ON Sunday, September 13, 1598, after a long and painful illness, Philip II, king of Castile, Aragon, Valencia, and numerous other kingdoms, and prince of Catalonia, and duke of Burgundy, died. His valiant and pious end brought an age to a close. If we could—making liberal use of Giordano Bruno’s wonderful work on the art of memory—imagine the king’s memory as a house or palace, many of the rooms would have been crammed with regrets and longings. From political defeats—the insurrection in the Low Countries, the defeat of the not-so-invincible Armada, the spread of Protestantism, and the victories of Henry of Navarre—to personal tragedies such as the madness and death of his son Don Carlos, the successive deaths of his four wives, above all that of his beloved Isabelle of Valois, and the death of his much loved daughter Catalina (less than a year before his own demise), these griefs would have been enough to crush a lesser man.
But in his palace of memories, there would also have been rooms that shone with brilliant and joyous light. Within the old and ailing king there must have lived treasured remembrances of those halcyon days when the exuberance of youth kept at bay the heavy burdens of office. In those bright corners of the king’s memory, the festivals, jousts, juegos de cañas, fireworks, runnings of bulls, and other such enchanting events that signaled his transit throughout his domains must have been still vividly alive. We all of us carry earlier versions of ourselves, of earlier loves and pleasures, even though we may be now old and beyond hope. These must have been for Philip Proustian moments when he recaptured fleeting snatches of his past.
Prompted by these memories, the ageing king may have relived his first marriage and his youthful voyage to Salamanca to celebrate his wedding with the equally nubile young princess of Portugal. He may have looked back on his long journey through Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries, or to those magical princely entries in Milan, Mantua, Brussels, Antwerp, and other cities in Brabant and Flanders. He would surely have traveled in his memory to those tournaments in which he so avidly and gallantly participated. He would have remembered the dances and his flirtations with the many young ladies eager to meet the prince who would be king. He would have remembered, most of all, Binche, where