Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Most Discreet Favourite: Baltasar De Zúñiga and Early Modern Spanish Statecraft

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

The Most Discreet Favourite: Baltasar De Zúñiga and Early Modern Spanish Statecraft

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

30 March 1621, Madrid was awakened by the news of King Philip III's death. The Real Alcázar was frantic, because, with the demise of the King, his system of government also disappeared. A noisy transition began:

In this hour, countless things will be altered around the world, divesting some of their power and transferring it to others. The documents held by the Duke of Uceda were given to Don Baltasar de Zúñiga, and Ciriza's to Antonio de Aróstegui. The Count of Olivares was declared royal favourite.1

This upheaval among the courtiers was one of the best known in Habsburg Spain. It can be summarised as the dramatic collapse of the once-omnipotent Sandoval faction, led successively by the Dukes of Lerma and Uceda. This group gave way to a new powerful favourite (privado), the second Count of Olivares, best known after 1624 as the Count- Duke of Olivares. As a matter of fact, this transition was much more complex than a mere change of ministers. Moreover, it offers an exceptional example of the model and reality of favourites because, at the beginning of Philip IV's reign, the person who actually exercised political leadership was not Olivares, but rather his uncle Baltasar de Zúñiga. But was Zúñiga a favourite? How did the political practices of the time justify the existence of both Olivares and Zúñiga as two key players at the Court?

The Count of Roca explains succinctly how a pact was established at the very beginning of the new reign so that both men could share power:

It was decided in [the monastery of] San Jerónimo el Real. Here, during these days in seclusion, the ministry of Count of Olivares was established, and also that he would divide this power with his uncle Don Baltasar de Zúñiga. The latter was responsible for government affairs, while Olivares retained control over all the matters relating to the Royal Palace.2

2. Dynastic experience

According to this scheme, both men fulfilled the role for which they were best prepared: Olivares was an expert courtier who had served Prince Philip for more than 5 years, but had not exercised any office in the government or any mission outside of Spain. In contrast, his uncle had one of the strongest professional backgrounds of his generation. Whereas the credentials of Olivares were limited to friendship with the new King, Baltasar de Zúñiga had been cup-bearer (gentilhombre de boca) for Philip II, a soldier in the War of Portugal and in the Spanish Armada, a gentleman at the embassy in Rome, and later ambassador to the Courts of Brussels, Paris, Prague, and Vienna, as well as State Counsellor and tutor (ayo) to Prince Philip, before his accession to the throne as Philip IV.

The authority that Baltasar de Zúñiga wielded in 1621 went beyond mere experience or prestige: he had become a minister of European stature, recognised as an effective intermediary by most of the Courts that maintained relations with the Spanish monarchy. He had excelled as a servant of the dynasty and was one of the few aristocrats with indepth knowledge of all the Habsburgs Courts: Madrid, Brussels, Prague, Vienna, and Graz. He had met all of the archdukes and infantas and was in demand as an intermediary and counsellor for the different branches of the family. He always acted in the name of the Catholic King, who was de facto the head of the Habsburg family.

Zúñiga had a very close relationship with Archdukes Albert and Isabella when he was ambassador to the Catholic Netherlands (1599-1603). His unwavering defence of King Philip III's interests led to a deterioration in their relationship; nevertheless, he maintained a cordial correspondence with the Archdukes and a solid friendship with Ambrogio Spinola, the chief minister at the Flemish Court.3 Zúñiga then moved on to the Paris embassy, which the Spanish administration considered to be part of the Negociación del Norte (Northern Office), which was based in Brussels. In Paris, he received money and information from Brussels. …

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