Olivares, Gaspar De Guzmán Y Pimentel, Count of (1587–1645)

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OLIVARES, GASPAR DE GUZMÁN Y PIMENTEL, COUNT OF (15871645), Spanish statesman. Olivares (Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel, third count of Olivares), who became the principal minister of Philip IV (16051665) of Spain, was born on 6 January 1587 in Rome, where his father, the second count, was ambassador to the Holy See. The counts of Olivares, a small town near Seville, belonged to the junior branch of the Andalusian house of Guzmán, whose titular head was Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, seventh duke of Medina-Sidonia (15491615). Don Gaspar, as a third son, was destined for the church but inherited his father's ambition to move out of the ranks of the lesser nobility and challenge the much-resented primacy of the senior branch of the family.

Olivares saw his native Spain for the first time in 1600, when his father returned to the peninsula after serving in succession as viceroy of Sicily and Naples. In 1601, when he was fourteen, Olivares was sent from the family home in Seville to Salamanca University to study civil and canon law. His years in the university gave him a lasting taste for letters and learning and perhaps also for book collecting, which became one of the great passions of his life. Plans for an ecclesiastical career, however, had to be abandoned when his surviving elder brother died suddenly in 1604. When his father died in 1607, having failed to acquire the coveted title of grandee of Spain, Gaspar succeeded him as third count of Olivares. In the same year he married his cousin, doña Inés de Zúñiga y Velasco, daughter of the fifth count of Monterrey. Of the children of the marriage, only one daughter, María, survived infancy. His daughter's death in 1626 after giving birth to a stillborn child was the great personal tragedy of Olivares's life, dashing his hopes of perpetuating the family line.

In 1615, after years of profligate spending in Seville, where he became a generous patron of men of letters, Olivares finally succeeded in securing a post at court as a gentleman in the household of the young prince Philip, the heir to the throne. In the following years he succeeded in ingratiating himself into the prince's favor, and when Philip III (ruled 15981621) died prematurely in 1621, Olivares was at once regarded as the favorite of the new king, who made him a grandee within a few days of his accession. Philip IV's principal minister for the first two years of his reign, however, was Olivares's uncle, don Baltasar de Zúñiga. Only following Zúñiga's death in 1622 did Olivares effectively emerge as the dominant figure of a regime he headed for twenty years.

Zúñiga and Olivares came to power as the champions of a reform movement intended to restore Spain's reputation abroad and reverse the process of economic, administrative, and moral decline at home following what were perceived to be two decades of misgovernment by Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, duke of Lerma (15531625), the favorite and omnicompetent minister of Philip III. Olivares therefore embarked on an ambitious program of reforms designed to reactivate the flagging Castilian economy, raise the standards of government and public morals, and share more equitably among the different kingdoms of Spain's extended empire the fiscal and military burdens that were crushing Castile.

The reform program of the 1620s was undertaken against a background of war. The Twelve Years' Truce with the Dutch Republic expired in 1621, and Spanish forces were becoming involved in the growing conflict in central Europe that developed into the Thirty Years' War (16181648). The early years of the Olivares government brought some notable victories, and in 1625 Olivares was raised to a dukedom with the title of duke of San Lúcar la Mayor. Thereafter he was known to contemporaries as the count-duke (conde-duque).

At the end of the decade, however, the reform program began to flag as Spain became involved in a costly and unsuccessful intervention in the War of the Mantuan Succession (16271631). From this point onwards Spain was on a collision course with the France of Cardinal Richelieu, although war between the two countries was not officially declared until 1635. There was still money to support a brilliant court life, and during the early 1630s, when Spain's armies were winning new victories in Germany, the count-duke constructed a pleasure palace for the king, the "Buen Retiro," on the outskirts of Madrid, that became a showcase for the arts. But the strains were beginning to tell, and an increasingly authoritarian government, dominated by juntas composed of Olivares's friends, relatives, and clients, resorted with growing desperation to financial expedients to meet the escalating costs of war.

In 1626 Olivares proposed a "Union of Arms" among the various Spanish kingdoms to help pool their resources in the face of enemy attack. He failed to secure acceptance of the scheme in Catalonia and, following the outbreak of the war with France, sought to exploit the principality's geographical position as a neighbor of France to involve the Catalans more directly in Spain's military effort. His plans miscarried disastrously in the spring and summer of 1640, when the principality, outraged by the behavior of the royal army billeted upon it, rose in revolt and formally terminated its allegiance to Philip IV. Six months later the revolt of Catalonia was followed by the almost bloodless secession of Portugal. With two simultaneous revolts in the peninsula, the balance of the war turned in favor of France, and in January 1643 the king gave his aging and exhausted minister permission to retire from office. With his enemies baying for his blood, the count-duke was sent into semi-exile in the city of Toro, where he died on 22 July 1645.

A ministerial career that had started amid high hopes and expectations ended therefore in defeat. This complex, hyperactive man, ambitious both for his monarch and for himself, failed in spite of titanic efforts to reverse the decline of Spanish power.

See also Medina Sidonia, 7th duke of ; Philip IV (Spain) .


Brown, Jonathan, and J. H. Elliott. A Palace for a King: The Buen Retiro and the Court of Philip IV. New Haven and London, 1980. 2nd ed. 2003.

Elliott, J. H. The Count-Duke of Olivares: The Statesman in an Age of Decline. New Haven and London, 1986.

Marañón, Gregorio. El Conde-Duque de Olivares. 3rd ed. Madrid, 1952.

Stradling, R. A. Philip IV and the Government of Spain, 16211665. Cambridge, U.K., 1988.

J. H. Elliott

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