Philip II’s foreign policy was to affect much of Europe. In many senses Philip II had too many responsibilities and not enough financial clout to respond to his foreign problems. Philip’s foreign policy went from grand successes, such as defeating the Turks at Lepanto, to humiliating defeats as happened in 1588 with the failure of the Spanish Armada.
Spain’s main enemy in the Mediterranean was the Turks. For centuries the Muslims had been known as the “Devils from the East” and any attempt by any monarch in Spain to remove this threat would have received full public support. Turkish pirates were a problem but the real danger to Spain lay in the threat Turkey posed to Spain if she conquered Italy. From there she could easily move into Spain. This is why most of the major sea battles took place between the narrows of Tunis and Sicily.
In 1560, the island of Drjeba was taken as an advance base for a larger Spanish force but this was in a very exposed place and the Turks attacked it. The Spanish lost 28 galleys and 10,000 men were forced to surrender after being stranded. This was a great loss to Spain’s prestige and a freak storm in 1562 destroyed 25 more galleys and lost 4,000 men leaving the navy nearly halved in strength in the space of two years.
Time and money was spent in repairing the damage and in this time, Muslim pirates attacked Spain itself – raids which the Spanish were powerless to stop. Granada was a prime target for attack and in one raid in 1561, 4,000 prisoners were taken.
By 1564, Spain had 100 galleys which were needed when in May 1565, the Turks attacked Malta. 25,000 men attacked the Knights of St. John but they managed to hold out until help came. This gave Christianity in the western Mediterranean some breathing space which was helped by the death of Suleiman I in September 1566.
During this respite, Philip could concentrate on the Spanish Netherlands. Troops were taken from the Mediterranean region to northern Europe. When the Turks attacked again in 1570, the Spanish were far from prepared. The Turks took Tunis and Cyprus. There was now a real threat that Italy and Spain could be threatened and old enemies grouped together to cope with this threat. A Holy League of Spain, Venice and the Papal States was formed. Spain paid half the money that was needed for this force. Don John of Spain, a famed military leader, was appointed to command the League.Lepanto – the last great galley battle fought off the coast of Greece. The Turkish navy – vital to success in the Mediterranean – was destroyed. Out of 230 galleys, only 35 survived. 30,000 Turks were killed or wounded. The League lost just 12 galleys. The defeat all but ended Turkey’s power in the western Mediterranean and it did a great deal to boost Philip’s status throughout western Europe.
The Turks set about building a new navy and by 1574 they had a larger and more modern navy. However, Lepanto was a massive blow to her prestige (rather like the 1588 Armada was to be for Spain) and Turkey’s campaign post-Lepanto was one of disengagement. The Turks tried to co-ordinate a campaign between themselves, the Dutch and the Moriscans – a curious combination and impossible to organise.
Philip had not eradicated the Turkish threat in the Mediterranean, but the Turks now concentrated on trying to expand east as this was the easiest option for them. The Turkish claim that they re-took Tunis in 1574 and this was a sign of their potential power has to be countered against the fact that Spain had already abandoned the region. Therefore the Turks only needed to occupy Tunis – not fight for it.
Philip adopted a two-fold policy.
1) he sent ministers to Portugal to build up support for him being king which would have meant Spain absorbing Portugal into her kingdom. He also paid the ransom demanded by the Moroccans for the release of the captured Portuguese noblemen.
2) he assembled a very large army.
Therefore he adopted a strategy of diplomacy backed with the threat of military force if required. The powerful noblemen of Portugal supported Philip. The lower classes supported Philip’s two main rivals (the Duchess of Braganza and Dom Antonio, prior of Crato) as they were fearful of the way they would be treated with the general example of the way Castilian peasants were treated. There was also a general dislike of Castille within Portugal. Those nobles who backed Philip clearly hoped for rewards if he was successful in his claim.
