip to uphold the Inquisition, and never to let heretics into his kingdoms. This advice of 1543 became more pronounced in subsequent years and made a particularly profound upon Philip. In Spain, the Inquisition authorized by Pope Sixtus IV and established in 1480 by Ferdinand and Isabella, was governed by a royal council, de la superma y general Inquisicion, staffed with royal appointees. Its purpose initially was to prevent backsliding by converted Jews (conversos) and Moors (moriscos), referred to as New Christians to differentiate them from the Old Christian majority of Spaniards. While royal control of the Inquisition made it a potential instrument of absolutism, it tended to have a life and momentum of its own, driven by the debates, jealousies and ambitions of the clergy, and the anxieties, prejudices and fears of the Old Christians, who doubted the loyalty of the New Christians to Church and crown. Staffed at the top by men well-versed in theology and canon law, it was served at the bottom by some 20,000 familiares, faceless informers fired by zeal or ambition, who permeated the life of Spain.

The more disillusioned Charles became by the failure of his policies, whether peaceful or warlike, to suppress heresy in the Empire, the more convinced he became that only a rigorous Inquisition could prevent Spain from going the way of Germany. In a latter instruction of 1557 to the Princess Juana, Charles claimed that heretics disturbed the entire community and soon took up arms to overthrow the Church and established authority.[5] Heretics, he came to believe, should be considered rebels and treated as such. In Philip’s reign, the expression ‘rebel and heretic’ became commonplace.

Along with defense of religion, Charles stressed the dispensing of justice. Philip should see that the magistrates administrated it [19] fairy. He reminded Philip to imitate Christ, tempering justice with mercy, but hastened to add, ‘Too much mercy is a vice rather than a virtue.’

Charles implored the prince to be moderate in all things: ‘Watch your temper and do nothing in anger. Avoid following the advice of the young, and ignore the calumnies of the elderly.’ Surrounded as he now was in the government by mature men, Philip was to comport himself as a grown man, and not to tell jokes or behave foolishly.

Remembering his own past mistakes, Charles admonished his son ‘to avoid bad people as you would the fire, because they are dangerous and have many ways of drawing near you. Be quick to find out about a man, so that if he is bad, you can dismiss him. Favour good ’men, so all know that you are served by them, not by the wicked’. This advice Philip heeded carefully – a hallmark of his own regime is the diligence with which he sought to find out, from whatever source, all he could about those who served him.

Charles had a good deal to say about the men he placed around Philip: Archbishop Tavera, Zuniga, los Cobos and the duke of Alba. Only the instructions concerning Alba remained one of Philip’s leading advisers until 1582. In general, Philip was advised by his father to let none of them exercise too much power, although several would surely try, whether from the best or worst of intentions. Drawing on Charles’s remarks and what else we know about them, we can say that most of these associates of Philip during his apprenticeship in office were dedicated in principle and through interest to the monarchy, and were pious, intolerant and conservative.

In the case of Don Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, third duke of Alba, Philip’s military chief, there were two problems. The first was personal: the duke, Charles warned Philip, would try to treat him as a child. Indeed, until the day he died Alba’s manner towards Philip was avuncular; years later Philip’s former page Requesens referred to Alba as el tio (the uncle).[6]

More serious was the threat of Alba’s order, the grandees, to the sovereign authority of the crown. The forebears of the grandees had helped the royal bastard Henry, founder of the Trastamara dynasty, usurp the throne in 1369 from Pedro, whose policies they found objectionable. Indentured thus to the magnates, the Trastamaras alienated much of the royal domain to them, a process finally halted by Ferdinand and Isabella. To rebuild the power of the crown, the Catholic Monarchs obtained control of the Castilian military orders, and [20] limited the participation by grandees’ in the administration of their realms. However, they left the grandees with most of their ill-gotten gains, broad if not absolute jurisdiction over their vassals, and exemption from direct taxation. Charles had no doubt that the grandees, given the chance, would resume control of the royal administration and start once more to plunder the royal domain. ‘If they capture your will,’ he cautioned Philip, ‘it will cost you dearly.’

But the grandees could not be ignored, nor entirely kept from government. Their economic and social power was immense; the land could not be ruled without some sort of understanding between the crown and the magnates, who considered serving the crown their birthright, and plundering the crown a side-benefit of service. The solution was clear, even if its application did require eternal vigilance: speaking of Alba, Charles told Philip to consult him in matters of ordinary administration – in other words from the routine business of handling lawsuits, estates and money.

[1] Maximilian had left for Germany on Charles’s command in late 1550 to attend a Habsburg family meeting, for which see M. Fernandez Alvarez, Charles V (London 1975).

[2] The General Cortes was an assembly of the Cortes of the kingdoms of Aragon and Valencia and the country of Catalonia in one place, though each Cortes sat independently.

[3] Charles and Isabel were married march 1526. For Charles V, see Karl Brandi, The Emperor Charles V (English trans., London 1939); Royal Tyler, The Emperor Charles V (London, New New York 1956); and Manuel Fernandez Alvarez, Carlos V, XVIII of Historia de Espana, edited by R. Menendez Pidal (Madrid 1965) and his Charles V (London 1975).

[4] Fernandez Alvarez, Politica, discusses this and Philip’s other testaments and deals with the matter of their authenticity, 205-10.

[5] Ibid., 208, 211.

[6] Quoted in Koenigsberger, 'Statecraft', 3.