Philip II was born in 1527 and he died in 1598. Philip II became king of Spain in January 1556. He governedSpain in her so-called “Golden Age”. However, his reign saw the economic decline of Spain, her bankruptcy and a disastrous decade from 1588 to 1598 which included the disaster of the Spanish Armada.
Philip II considered himself to be a traditional Spanish man – he had a love of music and art. He had a wonderful collection of masterpieces at the Escorial – his palace outside of Madrid. Philip II was a cultivated man who read widely and was good at History and Politics but poor at languages. He was passionate about collecting rare books and works of art. He was a deeply religious man and the Escorial was the home for a Hieronymite monastery and church. Even though the Escorial is considered Philip’s palace, his rooms were spartan and contained few pieces of furniture. It would have surprised visitors expecting to see the palace of Europe’s richest man.
Philip II married four times to a) Maria Manuela of Portugal b) Mary Tudor of England c) Elizabeth of Valois (in France) and d) to Anne of Austria.
Philip’s great failing was himself – he mistrusted his own judgment and relied on the advice of others. However, he frequently distrusted the advice of his advisors as well so any decisions that had to be made to a great deal of time to arrive at. Why did Philip distrust his own instincts and the advice of others ? Many believe that he had a chronic lack of self-confidence.
The Spanish Empire was huge and many day-to-day issues had to be dealt with.
The one great advantage of taking time to make a decision was that long term policies could be cultivated to achieve long term results. Philip II wanted to “Castilise” Spain and all the most important government positions went to Castilians. Philip had his advisors but he ruled as an absolute ruler and he was a firm believer in the divine right of kings – that God had appointed him as king and that as God could not make a mistake neither could Philip.
Michele Suriano, Venetian ambassador to Spain, wrote the following about Philip II: