Philip II of Spain (Philip II of Spain )

Philip II of Spain

The son of Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire, and his wife, Infanta Isabella of Portugal, Philip was born in the Spanish capital of Valladolid on 21 May 1527 at Palacio de Pimentel owned by Don Bernardino Pimentel (the first Marqués de Távara). The culture and courtly life of Spain were an important influence in his early life. He was tutored by Juan Martínez Siliceo – the future Archbishop of Toledo. Philip displayed reasonable aptitude in arms and letters alike. Later he would study with more illustrious tutors, including the humanist Juan Cristóbal Calvete de Estrella. Philip, though he had good command over Latin, Spanish and Portuguese, never managed to equal his father, Charles V, as a polyglot. Despite being also a German archduke from the House of Habsburg, Philip was seen as a foreigner in the Holy Roman Empire. The feeling was mutual. Philip felt himself to be culturally Spanish; he had been born in Spain and raised in the Castilian court, his native tongue was Spanish, and he preferred to live in Spain. This would ultimately impede his succession to the imperial throne.  In April 1528, when Philip was eleven months old, he received the oath of allegiance as heir to the crown from the Cortes of Castile, and from that time until the death of his mother Isabella in 1539, Philip was raised in the royal court of Castile under the care of his mother, and one of her Portuguese ladies, Dona Leonor de Mascarenhas, to whom he was devotedly attached. Philip was also close to his two sisters, María and Juana, and to his two pages, the Portuguese nobleman Rui Gomes da Silva and Luis de Requesens, the son of his governor Juan de Zúñiga. These men would serve Philip throughout their lives, as would Antonio Pérez, his secretary from 1541.

Philip’s martial training was undertaken by his governor, Juan de Zúñiga, a Castilian nobleman who served as the commendador mayor of Castile. The practical lessons in warfare was overseen by the Duke of Alba during the Italian Wars. Philip was present at the Siege of Perpignan in 1542, but did not see action as the Spanish army under Alba decisively defeated the besieging French forces under the Dauphin of France. On his way back to Castile, Philip received the oath of allegiance of the Aragonese Cortes at Monzón. His political training had begun a year previously under his father, who had found his son studious, grave, and prudent beyond his years, and having decided to train and initiate him in the government of Spain. The king-emperor’s interactions with his son during his stay in Spain convinced him of Philip’s precocity in statesmanship, and so he determined to leave in his hands the regency of Spain in 1543. Philip, who had previously been made the Duke of Milan in 1540, began governing the most extensive empire in the world at the young age of sixteen.  Charles left Philip with experienced advisors—notably the secretary Francisco de los Cobos and the general Duke of Alba. Philip was also left with extensive written instructions which emphasised “piety, patience, modesty, and distrust.” These principles of Charles were gradually assimilated by his son, who would grow up to become grave, self-possessed and cautious. Personally, Philip spoke softly, and had an icy self-mastery; in the words of one of his ministers, “he had a smile that cut like a sword.”

After living in the Netherlands in the early years of his reign, Philip II decided to return to Spain. Although sometimes described as an absolute monarch, Philip faced many constitutional constraints on his authority. This was largely influenced by the growing strength of the bureaucracy during Philip’s reign.  The Spanish Empire was not a single monarchy with one legal system but a federation of separate realms, each jealously guarding its own rights against those of the House of Habsburg. In practice, Philip often found his authority over-ruled by local assemblies, and his word less effective than that of local lords.  Philip carried several titles including Prince of Asturias as heir to the Spanish kingdoms and empire. The newest constituent kingdom in the empire was Navarre, a realm invaded by Ferdinand II of Aragon mainly with Castilian troops (1512), and annexed to Castile with an ambiguous status (1513). War across Navarre continued until 1528 (Treaties of Madrid and Cambrai). Charles V proposed to end hostilities with King Henry II of Navarre—the legitimate monarch of Navarre—by marrying his son Philip to the heiress of Navarre, Jeanne III of Navarre. The marriage would provide a dynastic solution to instability in Navarre, it would make him king of all Navarre and prince of independent Béarn, as well as lord of a large part of southern France. However, the French nobility under Francis I opposed the arrangement, and successfully ended the prospects of marriage between the heirs of Habsburg and Albret in 1541.  On his will Charles stated his doubts over Navarre and recommended his son to give the kingdom back. Both King Charles and his son Philip II failed to abide by the elective (contractual) nature of the Crown of Navarre, and took the kingdom for granted. This sparked mounting tension not only with King Henry II of Navarre and Queen Jeanne III of Navarre, but with the Parliament of the Spanish Navarre (Cortes, The Three States) and the Diputación for breach of the realm specific laws (fueros)—violation of the pactum subjectionis as ratified by Ferdinand. Tensions in Navarre came to a head in 1592 after several years of disagreements over the agenda of the intended parliamentary session.

