Philip II (king of Spain, Naples, and Sicily)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Philip II (king of Spain, Naples, and Sicily)

Philip II, 1527–98, king of Spain (1556–98), king of Naples and Sicily (1554–98), and, as Philip I, king of Portugal (1580–98).

Philip's Reign

Philip ascended the Spanish throne on the abdication of his father, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who had previously made over to him Naples and Sicily, the Low Countries, Franche-Comté, and the duchy of Milan. His first wife, Maria of Portugal, died giving birth to the unfortunate Don Carlos (1545–68), and in 1554 Philip married Queen Mary I of England. Continuing his father's war with France, he drew England into the conflict in 1557. In the same year Spain won the major victory of St.-Quentin, but in 1558 England lost Calais to France. After Mary's death (1558), Philip offered his hand to her sister, Elizabeth I of England, but he was refused. In 1559 the war with France was brought to an end by the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, which was sealed by Philip's marriage to Elizabeth of Valois.

Although Philip was a devout Roman Catholic who sought to repress heresy whenever feasible, he subordinated religious questions to his political aims. His relations with the papacy were generally bad, because most of the popes feared Spanish power in Italy. Religious persecution and the Spanish Inquisition were used to eliminate resistance to Philip's policy of centralizing power under an absolute monarchy. The repression of the Moriscos, especially after the revolt from 1568 to 1571, assured Spanish religious unity; its main purpose, however, was to prevent the Moriscos from helping the Ottomans to invade Spain. Philip's half-brother, John of Austria (1545–78), defeated the Ottomans at the battle of Lepanto (1571), and Tunis was captured and held briefly (1573–74).

The second half of Philip's reign was dominated by the revolt of the Netherlands (see also Netherlands, Austrian and Spanish). Philip appointed (1567) the duque de Alba to replace his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, as governor, but when Alba's harsh methods failed to quell the revolt, Philip supported the more conciliatory tactics of Alba's successors—Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens, John of Austria, and Alessandro Farnese, duke of Parma—who managed to reconquer the S Netherlands (approximately present-day Belgium). English support of the Dutch rebels and their persistent attacks on Spanish shipping led Philip to plan the invasion of England in 1588. However, the "Invincible Armada" (see Armada, Spanish) was ignominiously defeated. The Dutch also received support from the French Protestants, and Philip intervened (1590) in the French Wars of Religion to aid the Catholic League against the Protestant Henry of Navarre (Henry IV). He claimed the French throne for his daughter Isabella but was finally forced (1598) to recognize Henry.

The only major military success of Philip's later reign was the conquest of Portugal, to which he had a claim as the son of Isabella of Portugal, daughter of Manuel I. When King Henry of Portugal died (1580) without issue, Alba overran the country, and Philip was recognized as king by the Portuguese Cortes.

The main stage of Spanish colonial expansion was completed before Philip's accession; during his reign, however, the Spanish established colonies and garrisons in the present S United States and conquered the Philippine Islands (named for the king). The debilitating effects of depopulation, of colonial overexpansion, and of the influx of gold began to make themselves strongly felt in Philip's Spain. American gold and the proceeds of an increasingly burdensome taxation were not enough to finance Philip's foreign wars and interventions and had to be supplemented with loans. The king repudiated his debts four times during his reign. He was succeeded by Philip III, his son by his fourth wife, Anne of Austria.


Philip was not the bloodthirsty tyrant portrayed by his enemies and by later writers. The embodiment of the hard-working civil servant and bureaucrat, he sought to direct the destinies of a world empire from the seclusion of his cabinet, devoting infinite time and pains to the minutest administrative details. He did not trust even his ablest and most loyal servants, and partly as a result his court was riddled with faction. Philip's administration was generally just, but his bureaucratic absolutism, with its disregard for local conditions and privileges, inevitably caused discontent. This was true not only of the Netherlands but also of Aragón, which rose in revolt (1591) over the affair of Antonio Pérez. Isolated from reality, Philip lived and died in his strange court at the Escorial.


See study by W. H. Prescott (3 vol., 1855–58); R. B. Merriman, The Rise of the Spanish Empire in the Old World and the New, Vol. IV (1934); F. Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949, tr. 1972); J. H. Elliot, Imperial Spain, 1469–1716 (1963); J. Lynch, Spain under the Hapsburgs (1969); G. Parker, Philip II (1978) and The Grand Strategy of Philip II (1998); H. Kamen, Philip of Spain (1997).

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