In 1580, Henry died. He had no children and he had not appointed a successor. Supporters of Dom Antonio seized Lisbon, the royal arsenals and the crown treasury. The commoners proclaimed him king. Philip gave him a simple ultimatum which Dom Antonio ignored. In June 1580, Spanish troops crossed into Portugal and met little resistance. Lisbon quickly fell and Portugal was absorbed into the kingdom of Spain. In December 1580, Philip entered Lisbon in triumph.
How did he govern his new territory? Philip was very astute in this aspect. He effectively left Portugal to govern itself in an effort to minimise opposition to his rule. Portugal administered herself as “an autonomous country under a foreign king.” How did Spain benefit from this ? Portugal had a large fleet. Their combined navies totalled over 250,000 tons while England at this time could only muster 42,000 tons. Portugal’s overseas colonies could be found in Africa, Brazil, India and the Moluccas. By 1598, Portugal was part of Spain but essentially apart from her.
Relationships between both countries throughout the C16 had been strained due to the prolonged Habsburg-Valois Wars. Henry II had considered the ailing Charles V and the new and inexperienced Philip II as easy targets and he allied himself to Pope Paul IV in an anti-Spanish alliance which targeted Spanish territory in northern Italy. French success in battle lead to a hastily concluded peace in 1556 at Vaucelles which lead to a five year truce. Spain was saved from damaging terms as France was in dire financial circumstances and despite her military success in north Italy, could not afford a long term campaign. Paul IV was not pleased with the French response. He was from Naples and wished to see Spanish power in the area around Italy reduced and preferably removed. Naples was a Spanish possession. Paul tried to encourage Henry II to invade Naples with Papal support.
The episode in the Papal States was, in fact, secondary to Philip’s main intention – to prove he was at least equal to Henry II. Philip secured an alliance with England in 1557 to allow him use of the Channel unhindered by the English. With this guarantee he ordered the Duke of Savoy to launch a major offensive against the French. He had an army of 70,000 men drawn from Spain and her territories. In August 1557, the French army was severely beaten in battle with 10,000 casualties. Philip himself lead his troops triumphantly into St. Quentin in northern France.
By December 1557, the French had reorganised themselves. Henry attacked and besieged Calais which was held by the English at this time. In January 1558, Calais surrendered. By marriage, Philip was king of England and the loss of Calais was a serious blow to his prestige so soon after becoming king. The French victory at Calais did a lot to boost their confidence, and they attacked Spanish possessions in theNetherlands. Spain had only just reorganised her forces by July 1558 when the French were defeated at Gravelines. Effectively this introduced a stalemate as neither side was capable of sustaining a long term campaign. Spain had only just been declared bankrupt and the French monarchy was spending far more than it could afford. Peace talks were already underway at Cateau-Cambresis to end the Habsburg-Valois Wars.
The problem here was that both kings were prepared to accept territorial concessions but neither king was willing to lose their reputations. Eventually France declared that she would end all claims to Italy but that she would retain Calais. The key issue of Savoy was resolved. France ended her demand for it. The Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis was signed in April 1559. Philip married Henry’s sister Elizabeth (Mary Tudor had died in 1558). France would not fight for Italy until 1797. Philip was personally delighted by the treaty.
After 1559, Philip tried to keep out of French affairs. On a few occasions he expressed his concern to the Catholic Catherine de Medici about the growth of the Huguenots in France – but that was all. The Huguenots made much of the meeting held between Catherine and the Duke of Alva at Bayonne in 1565……….but nothing came from this meeting and its importance was only in the minds of the Huguenots.
However, there were two occasions when Philip believed that France was attempting to assess the strength of Spain and her reactions to certain situations. Relations between Philip and France took a turn for the worse when Elizabeth died and rather than marry her sister, Marguerite, Philip married Anne of Austria. The Huguenots besieged Perpignan in Spanish Navarre which was very close to Spain. Philip heard of a plan by Coligny for the French to invade the Spanish Netherlands and then partition it between England, France and the Holy Roman Empire. Catherine de Medici ended this scheme and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s (August 1572) was greeted with jubilation by Philip especially as it lead to another outbreak of fighting in France so that their attentions were directed internally rather than internally.
