Philip II of Spain

Philip II of Spain

Philip II of Spain

Philip II of Spain

Excerpt

'Philip II', wrote Victor Hugo in the last century, 'was a terrible thing.' The Enlightenment found him the champion of obscurantism, and the Romantic Age passionately assailed him as an enemy of freedom. Outside Spain (and for Spanish liberals) he assumed a leading place among the tyrants of history. But in the twentieth century new figures have emerged to supplant Philip II as an archetypal tyrant in the public imagination.

For a proper understanding of Philip II and his reign, this makes matters easier: polemics and apologies have abandoned the field to dispassionate investigation. We can study the man in the context of his own values and times, which in many ways prove not dissimilar to our own. In regard to values, then as now, we must admit to a frequent discrepancy between what is professed and what is practised. In the late sixteenth century, rebellion and war were endemic, engendered not only by material considerations but also by ideologies based on religious convictions. And Europe then, like much of the world now, was readjusting to rapidly (in a relative sense) changing conditions, which caused serious dislocations in all aspects of life and thought.

Given the context, the study of Philip II can be rewarding for our own age. Philip was a conservative, in that he meant to uphold the traditional order of government, society and religion. He was ambitious to do no more than improve the workings of government, especially in regard to justice, to ensure that the Church in his dominions tended its and his flock, and to hold the cost of government to the level of his revenues. War, which he wished to avoid but could not, proved, however, his undoing. To his mind, all his wars were defensive, for the sake of his rights, his patrimony and his religion; though to historians, his conquest of Portugal and his war against Henry IV of France were clearly wars of aggression.

The first part of this book is devoted to a study of Philip's childhood . . .

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