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Isabel Clara Eugenia and Albert of Habsburg (Isabel Clara Eugenia, 1566–1633; Albert of Habsburg, 1559–1621)

ISABEL CLARA EUGENIA AND ALBERT OF HABSBURG (Isabel Clara Eugenia, 15661633; Albert of Habsburg, 15591621)

ISABEL CLARA EUGENIA AND ALBERT OF HABSBURG (Isabel Clara Eugenia, 15661633; Albert of Habsburg, 15591621), archdukes of Austria, governors and sovereigns of the Spanish Netherlands. Isabel Clara Eugenia, eldest daughter of Philip II of Spain and Elisabeth de Valois, learned statecraft at her father's side. While her sister Catalina Micaëla (15671597) married the duke of Savoy in 1585, Philip found no suitable husband for Infanta Isabel. Sebastian of Portugal perished in battle, and Emperor Rudolf II proved too eccentric. In 15901593, when Philip vainly pressed Isabel's claim to the French throne, he considered Charles, duke of Guise (15711640) for her hand before settling on Archduke Ernst of Habsburg (15531595), who was appointed governor-general of the revolt-torn Netherlands in 1593. Ernst died in 1595, and in 1597, Philip decided that Isabel would marry Ernst's brother, Cardinal-Archduke Albert, who had succeeded Ernst in the Netherlands, and arranged the necessary dispensations with Rome.

Albert, sixth son of Emperor Maximilian II and Philip II's sister Maria, had gone from Austria to Spain in 1570 with his sister Ana when she married Philip II. Groomed for the church, Albert was nominated cardinal in 1577 and was soon designated archbishop of Toledo to follow the aged Gaspar de Quiroga, who did not die until 1594. Cardinal-Archduke Albert meantime filled political offices. Appointed viceroy of Portugal in 1583, he learned about military matters during preparations for the Spanish Armada and the defense of Portugal in 1589 against the English counterattack led by Sir Francis Drake. In 1593 Philip brought Albert to Madrid to assist him and guide Prince Philip, who later became Philip III. Appointed governor of the Netherlands in 1595, Albert had mixed success in his battles with the Dutch stadtholder Maurice of Nassau, the son of William of Orange, and with Henry IV of France. In May 1598 Albert achieved the treaty of Vervins with France. The same month, Philip II bestowed sovereignty of the Netherlands on him and Isabel, with the proviso that if either died childless, the Netherlands would return to the Spanish crown.

Philip II died that September, and his son Philip III (15981621) had come to the throne when Albert, never priest and no longer cardinal, married Isabel at Valencia in May 1599. Together the "archdukes" returned to Brussels. Maurice invaded Flanders briefly in 1600 and defeated Albert in battle. Albert's army became mutinous without pay, yet with Isabel's encouragement in 1601 he laid siege to Ostend, the remaining rebel stronghold in Flanders. He also achieved peace with England. Ambrogio Spinola (15691630), Genoese banker turned soldier, repaired the army's finances and took over the siege. Pressured by Madrid, Albert gave him command of the army. In 1604, Ostend surrendered.

In the same years Albert, in collaboration with Isabel, sought through diplomacy to end the Dutch revolt and reunite the provinces of the Dutch Republic with the "obedient" provinces known as the Spanish Netherlands. Isabel and Albert were often at odds with Madrid. In religion they favored persuasion and Catholic revival rather than fire and the stake. But religious differences remained profound and talk of toleration too vague for either Catholic or Calvinist. The archdukes' centralization of government, however efficient, and their ignoring of the southern States General after 1600, ran contrary to Dutch republican ideals. Amsterdam did not want Antwerp as a rival. Trade concessions in Spain's empire seemed too conditional, its plunder more appealing. Refugees who moved their businesses to the Dutch Republic did not relish a revived Flanders. And all knew that the archdukes remained dependent on funds from Spain and a consideration in Spanish strategy.

The fortunes of war seesawed, and both sides became exhausted, while France and England tired of the cost of backing the Dutch. In 1609 a compromise Twelve Years' Truce was achieved. The years of peace proved unsettled. Industry languished though urban oligarchs prospered, and the nobility tightened its hold on the countryside. Culture flourished. Louvain and Douai became centers of Catholic learning while the baroque style inspired the arts. The archdukes became patrons of Peter Paul Rubens.

International crises, such as the Jülich-Cleves dispute of 16091610, proved frequent. In 1618, the Thirty Years' War commenced, and Albert sent Spinola to devastate the Rhine (or Lower) Palatinate. In 1621, Albert died as the Twelve Years' Truce with the Dutch, which he had tried to extend, expired. The Spanish Netherlands reverted to Spain. Infanta Isabel became governor for her nephew Philip IV while Spinola remained in command of the army.

In the field Spinola capped his successes in 1625 when Breda surrendered, but in 1628 he was called to Italy. The war turned against Isabel, and sedition spread although she was personally beloved for her works of charity. In vain she sought peace for the Spanish Netherlands. She summoned the States General in 1632 and employed subtle diplomacy using Rubens. Disheartened, she died in Brussels after a brief illness on 1 December 1633.

See also Dutch Republic ; Henry IV (France) ; Marie de Médicis ; Netherlands, Southern ; Philip II (Spain) ; Philip III (Spain) ; Philip IV (Spain) ; Rubens, Peter Paul ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


Allen, Paul C. Philip III and the Pax Hispanica 15981621: The Failure of a Grand Strategy. New Haven, 2000.

Caiero, Francisco. O Arquiduque Alberto de Austria Vice-Rei e Inquisidor-mor de Portugal. Lisbon, 1961.

Terlinden, Charles. L'Archiduchesse Isabelle. Brussels, 1943.

Thomas, Werner, and Luc Duerloo, eds. Albert and Isabella 15981621; Essays. Turnhout, Belgium, 1998.

Peter Pierson

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