Сontent | Library | Late Middle Ages

Philip II', wrote Victor Hugo in the last century, 'was a terrible thing.' The Enlightenment found him the champion of obscurantism, and the Romantic Age passionately assailed him as an enemy of freedom. Outside Spain (and for Spanish liberals) he assumed a leading place among the tyrants of history. But in the twentieth century new figures have emerged to supplant Philip II as an archetypal tyrant in the public imagination.

For a proper understanding of Philip II and his reign, this makes matters easier: polemics and apologies have abandoned the field to dispassionate investigation. We can study the man in the context of his own values and times, which in many ways prove not dissimilar to our own. In regard to values, then as now, we must admit to a frequent discrepancy between what is professed and what is practised. In the late sixteenth century, rebellion and war were endemic, engendered not only by material considerations but also by ideologies based on religious convictions. And Europe then, like much of the world now, was readjusting to rapidly (in a relative sense) changing conditions, which caused serious dislocations in all aspects of life and thought.

Given the context, the study of Philip II can be rewarding for our own age. Philip was a conservative, in that he meant to uphold the traditional order of government, society and religion. He was ambitious to do no more than improve the workings of government, especially in regard to justice, to ensure that the Church in his dominions tended its and his flock, and to hold the cost of government to the level of his revenues. War, which he wished to avoid but could not, proved, however, his undoing. To his mind, all his wars were defensive, for the sake of his rights, his patrimony and his religion; though to historians, his conquest of Portugal and his war against Henry IV of France were clearly wars of aggression.

The first part of this book is devoted to a study of Philip's childhood [8] and education, and takes him through his apprenticeship for his kingly office, in which he was guided by his father, Emperor Charles V ( Carlos I of Spain).

Upon his father's abdication, Philip began to rule his vast dominions, which came to form the first empire 'upon which the sun never set'. The government devised to rule his dominions forms a landmark in the development of the modern bureaucratic state, although its motivating assumptions most often remained medieval. Having surveyed Philip's dominions, studied the organization and functioning of his Court and analysed Philip and his relationships with those who served him, five important issues have been isolated for study in turn: (1) unity and disunity in the Iberian peninsula, (2) Italian and Mediterranean problems, (3) the revolt of the Netherlands, (4) the emergence of England as a world power and (5) the civil-religious wars of France. Whether foreign or domestic, each issue had its external and internal repercussions. Some posed problems for Philip as legacies of the past; others he handled in such a manner as to create new problems, which he left unsolved at the time of his death.

In my choice of words and phrases, I have been careful to avoid those which do not accurately describe the sixteenth-century situation, as regarded by men of those times. This is especially true in matters of Philip's foreign relations, which I believe have been distorted by many modern scholars through their employment of the vocabulary of nineteenth and twentieth-century nation-states. Philip II thought consciously in terms of dynasty and religion, not of nation-states.

In writing this book, I want to acknowledge my debt to all others who have studied Philip II and his age, many of whom I mention in my bibliographical essay. The archival material with which I have worked is far too vast for any one scholar to encompass, and one must stand in amazement before the fact that Philip II himself looked over and annotated so many of the documents generated by his regime. I wish to thank my editor Ragnhild Hatton for her hard work with my manuscripts and her trenchant comments and advice. For criticism and help I would also like to thank John H. Elliott, Manuel Fernández Alvarez, Helmut G. Koenigsberger, Albert Lovett and Geoffrey Parker. For a wide range of reasons, my thanks too to Andrew Lossky, Elizabeth Gleason, E. Thaddeus Flood, Geoffrey Symcox, Elizabeth Israels Perry, Dofia Matilda Medina, Stanley Payne, Lewis Spitz, the Fulbright programme, the Mabelle McLeod Lewis Memorial Fund, my colleagues and students at the University of Santa Clara, my parents and Mr and Mrs Henricus de Wildt. [9]