Éboli, Ruy Gómez De Silva, Prince of (c. 1516–1573)

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ÉBOLI, RUY GÓMEZ DE SILVA, PRINCE OF (c. 15161573), Iberian courtier and statesman. Ruy Gómez, the second son of middling Portuguese nobility, came to Castile in 1526 in the entourage of the princess Isabella, bride of Holy Roman emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556). He was assigned a place in the household of the infant Prince Philip (the future Philip II), serving as a page and becoming the prince's friend and confidant. His close relationship with Philip would form the basis of his political and personal rise. As regent of Spain from 1543, the prince entrusted a variety of diplomatic tasks to Ruy Gómez, who attained the office of sumiller de corps (privy steward) in the household reorganization of 1548. He accompanied Philip on his grand tour of central Europe and the Low Countries from 1548 to 1551 and was rewarded with an encomienda (commandery) in the military order of Calatrava. The prince's favor was instrumental as well in Ruy Gómez's 1553 marriage to Doña Ana de Mendoza y de la Cerda, the heiress of the counts of Mélito. This marriage established Ruy Gómez as a figure of substance among the Castilian aristocracy, particularly the wealthy and many-branched house of Mendoza.

When Philip went to England in 1554 to marry Mary Tudor, Ruy Gómez once again accompanied him. Along with Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, the duke of Alba, he was one of Philip's principal advisers in England. He formed a close alliance with Francisco de Eraso, Charles V's secretary in Brussels, and the two men played key roles in the negotiations and plans leading up to the emperor's abdication. Philip became king in 1556, with Ruy Gómez predominant in the court as his privado (favorite) and Eraso acting as principal secretary to the councils. In the opening years of the reign, important assignments fell to Philip's privado: in 1557 Ruy Gómez returned to Castile to raise money and men and supervise their dispatch to the Low Countries for the campaigns leading to victory at St. Quentin and Gravelines; then, in 15581559, he served among Philip's commissioners in negotiations for the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. These services earned him the reward of a Neapolitan title, prince of Éboli. Observers remarked on his extraordinary place in Philip's regime: "[T]he main title everyone gives him is that of rey [king] Gómez, in place of Ruy Gómez, since it seems that no one has ever been so privy with a prince of such great power."

While Éboli continued ascendantespecially in financial and patronage affairsafter the court's return to Castile in 1559, his position soon began to erode. Ruy Gómez's favor and influence with the king excited the rancorous jealousy of the duke of Alba, and all the court was polarized by the conflict between the Castilian grandee and the Portuguese upstart. Despite Éboli's higher standing in Philip's affections, Alba was the eventual victor. Ruy Gómez began to withdraw from public governmental prominence to his privy position in the household, and he was further weakened by the fall from grace of his ally Eraso, convicted of corruption in 1566. From 1564, he was also given the unenviable task of supervising Don Carlos, Philip's addled and erratic heir. Meanwhile, as the monarchy faced crises in the Mediterranean and the Low Countries, Éboli's great strengths of courtly subtlety and amiability were outmatched in Philip's estimation by Alba's military experience and the superior bureaucratic talents of Cardinal Diego de Espinosa.

Although he never withdrew his favor from Éboli, Philip II may also have come to see his privado as too self-serving in his counsel and his personal dealings. Certainly Ruy Gómez traded upon his privileged connections with the king's bankers in the process of acquiring the properties and jurisdictions that became a hereditary duchy when Philip elevated Ruy Gómez to grandee status as duke of Pastrana in 1572. Thus when he died in July 1573, Ruy Gómez had succeeded in converting the ephemeral glory of courtly favor into a lasting Castilian patrimony of aristocratic wealth and status. Such an astounding rise through the grace of a king known more for fickleness than generosity accounts for Éboli's lasting reputation as a peerless courtier, lauded by his protégé, the secretary Antonio Pérez, as the "master of Favorites, and of the understanding of Kings," and allegedly earning even from his bitter rival Alba the admission that he was "so great a master of affairs herein [in the privy chamber], and of the temper and disposition of Kings, that all the rest of us who pass through here have our heads where we think we are carrying our feet."

See also Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, duke of ; Cateau-Cambrésis (1559) ; Dutch Revolt (15681648) ; Philip II (Spain) .


Primary Sources

Albèri, Eugenio, ed. Le relazioni degli ambasciatori veneti al Senato durante il secolo decimosesto. Ser. I, vol. III. Florence, 1853.

Pérez, Antonio. Cartas de Antonio Perez, Secretario de Estado que fue del Rey Catholico Don Phelippe II. de este nombre: Para diversas personas despues de su salida de España. Paris, 1600?

Secondary Source

Boyden, James M. The Courtier and the King: Ruy Gómez de Silva, Philip II, and the Court of Spain. Berkeley, 1995.

James M. Boyden