Spain 1516-1556 Spain 1598-1659

Spain under Philip II., 1556-1598

A.) The Foreign Policy

When Charles V. abdicated in 1556, he divided his territories among his brother Ferdinand, who received the Austrian Lands and the Imperial crown, and his son Philip, who inherited the Kingdom of Spain, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Milan and the Burgundian Lands. With Spain came a vast and expanding colonial Empire. Yet at the time of Charles' abdication he was a broken man, worn down by almost constant wars and by the reformation; he had invested a lot of effort in mediating a compromise between reformers and established church, and he had failed.
With Spain, the Burgundian Lands, Naples and Milan, King Philip II. inherited the hostility of France; the Habsburg Dynasty and France were at war since 1551 (Franco-Habsburg War). In 1554, Philip II. had married Queen Mary of England (Bloody Mary), daughter of Catherine of Aragon; the marriage sealed an Anglo-Spanish alliance. The French were defeated by the allies in the Battle of St. Quentin (1557); in 1559 the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis concluded the war. Soon after, the Massacre of Vassy (1562) started the Huguenot Wars, which eliminated France as a political rival for the following decades.
More worrisome, for Philip II., was the aggressive expansion of the Ottoman Empire, all the more as the Morisco minority in Spain's south continued to speak and dress in Arabic fashion; it was feared that, in case of a war between the Ottoman Empire and Spain, they would revolt. In 1565, an Ottoman force landed on Malta and laid siege to the castle of the Knights of St. John; a Spanish relief force saved the knights. The following year, an Ottoman force took the Aegaean Islands (Venetian respectively Genoese) without encountering resistance. The Spanish administration, by imposing discriminatory regulations on the Moriscos, provoked them (Morisco Revolt 1568-1571), which obviously was a preventive conflict; the revolt was supprressed by troops under the command of Philip's half-brother, Don Juan d'Austria. In 1571 the Ottoman Turks invaded and occupied Cyprus, which was Venetian; Venice called for help; a Spanish-Venetian fleet under the command of Don Juan d'Austria inflicted a crushing defeat on the Ottoman fleet in the Naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The battle was a celebrated success of the Christian allies; the war ended with an Ottoman gain, for not only did they hold on to Cyprus, but they regained Tunis which had been held by Spain since 1535. Philip seems not to have been interested in prolonging the conflict; Tunis was permitted to fall into Ottoman hands without resistance.
Overseas, Spain's colonial Empire continued to expand. In 1565, a Spanish expedition under de Legazpi established Spanish rule over the archipelago, which technically, according to the Treaty of Zaragoza 1525 (the eastern equivalent to the Treaty of Tordesillas) was located in the Portuguese sector; Portuguese acceptance of Spanish sovereignty over the islands had been acquired by negotiation. However, privateers proved to be an ever-increasing menace to the Spanish colonies.
King Sebastian of Portugal had died in 1578 while conducting a military expedition in Morocco. In 1580, Philip II. claimed the vacant throne; Portugal was occupied, the country united with Spain in Dynastic Union (i.e. Portugal remained to be a separate Kingdom, with her own cortes, her own administration, laws, the Portuguese colonial empire remaining separate).
In the Spanish Netherlands, in 1559 a (Catholic) church reform was implemented, organized by the crown, intended to reintroduce church discipline, to establish control over clergy and parishioners, to prevent the reformation from spreading. However, the implementation could only be enforced in the French-speaking south. In 1566 iconoclastic riots centering on Tournai and Valenciennes mark the beginning of a revolution; Philip's half-sister, Margaret of Parma, resigned as governess general and Philip II. sent the Duke of Alva to replace her. A Calvinist army was crushed; Alva's harsh rule made Spain many enemies; William of Orange, byname the silent, began a series of raids onto the Spanish Netherlands; Dutch privateers took up the rebel cause in European waters (the Sea Beggars or Watergeuzen); in 1572 the provinces of Holland and Zeeland revolted; in 1579 the Union of Utrecht, which included the majority of the Netherlands ( Dutch Revolt, 1579-1648).
Regarding protestantism in his own lands, Philip II. was not willing to compromise. He sent in an army commanded by Alessandro Farnese (son of Margaret of Parma, and Philip's nephew), which, in 1584-1585, retook the cities of Flanders and Brabant. William of Orange, the leader of the revolt, was assassinated; prospects for the Dutch were very bleak. They received support from England. The Spanish failed to crush the Dutch Revolt for a number of reasons; they could not take cities located below sea level, as long as the Dutch were willing to open the fleedgates and inundate their own lands. The Spanish did not manage to defeat the Sea Beggars. Spain constantly had difficulty financing her armies in the Low Countries. Lastly, Spain did not concentrate on one goal, but got involved in other conflicts at the same time. Twice (1590, 1592) a Spanish army was sent into France to break the siege Henri de Navarre had imposed on Paris. And in 1588 Spain sent the Grand Armada against England.
King Philip II. had begun his reign in Spain as the husband of English Queen Mary; in 1558 he had supported the succession of her half-sister Elizabeth, despite of her sympathy toward the Anglican Church, because he feared an Anglo-French alliance. The activities of English privateers in the Caribbean (Sir Francis Drake) and England's support for the Dutch rebels, during the 1580es, had resulted in an Anglo-Spanish confrontation.
King Philip's foreign policy was dominated by the will to hold on to his inheritance. He did not fight for the preservation of the Venetian possessions in the Eastern Mediterranean or for the return of French-occupied princebishoprics on Holy Roman Empire territory. With the exception of the acquisitions of Portugal and the Philippines, both achieved with rather limited effort, he did not pursue an active foreign policy. Philip was well aware that almost permanent warfare exceeded his revenues. Yet regarding Calvinism he was uncompromising; this attitude broke Spain financially.