Two people in France gave Philip cause for concern :
1) Henry of Navarre – later Henry IV. He lead the French Protestants and had a claim to Spanish Navarre.
2) Francis, Duke of Anjou. He was the brother of Henry III and he was known to be a maverick and unpredictable with regards to his behaviour. He spent 6 years assisting the Dutch rebels until he died of TB in 1584.
The death of Anjou made the Protestant Henry of Navarre the legal heir to the French throne. It was in Philip’s own interest to stop Henry becoming king. In 1584, Philip joined the Catholic League with the Guises. He provided troops and 50,000 crowns a month to finance it. He got a promise of France not interfering in a Spanish war against the English. However, there was growing resentment in France of Spanish troops being on French soil. France did not allow Philip to use a deep water port for the Armada. The use of Gravelines made the task of the English a lot easier.
The total failure of the Armada, gave the French a lot more hope and Henry III ordered to assassination of Henry, Duke of Guise. Philip became the senior member of the rapidly weakening Catholic League. Henry III’s death in1589, meant that Henry of Navarre was now legally the king of France. Philip decided that the only course of action left to him was to intervene directly. Three million ducats were sent to the remaining members of the Catholic League and the Duke of Parma was ordered to leave the war in the Netherlandsand help defend Paris from Henry of Navarre.
In 1590, Parma invaded Paris. The Duke of Savoy occupied eastern France and Spanish troops landed in Italy. There appeared to be a chance that if Henry of Navarre did not survive this attack, Philip’s daughter, Isabella, might become the next French monarch. This potential upset both the French who were highly suspicious of Philip’s intentions (which are still not clear to this day) and the pope, Clement VIII, who believed that Philip was attempting to create a Catholic super state at the Vatican’s expense.
In April 1592, Parma died from wounds sustained defending Amiens. His death was a major blow for Philip as Parma was recognised as an able general. Henry’s conversion to Catholicism in 1593 all but ended Philip’s plans in France. The people of France, the nobles and the Papacy accepted Henry as the rightful king of France.
Despite this, Philip tried to challenge Henry’s right to the throne. The standing of Spain in France was dealt a major blow when the Spanish ambassador in France announced to the Estates-General that Isabella would be queen of France and that she would marry the future Holy Roman Emperor or, if the French preferred, the Duke of Guise. The French were furious and Henry was crowned a Catholic king in 1594 and he declared war on Spain. War was the last thing Spain could afford at this time. Henry was to be helped by the United Provinces and England. Against all the odds and despite the force they were up against, the Spanish did well to start with. They captured Calais in 1596 and Amiens in 1597. However, bankruptcy made Philip realise that he needed peace and in 1598, the Treaty of Vervins was signed. France recovered Calais, Languedoc and Brittany. By 1598, Spain was in a much weaker state than France.
Logic would dictate that two things would have developed during the reign of Philip with regards to Spain’s relations with England :
1) while married to the Catholic Mary Tudor, relations would have been good and positive.
2) while Elizabeth was on the throne, relations would have been poor if only because of the Protestant faith of the English monarch.
However, the relations between Philip and England were not as simple as the above scenario would suggest.
Philip’s marriage to Mary (1554 to 1558) was a typically political one. The Spanish councillors of Charles Vrealised that the growing power of France was a direct threat to the Netherlands. A marriage between Philip and Mary, both ardent Catholics, would create what was effectively a new super-state in western Europe : England, Spain and the Netherlands. This as a combined unit would be inherited by the heirs of Philip and Mary and would present France with a much more severe challenge to European supremacy than England and Spain did on an individual basis. Neither Philip nor Mary were consulted as to the plan or to the future marriage.
