Charles the Second, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland

By Ronald Hutton | Go to book overview
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6 The Pensioner of Spain, 1656-1660

IN 1656 the Spanish monarchy was arguably the greatest power in the world. Its possessions in the Netherlands, Italy, and the Americas gave its king the largest revenue of any ruler of the age, and a capacity to wage war in several theatres at once without allies. The liabilities associated with such advantages were the fear, envy, and greed which they provoked in other states and the ambitions which they aroused in Spanish governments. As a result, during the previous century the empire's resources had been repeatedly overstrained by warfare. In 1652 Spanish troops had driven their enemies simultaneously from Italy, Flanders, and Catalonia, only for their government to go bankrupt. By the time that Charles II took up residence in it, the monarchy had been continuously at war for thirty-six years, generally with at least two other powers at once. In 1656 its current enemies were France, England, and Portugal, and it was fighting in the Netherlands, Italy, Catalonia, Estremadura, and the West Indies. It had agreed to provide support for three separate notable exiles: the Duke of Lorraine, the Prince de Condé, and Charles himself. By October in this year King Felipe IV was in such penury that he feasted upon meat that was full of flies and stank. This was the ally upon whom the exiled Stuarts had fixed such hopes. 1 The story of their partnership has hitherto been told in detail only from Charles's point of view, whether by his biographers or by historians concerned with related subjects, such as Professor Underdown in his definitive study of royalist conspiracy. Accordingly, the Spaniards have been portrayed as having behaved towards their royal guest with dilatoriness, neglect, incompetence, and even deceit. The purpose of this chapter is to argue that such a viewpoint is fallacious, and to offer a more balanced picture.

The fundamental problem of the alliance was that, like Charles's treaty with the Covenanters, it was based upon conflicting interests and expectations. Charles wanted to be accorded public royal honours, a residence in the Spanish Netherlands, and a pension. He desired the seaports of Flanders to be opened to all ships which recognized his authority, to provide bases for royalist privateers and transportation for an invasion force. He wished


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