B.) Domestic Policy

The year after the abdication of Charles V. (1556, in Spain, King Carlos I.) Philip II. had to declare state bankrupcy in Spain (1557 and 1560). Although the revenues from Spain's growing colonial empire added to Spain's traditional revenues, the debts inherited from his father and the war against France had been too costly.
While Philip pursued a cautious foreign policy, trying to avoid getting entangled into lengthy and costly wars, his attitude toward non-Catholics was uncompromising. The Rebellion of the Moriscos (1568-1571) was provoked by the Spanish administration and deprived the country of a class of hard workers. Philip II. supported the Inquisition, which in 1559 found protestant cells in Valladolid and Sevilla, and dealt with both of them; the spread of protestantism in Spain was prevented.
In 1575/76 Spain declared state bankrupcy for a second time. Within Spain, Castile had to carry the lions' share of the financial burden, as Aragon, Navarre enjoyed political autonomy. Taxes were raised - 430 % in Castile during the reign of Philip II.. What was interpreted to be a Castilian interference in Aragonese affairs caused the 'Aragonese Rebellion' of 1591-1592. Excessive taxation triggered an inflation already caused by the influx of silver from the new world, which, relatively, devalued silver.
In the West Indies, fortifications were constructed to protect the major ports against pirate raids - another cost factor. In 1561, Philip II. moved his court to Madrid, in effect making the city the capital of Spain. The King had had what was now the Royal Palace in Madrid altered, had constructed the (new) royal palace at Aranjuez, and, outside of the city the monastery of El Escorial (1562-1584). Spain also contributed financially to the construction of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.
In 1596, Spain again declared state bankrupcy.

El Escorial, from Cyberspain, in English; from Great Buildings Online
Palacio Real de Madrid, from Palacios Reales, in Spanish
Palacio Real de Aranjuez, from Palacios Reales, in Spanish
Article Philip II., from Catholic Encyclopedia; from History Learning Site, 12 subfiles; from Spartacus Schoolnet, with docs. attached
Madrid, a Brief History, from Go Madrid
Martin Hume, Spain under Philip II., posted by MATEO
DOCUMENTS El Greco, from Spanist Arts
Letters by King Philip II., 1592, posted by BYU, in Spanish
Philip II., from Spartacus Schoolnet, scroll down for documents attached (3 excerpts in English)
Data on Spanish State Revenue, 1520-1807, posted by ESFDB
REFERENCE Peter Pierson, The History of Spain, Greenwood, 1999, 248 pp.; KMLA Lib.Sign. 946 P624t
Patrick Williams, Philip II., Palgrave 2001, 302 pp.; KMLA Lib.Sign. 946.043 W721p
Teofilo F. Ruiz, Spanish Society 1400-1600, Harlow : Pearson Education 2001, KMLA Lib.Sign. 306.0946 R934s

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on June 5th 2005

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