The marriage was far from a success. Philip only visited England on two occasions (July 1554 to August 1555 and March to July 1557). There were no children from the marriage and therefore no heirs to the super-state. However, Philip did see England as a valuable counterweight to the French. The Habsburg-Valois Wars were in their final days and any obvious advantage over the French could sway peace negotiations. Philip did his best to be ‘English’ on his visits – even drinking English ale – but his efforts were greeted with apathy by the people. Anti-Spanish literature appeared and despite his efforts, Philip simply was not accepted by the English people. The obvious dislike the people had for him was matched by his obvious disdain for the English. Philip considered them ungrateful, untrustworthy and quarrelsome.
The marriage that should have brought England and Spain closer did not work. The death of Mary in 1558, caused Philip little pain. However, the accession to the throne of the Protestant Elizabeth was a problem for Philip. The peace talks at Cateau-Cambresis were at a vital and delicate stage in 1558. Spain had to retain England’s alliance to off-set the Guise influence in Scotland (Mary, Queen of Scots, was married to the Guise Francis, who in 1559 became King of France) and advisors to Philip started to advocate a marriage between Philip and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth also had a need to court good relations with Philip and the Vatican had declared her illegitimate and if this was seen to be true, the legal heir to the throne would be Mary, Queen of Scots, who was married to Francis II of France. Therefore, Elizabeth needed the support of Philip for her accession. Philip also could not allow France to get a toe hold in England as the threat to the Netherlands would become even greater. Philip also remained hopeful of returning England to Catholicism. So here was a “Defender of the Faith” (as Philip liked to style himself) considering an alliance with Protestant England. So just how much of Philip’s policies were religiously orientated ? How many of his policies were simply practical and pragmatic ?
Philip did offer himself for marriage in 1559 (though he considered himself “a man under sentence of death”) but Elizabeth turned down his offer. Philip married Elizabeth of Valois instead.
After 1567, relations between Spain and England got worse. How did this happen ?
The Netherlands was the issue on which both countries clashed. If Philip did put down a Protestant revolt (one taking place very near to the shores of England) then was there a guarantee that he would not try to put down the Protestant faith in England. England was not in a military position to help the Dutch but she could hinder the Spanish maritime supply lines of Spain. In 1567, the Spanish replied by seizing ten ships of John Hawkins based in San Juan de Ulua. This event sparked off a wave of anti-Spanish sentiment in England and confirmed that Philip was not to be trusted.
Elizabeth responded by seizing five Genoese silver ships carrying £40,000 worth of bullion bound for theNetherlands. An Anglo-Dutch trade embargo was imposed in 1568 by the Spanish which provoked Elizabeth into ordering the seizure of forty Spanish ships harboured in England. Philip responded by ordering that all English ships in Spain were to be seized. That all had got out of hand so quickly is indicative that ‘good’ relations with Spain were only paper thin and that the so-called ‘good’ years were far from that. Trading relations were only normalised in 1573 but the damage had been done.
Eleven expeditions to South America took place between 1572 and 1577. Elizabeth claimed that they were unofficial and did not have her blessing. She specifically disowned Drake’s raid on Nombre de Dios in 1573. Philip believed that Elizabeth was behind the raids and his belief was strengthened when Raleigh tried to establish a settlement in Roanoke, Virginia in 1584 which directly threatened Spanish shipping lines.
In May 1585, Philip ordered the confiscation of all English goods and shipping in Iberian waters. Elizabeth responded by granting merchant ship captains the right to plunder any Spanish ships to make up any loss that they may have made.
However, it was England’s apparent involvement in the Netherlands that most provoked Philip. In 1572, a Dutch privateer was ordered to leave Dover. When William, Baron of Lumey de la Marck, landed in Flushing, he triggered off a major rebellion which historians consider the start of the rebellion as such as opposed to previous skirmishes. Philip believed that Elizabeth had planned this and that logically if William had not been expelled from English waters, the rebellion would not have taken place. There is no evidence that this is true and that it was nothing more than a coincidence and that Elizabeth considered William’s presence in Dover provocative to Spain – hence why he was ordered to leave.
