Philip III (Spain) (1578–1621; Ruled 1598–1621)

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PHILIP III (SPAIN) (15781621; ruled 15981621)

PHILIP III (SPAIN) (15781621; ruled 15981621), king of Spain; ruled Portugal as Philip II. Philip III had the misfortune to be the son of Philip II, and was saddled with the perhaps undeserved reputation of being an unprepared simpleton. He was the son of Philip II's fourth and last wife, Anna of Austria (15491580), and married a second cousin, Margaret of Austria (15841611), who bore him eight children by the time she died in childbirth at the age of twenty-six. If his abilities have never been celebrated, his devotion and upright behavior always have. The apt assessment by the count-duke of Olivares (Philip IV's powerful prime minister and court favorite in 16231643) was that his sins were those of omission, not commission. Upon taking the throne, Philip III took one look at his country's economic crisis and diplomatic entanglements, measured up his own abilities against his father's, and promptly withdrew from public life. He spent much of his reign leaving governance in the hands of others, most notably his court favorite, the powerful and scandalous Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, marquis of Denia, duke of Lerma (1552 or 15531625).

In 1601 the king, following Lerma's advice, moved the court to Valladolid, where it stayed until 1606. The move was expensive and impractical, as the government remained in Madrid, 100 miles southeast of the court, whose ostentation seemed to defy the austere legacy of Philip II. Upon returning to Madrid, the king ordered Juan Gómez de Mora to commemorate the event by completing the rest of the Plaza Mayor, begun by Juan de Herrera in the 1560s. This grand plaza (finished 1619) is the most emblematic of seventeenth-century Spanish squares and is marked in its center by an equestrian statue of Philip III, modeled by Florentine sculptor Giambologna and cast by his student Pietro Tacca.

The sixteenth century was a time of expansion, but the boom ended by the 1590s, when birth rates began to fall and a plague epidemic ravaged most of the Iberian Peninsula (15961600). A further economic setback was the introduction of copper coinage to save silver (in short supply in Spain because of a decrease in trade with Peru and Mexico), which prolonged inflation and led to monetary instability. The depression that ensued prompted tract writers called arbitristas to inundate the uninterested king with proposals for economic reform that ranged from the exotic to the astute to the prescient. Those writings were consulted later in the eighteenth century and have been the subject of much attention in recent years.

Philip's father had left him a depleted treasury, an exhausted army, a swiftly diminishing tax base, and increasingly insecure shipments of silver from America. With a potentially dangerous succession about to occur in England after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, Spain wanted peace. The so-called Pax Hispanica was the period between the wars of Philip II and those of Philip IV. Largely as a result of this lull, Spain lost no territory during Philip III's reign; he passed on to his son more or less what he had inherited from his father, who had laid a foundation of peace by securing a treaty with France in 1598, just before his death. This was extended by Spain's treaty with England in 1604 and the Twelve Years' Truce in 1609 with the Dutch, and was marred only by clashes with Savoy and Venice (16151617). During the peace, the European powers consolidated trade routes, rebuilt armies and navies, and prepared for a new round of wars. Lerma fell from power in 1618, hastening the end of the peace in 1620.

On the domestic front, other than corruption, crisis, and opulence, Philip III is most remembered for having expelled the Moriscos, nominally Christian remnants of Iberia's Islamic population, who, despite having been forced to convert, still observed their cultural traditions. In Aragón, (northeastern Spain), they were protected because of their role in the agricultural economy, but the Moriscos of Castile were looked upon with suspicion, especially after they revolted against cultural restrictions imposed in 1568. They continued to speak Arabic and wear Arabic clothing and were thought to spend too little, work too much, and multiply too quickly, and new uprisings were feared. The expulsion, first proposed in the 1580s, was finally carried out from 1609 to 1614, and was opposed by Lerma, the Aragónese, and many royal advisers. The day of the expulsion order coincided with the signing of the Twelve Years' Truce, a fitting coincidence in that, for Philip, the alleged humiliation of the latter could be compensated by the glory of the former. In five years, close to 300,000 people were expelled, 200,000 of them from Aragón, although many would later return.

