Philip II generally believed that what was good for Spain was good for the Catholic Church. Philip himself was a devout Catholic and used up vast sums of money in defence of Catholicism. He looked on the pope as the spiritual head of the Catholic Church but he did not commit himself to the decisions of Rome when they conflicted with his own beliefs. Philip II saw himself as the lay protector of the Catholic Church with two responsibilities:

1) fighting in its defence

2) ensuring its spiritual regeneration

Philip II himself ordered the Spanish bishops at the Council of Trent to insist on no accommodation of Protestants. However, the reforms at Trent were less relevant to Spain than elsewhere as Cardinal Ximenes, Charles V and Philip II had ensured that Spain remained thoroughly Catholic. Philip II also insisted that Spain’s representatives were present at the provincial councils of the church but there was no real urgency in Spain for reform as it obviously was not needed.

What authority did Philip II have?

1) The crown made all major ecclesiastical appointments

2) Papal bulls needed royal approval before they could be published

3) Appeals over crown decisions could be made to Rome but this very rarely occurred as it would be seen as challenging Philip’s authority.

These three points essentially took power away from the pope and Rome. Disagreements between the two did happen and the most famous involved the Primate of Spain, Archbishop Carranza of Toledo. He was arrested by the Spanish Inquisition and put in prison. The pope, Pius V, insisted that a man in such a position should be tried for his crimes in a Papal court in Rome. Philip refused this request as he viewed the problem as being entirely a Spanish one and not one that involved what he would have seen as interference from Rome.

Pius, in retaliation, refused to re-new the cruzada which would have put true catholic believers (most of Spain) in a difficult position as payment of it would have been seen as being disloyal to the pope. Philip responded by withdrawing his ambassador from Rome. On this one occasion Philip climbed down and sent Carranza to Rome as the situation was getting out of hand. Carranza was acquitted but such conciliatory gestures from Philip were rare.


“Philip convinced of his own spiritual integrity and his innate superiority of all things Spanish, kept a firm hold on ‘his’ church.” (Lockyer)


Philip upheld the Counter-Reformation though its required impact in Spain was less than elsewhere in the catholic world. Though he detested both Protestants and Turks, he only involved himself in campaigns against them when Spain itself was threatened e.g. he refused to help Pius V’s crusade against the Turks during the time of the Holy League. He also showed a conciliatory attitude towards north German Protestant states and England when he declared that the revolt in the Spanish Netherlands was a rebellion against royal authority and was not a fight against heresy.

Philip only introduced to Spain the reforms stated at Trent if they did not harm his authority but the bulk of the decisions at Trent were all but irrelevant to a country that was solidly catholic.

The Spanish Inquisition enjoyed the full support of Philip primarily as it was used to hunt out opponents to his rule and it was also an all-Spanish institution. Its courts had massive power and were not hampered by the constitutional rights of the regions which affected the power of provincial courts which rarely dared to threaten fueros (traditional though vaguely stated rights which people zealously clung to).

What could be called a Spanish Protestant movement was easily crushed by the Inquisition. By 1568, the ‘movement’ ceased to exist. Led by the Inquisitor-General, Fernando de Valdes, it was an efficient and thorough organisation and well placed to enforce royal authority. It also dealt with intellectual deviationists. It ensured that the Spanish Index was far more severe than the Roman Index while in November 1559 Spaniards were forbidden to study at foreign universities. This intellectual apartheid cut Spain off from mainstream intellectual development within Europe as a whole and severely hampered Spain’s development as the ideas and progress being made in western Europe all but excluded Spain.


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