In November 1592, the Parliament (Cortes) of Aragón revolted against another breach of the realm specific laws, so the Attorney General (Justicia) of the kingdom Juan de Lanuza was executed on Philip II’s orders, with his secretary Antonio Perez taking to exile in France. In Navarre the major strongholds of the kingdom were garrisoned by troops alien to the kingdom (Castilians) in conspicuous violation of the laws of Navarre, and the Parliament had long been refusing to pledge loyalty to Philip II’s son and heir apparent without a proper ceremony. On 20 November 1592 a ghostly Parliament session was called pushed by Philip II, who had arrived in Pamplona at the head of an unspecified military force, and one only point on his agenda—attendance to the session was kept blank on the minutes: unlawful appointments of trusted Castilian officials and an imposition of his son as future king of Navarre at the Santa Maria Cathedral. A ceremony was held before the bishop of Pamplona (22 November), but its customary procedure and terms were altered. Protests erupted in Pamplona, but they were quelled.  Philip II also grappled with the problem of the large Morisco population in Spain, who were sometimes forcibly converted to Christianity by his predecessors. In 1569, the Morisco Revolt broke out in the southern province of Granada in defiance of attempts to suppress Moorish customs; and Philip ordered the expulsion of the Moriscos from Granada and their dispersal to other provinces.  Despite its immense dominions, Spain was a country with a sparse population that yielded a limited income to the crown (in contrast to France, for example, which was much more heavily populated). Philip faced major difficulties in raising taxes, the collection of which was largely farmed out to local lords. He was able to finance his military campaigns only by taxing and exploiting the local resources of his empire. The flow of income from the New World proved vital to his militant foreign policy, but nonetheless his exchequer several times faced bankruptcy.  Philip’s reign saw a flourishing of cultural excellence in Spain, the beginning of what is called the Golden Age, creating a lasting legacy in literature, music, and the visual arts.

Charles V had left Philip with a debt of about 36 million ducats and an annual deficit of 1 million ducats. This debt caused Phillip II to default on loans in 1557, 1560, 1575, and 1596 (including debt to Poland, known as Neapolitan sums). This happened because the lenders had no power over the king and could not force him to repay his loans. These defaults were just the beginning of Spain’s economic troubles as Spain’s kings would default six more times in the next 65 years. Aside from reducing state revenues for overseas expeditions, the domestic policies of Philip II further burdened Spain, and would, in the following century, contribute to its decline, as maintained by some historians.  Spain was subject to different assemblies: the Cortes in Castile along with the assembly in Navarre and one each for the three regions of Aragon, which preserved traditional rights and laws from the time when they were separate kingdoms. This made Spain and its possessions difficult to rule, unlike France which, while divided into regional states, had a single Estates-General. The lack of a viable supreme assembly led to power defaulting into Philip’s hands, especially as manager and final arbiter of the constant conflict between different authorities. To deal with the difficulties arising from this situation, authority was administered by local agents appointed by the crown and viceroys carrying out crown instructions. Philip felt it necessary to be involved in the detail and presided over specialised councils for state affairs, finance, war, and the Inquisition.  He played groups against each other, leading to a system of checks and balances that managed affairs inefficiently, even to the extent of damaging state business, as in the Perez affair. Following a fire in Valladolid in 1561, he resisted calls to move his Court to Lisbon, an act that could have curbed centralisation and bureaucracy domestically as well as relaxed rule in the Empire. Instead, with the traditional Royal and Primacy seat of Toledo now essentially obsolete, Philip moved his Court to the Castilian stronghold of Madrid. Except for a brief period under Philip III, Madrid has remained the capital of Spain to the present day.  Whereas his father had been forced to an itinerant rule as a medieval king, Philip ruled at a critical turning point in European history toward modernity. He mainly directed state affairs, even when not at Court. Indeed, when his health began failing, he worked from his quarters in the Palace-Monastery-Pantheon of El Escorial he had built. But Philip did not enjoy the supremacy that Louis XIV of France would in the next century, nor was such a rule necessarily possible at his time. The inefficiencies of the Spanish state and restrictively regulated industry under his rule were common to many contemporary countries. Further, the dispersal of the Moriscos from Granada – motivated by the fear they might support a Muslim invasion – had serious negative economic effects, particularly in that region.

Upon Mary’s death, the throne went to Elizabeth I. Philip had no wish to sever his tie with England, and had sent a proposal of marriage to Elizabeth. However, she delayed in answering, and in that time learned Philip was also considering a Valois alliance. Elizabeth I was the Protestant daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This union was deemed illegitimate by English Catholics who did not recognise Henry’s divorce and who claimed that Mary, Queen of Scots, the Catholic great granddaughter of Henry VII, was the legitimate heir to the throne.  For many years Philip maintained peace with England, and even defended Elizabeth from the Pope’s threat of excommunication. This was a measure taken to preserve a European balance of power. Ultimately, Elizabeth allied England with the Protestant rebels in the Netherlands. Further, English ships began a policy of piracy against Spanish trade and threatened to plunder the great Spanish treasure ships coming from the new world. English ships went so far as to attack a Spanish port. The last straw for Philip was the Treaty of Nonsuch signed by Elizabeth in 1585 – promising troops and supplies to the rebels. Although it can be argued this English action was the result of Philip’s Treaty of Joinville with the Catholic League of France, Philip considered it an act of war by England.  The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587 ended Philip’s hopes of placing a Catholic on the English throne. He turned instead to more direct plans to invade England, with vague plans to return the country to Catholicism. In 1588, he sent a fleet, the Spanish Armada, to rendezvous with the Duke of Parma’s army and convey it across the English Channel. However, the operation had little chance of success from the beginning, because of lengthy delays, lack of communication between Philip II and his two commanders and the lack of a deep bay for the fleet. At the point of attack, a storm struck the English Channel, already known for its harsh currents and choppy waters, which devastated large numbers of the Spanish fleet. There was a tightly fought battle against the English navy; it was by no means a slaughter, but the Spanish were forced into a retreat, and the overwhelming majority of the Armada was destroyed by the harsh weather.  Philip II died in El Escorial, near Madrid, on 13 September 1598 of cancer.

More Images

  • Portrait_of_Philip_II_of_Spain_by_Sofonisba_Anguissola_-_002b -

  • Philip_II,_King_of_Spain_from_NPG -


  • May, 21, 1527
  • Spain
  • Valladolid, Castile and Leon


  • September, 13, 1598
  • Spain
  • El Escorial, Madrid

Cause of Death

  • cancer


  • Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
  • El Escorial, Madrid
  • Spain

9549 profile views