Spain's literary life reached its apogee during Philip III's reign, a period when Miguel de Cervantes (15471616), Lope de Vega (15621635), Francisco de Quevedo (15801645), and Luis de Góngora (15611627) were all writing. Quevedo wrote a brief hymn to the young king's prowess in 1603, but had little to say thereafter. Unlike his father and his son, Philip III was not an avid patron of the arts.

Philip died young, in 1621, near the beginning of the Thirty Years' War, while his monarchy was engaged in increasingly frantic efforts to tax its subjects, defend Catholicism, and maintain its realms. His sixteen-year-old son, Philip IV, inherited those onerous tasks.

See also Church and State Relations ; Habsburg Dynasty: Spain ; Lerma, Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, 1st duke of ; Monarchy ; Moriscos ; Moriscos, Expulsion of (Spain) ; Philip II (Spain) ; Philip IV (Spain) ; Spanish Literature and Language ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) .


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

Feros, Antonio. Kingship and Favoritism in the Spain of Philip III, 15981621. Cambridge, U.K., 2000.

Lynch John. The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change 15981700. Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1992.

Sanchez, Magdalena. The Empress, the Queen, and the Nun: Women and Power at the Court of Philip III of Spain. Baltimore, 1998.

Seco Serrano, Carlos. "Aproximación al reinado de Felipe III: Una época de crisis." Introduction to Historia de España, vol. 24, edited by Ramón Menéndez Pidal. Madrid, 1982.

Williams, Patrick. "Philip III and the Restoration of Spanish Government, 15981603." In English Historical Review 88 (1973).

Ruth MacKay

Philip III

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Philip III

Philip III (1578-1621) was king of Spain from 1598 to 1621. He was dominated by minister-favorites, and his personal impress on events was slight.

On April 4, 1578, Philip III was born in Madrid, the son of King Philip II, whom he succeeded in 1598, when he was 20 years old. From the outset of his reign he virtually gave over the government to Francisco de Lerma, his favorite, who was the true ruler of Spain for the next 2 decades. Philip's inheritance included the crises and dilemmas that had wracked Spain during the previous half century. During the first 2 years of his reign, the country was ravaged by a plague that probably wiped out the 15-percent increase in the Spanish population in the 16th century. Although projects of a reforming nature, including plans to restructure the tax system, were submitted to the King and his ministers, regional traditionalism and vested interests blocked change.

In 1607 the Crown was forced to repudiate its debts. The drain of funds caused by the Dutch War and the futility of pursuing the struggle in the Netherlands led to a 12-year truce in 1609. In effect, it indicated Spain's failure to subdue its rebellious subjects in the Netherlands. To camouflage this failure, news of the truce was accompanied by a popular measure, the expulsion of the Moriscos (Moors converted to Christianity). They were looked upon with suspicion as potential allies of Spain's enemies and with resentment as hardworking people who saved most of their money. Stringent measures against them had been taken earlier under Philip II. Now about 275, 000 Moriscos were expelled; most went to North Africa. Spain suffered economic loss, especially in Aragon and Valencia, though not as much as following the expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

The time limit on the truce with the Dutch symbolized the expectancy throughout Europe that war would again break out, and not only in the Netherlands. Spain entered the Thirty Years War, which began in Bohemia in 1618, but its early successes were short-lived, and Spain's participation in the war contributed still more to its overall decline.

Lerma was overthrown in 1618 and succeeded by the Duke of Uceda. Meanwhile, Philip engaged in devotional exercises or whiled away his time hunting, enjoying the theater, and hosting lavish banquets, his role seemingly reduced to providing an heir to the throne. His marriage to Margaret of Austria produced eight children, one of whom succeeded him as Philip IV upon his death on March 31, 1621. His daughter Anne of Austria became the consort of Louis XIII of France.

Further Reading

A good introduction to the problems of Philip's reign, especially the social and economic issues, is John H. Elliott, Imperial Spain, 1469-1716 (1963). R. Trevor Davies, The Golden Century of Spain, 1501-1621 (1937; rev. ed. 1954), is a useful survey of the reign and includes a discussion of the literature and art of the period.

Additional Sources

Dennis, Amarie, Philip III: the shadow of a king, Madrid, Spain: A.W. Dennis, 1985. □

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