The Cambridge Modern History: Planned by the Late Lord Acton - Vol. 4

By A. W. Ward; G. W. Prothero et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXII.
SPAIN AND SPANISH ITALY UNDER PHILIP III AND IV.

AFTER forty-five years of wasting warfare against the Dutch Protestants Spain had been forced by sheer exhaustion to accept the humiliating truce of 1609, by which for twelve years the principles upon which she had staked her position as a great Power were to remain in abeyance. To all men unblinded by the spiritual pride that had dazzled Spaniards to their undoing, it was a confession that the nation was unequal to the mighty mission bequeathed to it by the Emperor: that of imposing religious unity upon Christendom under the hegemony of the House of Habsburg. Misery and famine stalked unhindered through the land, whilst the luxurious and the idle squandered lavishly the national resources wrung by corruption from a ruined people. All classes but the poorest evaded their national obligations, and sought to justify the hollow boast of boundless public wealth by endeavouring to live without work upon the private plunder of the State. The high hopes fostered in the first years of the reign by the golden showers of Lerma's prodigality had been succeeded by a cynical desire to enjoy the passing hour whilst it lasted, and to prolong it as much as possible by insisting more loudly than ever upon the invincible power of Spain and the inexhaustible wealth of her King. But for this determination of the Court and the people as a whole to shut their eyes obstinately to facts, and to treat the great task in which they had failed as being still incumbent upon them, a policy of retrenchment and close concentration of national effort upon domestic amelioration might yet have been adopted and have saved Spain from the slough of ruin into which she was sinking. But the spirit of pompous exaggeration and arrogance had entered into the heart of the nation, and, exhausted though the country was, not a jot of the proud claims of old was abated. The King, who was really a foolish trifler, spending all his time in alternate prayer and pastime, was "the greatest prince that the world ever saw"; and Lerma, whose abilities hardly reached mediocrity, was adulated like a demigod. Each Castilian Cortes as it met after the usual three years' interval was told in the speech from the throne that supplies must be voted

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