Philip II 1527–1598 King of Spain
King of Spain
Philip II ruled Spain at a time when it reached its greatest power. A member of the Habsburg dynasty, he oversaw an empire that included nations in Europe and colonies in the Americas. Although Philip failed to achieve his foreign policy goals in the Netherlands and in England, his patronage* of the arts helped create a golden age in Spain.
Ruling an Empire. The son of Charles V and Isabella of Portugal, Philip took control of Spain as regent* in 1545, during his father's absence. From 1548 to 1551, Philip traveled around Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. The tour gave him experience in European politics and a taste for Flemish* and Italian Renaissance culture. Philip married four times—to Maria of Portugal, Mary I of England, Elizabeth of Valois, and Anna of Austria.
As husband of Mary I, Philip was co-ruler of England, where he lived for about a year after their marriage in 1554. He left England to join his father's wars against France. When Charles V abdicated* the throne of Spain in 1556, Philip became king and inherited an empire that included American colonies, the Netherlands, and several smaller European territories.
Philip faced many challenges during his reign. Although the tumult linked to the Protestant Reformation* threatened the stability of his empire, he hesitated to use force to combat heresy*. However, he used the full power of the Spanish Inquisition* against Protestant groups in Spain.
Philip attempted to reform the structure and finances of the Spanish government. Charles V had left huge debts that forced his son to stop payments from the royal treasury several times. Most spending went to war and to building ships in the Mediterranean Sea. The major threat there came from the Ottoman Turks*, who defeated Spain at the island of Djerba off the coast of North Africa in 1560. However, combined Spanish and Italian forces won a decisive naval victory over the Turks in 1571 at the battle of Lepanto off the coast of Greece. Philip also faced a revolt in the Netherlands, which sought independence from Spain. Philip hoped to crush the uprising with tough measures, but he failed to put down the revolt. As a result, military costs continued to grow.
A succession crisis caused Philip to invade Portugal in 1580 to support his claim to the Portuguese throne. He established his capital at Lisbon, ruling in Portugal as Philip I until his death. He then decided that England posed a major threat to his empire. In 1588 he attempted a naval invasion of England, which resulted in the costly defeat of his fleet, the Spanish Armada. The huge costs of running the empire drained the nation's economy throughout Philip's reign.
Although foreign affairs demanded much of his attention, Philip did not neglect governmental matters at home. He reformed the treasury and negotiated tax agreements with the Cortes, Spain's national assembly. Philip also reorganized the government to allow more effective control of war and built a fleet for the Mediterranean Sea. Because Spain had no capital city, he chose Madrid in 1561.
Philip worked tirelessly to suppress revolts in his far-flung empire. At the same time, he respected the autonomy of different provinces in Spain, and most of them remained peaceful throughout his reign. However, tensions increased in the province of Castile during Philip's later years, mainly due to opposition to higher taxes. In 1591 he also faced the threat of rebellion in the Spanish province of Aragon.
Reputation and Achievement. Philip's actions abroad made him many enemies. His suppression of the revolt in the Netherlands unleashed hostility from the Dutch, while the English mocked him for the failure of the Armada. Sinister rumors circulated abroad about Philip murdering a son and wife. Even Spanish officials found fault with the king's fondness for paperwork.
Despite the many problems and responsibilities of ruling the Spanish empire, Philip made substantial contributions as a patron of the arts. He built or restored splendid palaces and gardens and supported leading Renaissance painters throughout Europe. Philip also invited foreign musicians to his court, collected rare books and manuscripts, and financed scientific studies and geographical surveys.
Philip II was a steadfast Catholic, yet he modified laws that discriminated against Jews. He also accepted the need for some religious toleration in the Netherlands. He supported reform of the Catholic Church and played an important role in the success of the last sessions of the Council of Trent. Yet, he also consistently opposed church policies with which he disagreed.
- * patronage
support or financial sponsorship
- * regent
person who acts on behalf of a monarch who is too young or unable to rule
- * Flemish
relating to Flanders, a region along the coasts of present-day Belgium, France, and the Netherlands
- * abdicate
to give up the throne voluntarily or under pressure
- * Protestant Reformation
religious movement that began in the 1500s as a protest against certain practices of the Roman Catholic Church and eventually led to the establishment of a variety of Protestant churches
- * heresy
belief that is contrary to the doctrine of an established church
- * Spanish Inquisition
court established by the Spanish monarchs that investigated Christians accused of straying from the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly during the period 1480–1530
- * Ottoman Turks
see color plate 13, vol. 4