From 1572 to 1585, Elizabeth tried to keep out of the rebellion. This changed in 1585 when the rebels looked extremely vulnerable and by the Treaty of Nonsuch, Elizabeth agreed to send 6,000 men under the Earl of Leicester and £126,000. In return, Elizabeth demanded Flushing, Brill and Rammekens. There was a general agreement amongst her advisors that if the Dutch fell, the position of England would be greatly threatened. It seems that this continuing problem involving the Netherlands and the attacks by Drake, pushed Philip into the plan for the Armada as early as 1585.
Philip himself was not innocent of provocative acts. His position centred around Mary, Queen of Scots. In the early years of her imprisonment in England, Philip had taken a neutral position and he had done nothing to provoke Elizabeth. Philip’s involvement in the 1571 plan to invade England at the time on the Ridolfi Plot was swiftly dropped when it became apparent that the control of the North Sea was way beyond the capability of the Spanish Navy and that the 10,000 soldiers available was far below the figure needed for a successful attack on England.
In the 1580’s, Philip became convinced that Mary Stuart was a desirable choice for England’s monarch. He saw her as a potential puppet who would allow his influence to be considerably expanded throughout Europe. The power of the Guises had been weakened in France and Francis was now dead – so the link between the Guises and Mary no longer existed from Philip’s viewpoint. In 1583, Philip was directly implicated in a plot to kill Elizabeth – the Throckmorton Plot – which involved the Jesuits and the Spanish ambassador Mendoza. It was Mendoza who admitted Philip’s part in the plot.
Philip had a number of reasons for ordering the Armada :
1) England’s control of the English Channel impeded Spain’s ability to supply her troops in the Netherlands. As a result, Spain had to rely on a land based supply route that was both slow and open to attack.
2) Philip assumed that if the English knew about the Armada, she would have to engage in heavy expenditure to modernise her navy. If Elizabeth could not afford to do this, then she could sue for peace on terms favourable to Spain.
3) England could be re-converted to Catholicism. The Armada carried 180 clerics, and 24 Jesuits were waiting in Flanders to be picked up and transported to England and Cardinal Allen (an English born missionary) was ready to take over the new Catholic state.
The Armada was not only a religious crusade – though the people of Spain interpreted it as being so. Philip was almost certainly more concerned with giving the campaign in the Netherlands a boost though he did order that if the invasion was partially successful, the Duke of Parma had to demand toleration in England for Catholics. He was not convinced that there was sufficient support for Catholicism in England and that their ability to support the Armada would be minimal. “There is no evidence that he intended the conquest of England.” (Woodward) At best, he wanted to take south-east England and use it as a bargaining counter to improve the lives of Catholics in England.
The first plan for an armada, was put forward by Santa-Cruz, Captain-General of the Ocean Sea. He wanted a force of 560 ships and 94,000 men to sail from Lisbon. He estimated that it would cost 3.5 million ducats. The Duke of Parma had an alternate idea : transport 30,000 men from the Spanish bases in the Netherlandsusing light boats. As these boats were vulnerable to attack, it would be Santa Cruz’s responsibility to clear the Channel of English warships. Parma estimated that such a venture would cost 150,000 ducats a month.
Philip liked Parma’s plan. Philip was trying to persuade Pope Sixtus V that the Armada would benefit the Catholic faith in general. Sixtus was convinced of the importance of supporting the Armada when news of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots reached him. Philip did not need the news of Mary’s execution to persuade him as he had already decided to invade. However, her execution did give the Armada an image of being more like a religious crusade. Sixtus promised one million ducats once a military force had landed.
Philip attempted to change Parma’s plan. Philip wanted to increase the size of the Armada and re-enforce the Spanish forces in the Netherlands at the same time as invading England. Parma did not support the changes to his plan as he feared that they would over stretch Spain’s military power.
The appointment of Medina-Sidonia as the commander of the Armada did not surprise contemporaries as he was the most important nobleman in Castille. Therefore, his position as Castille’s first grandee would give the Armada more respect among the rich of Castille. Medina-Sidonia was also very wealthy and Philip anticipated that he would pay for some of the cost of the fleet – given that the Armada was essentially viewed by the Spanish public as a crusade against heresy and Medina-Sidonia was a devout Catholic. Philip also knew that Medina-Sidonia was also very respectful of the king and he would never dare challenge a royal order. He had never fought at sea but he was known to be a formidable naval administrator. Surprisingly for Philip, Medina-Sidonia did ask Philip not to appoint him as he felt that he was not up to the position. Philip ignored the plea and Medina-Sidonia took up the position.
The Armada had a poor start. It first sailed in May 1588 and ran into a storm. Five ships out of 130 were lost. Medina-Sidonia asked Philip to call off the mission. Philip refused saying that God wished it to continue – thus giving the Armada even more of a religious status. He was also aware that Europe knew that his fleet had sailed and he could not tolerate the thought of the world’s largest navy being bottled up in port giving the impression that it was scared to sail. “To leave our fleet bottled up and ineffective would be a disgrace.” (Philip)
The journey up the Channel was remarkably successful for the Armada. Only three ships were lost and 122 reached Calais. This was due to the fact that the Spanish kept rigidly to their plan which was to defend itself and not to initiate attacks. It was at Gravelines (Calais) where disaster struck. The fire ships associated with Drake split up the formation and for the Spanish ships it became a case of each for their own. As the Channel was blocked, the only route the Spanish ships could use to return to Spain, was to pass north of the Scottish coast line, sail down the west side of England and then pass west of Catholic Ireland to safety. The weather devastated those ships not destroyed by the fire ships. Those ships that landed in Ireland expecting help, were attacked by the Irish as invaders.
Ironically, it was Parma who believed that the plan would not work. He had remained convinced that the changes to his plan were fatal but he went along with Philip’s changed plan out of loyalty to the king. Medina-Sidonia had also expressed the view that it would not work before it had even sailed. In Paris, bookmakers offered 6 to 1 against it surviving.
Philip made it clear that the weather had defeated the Armada but the phrase “it was God’s will” was frequently heard in Spain. Spain ordered an enquiry and only one man was found guilty – Diego Flores de Valdes who was the chief nautical officer who ordered ropes to be cut as the fire ships entered Calais harbour. He was sent to prison for a year. “Yet if one person was to blame, it was Philip.” (Woodward)
no plans had been made to co-ordinate Parma’s moves with Medina-Sidonia Santa Cruz had originally asked for 40 to 50 galleys to accompany the main force but only four actually sailed up the Channel. Don Francisco de Bobadilla, commander of the soldiers being carried by the Armada, considered this a mistake Philip knew that his fleet was vulnerable to fire power from the English and that close encounters could prove fatal. Regardless of this, he ordered Medina-Sidonia to prepare for hand-to-hand fighting which by its very nature would necessitate both fleets closing on one another. Medina-Sidonia chose to ignore this tactic.
The Armada, of course, destroyed any chance of a reconciliation between England and Spain. The success of the organisation behind the Armada has always been cited as an example of how effective Philip’s bureaucracy was when it had a common purpose to aim at. That it failed was due to the “armchair” knowledge Philip had of military strategy.
The position of Parma in the Netherlands was also weakened and the Armada’s failure encouraged theDutch to counter-attack the Spanish. It also encouraged Drake and others to go on more expeditions as the Spanish were seen as being unable to defend themselves. Between 1589 and 1598, there were over 100 expeditions against the Spanish – all endorsed by Elizabeth. In 1596, the port of Cadiz was attacked by an English fleet.
Regardless of this position, Philip had too much pride to engage in peace talks with Elizabeth. That would require new monarchs in a new century.