Philip II, as head of the government of Spain,  believed in the divine right of monarchs and used this to justify a number of immoral and illegal acts, such as ordering murders. Philip developed a system of regional self-government with viceroys answering to him and he ruled as an absolute monarch.

Philip II was Chief Minister and he appointed Secretaries of State to aid him. The first was Gonzalo Perez who died in 1566. He was replaced by his son Antonio Perez who was hard working and ambitious. Perez allied himself with the Prince of Eboli, Philip’s favourite. Eboli believed that the government should consist of autonomous states with their own customs, laws and privileges i.e. he wanted a federal system of government. This solution was opposed by the Dukes of Alva who wanted Phillip to adopt a hard line approach to bring states under the close control of the Crown

Philip favoured the Alva approach and sent AIva to the Netherlands to put down the revolt there. Alva’s failure in the Netherlands and his recall in 1573 led to Philip adopting Eboli’s idea and he appointed the soft-liner Requesens to deal with the Netherlands.

This appeared to be a triumph for Antonio Perez (who backed Eboli) who, in triumph, became more ambitious. With the almost certain knowledge of Philip, Perez even took to murdering political opponents but this behaviour aroused the suspicion of Philip his concern being the extent of Perez’s ambitions. In 1579, Philip dismissed him and ordered his arrest. Philip chose Cardinal Granvelle to succeed Perez who fled to Aragon where he was safe from Castilian law enforcement. Here he was safe and he remained here as a thorn in the side of Philip.

The nobles of Castile were well-controlled by Philip. They took no part in the direct administration of Castille except as viceroys, admirals etc. This gave them little political power but gave the families that received such titles great prestige within Spain….. but no real power.

There was a Council of State to advise the king (nobles were allowed to attend it) but Philip did not attend it himself so it really had no specific power. Philip had a small group of advisors to help him but the Council of State made the nobles believe that they held the power. They had a quorum to vent their arguments against one another but better verbally than militarily. But the nobles as a whole had no real power.

The various kingdoms were run by professional graduates. It was through these councils that Philip transmitted his orders to the territories under his command. Most of the staff were lawyers and trained administrators. They were positions for those with ability not from powerful noble families. These graduates executed royal authority but they did not formulate it. The councils were the king’s instruments. Efficiency brought promotion. Philip listened to their ideas and read their correspondence. He also received communication from governors and viceroys. He used their ideas to balance up opinions and he used them formulate his own ideas.

By balancing opinion “he prevented the emergence of any institutional challenge to his own authority.”(Lockyer)

Philip inherited and developed the most advanced bureaucratic machinery in the world and each council had its own specialisation ; the Council of Finance, the Council of the Inquisition etc. These bodies provided Philip with specific expert opinions on selected topics but in the end Philip made policy be it judicial, legislative, foreign etc.

Within Castille in particular, Philip exercised absolute power. If he was seen to be weak there, then his authority could be threatened elsewhere. The Cortes was devoid of power over legislative and tax issues. Other cortes were never totally broken but the effort would not have been worth it as with the exception of Castille no other region was wealthy enough to warrant the effort and they were also short of manpower if Phillip needed to call on them for soldiers.

For all its professionalism, Philip’s administration system had four major defects:

1. It was too cautious

2. Decision making took too long

3. Corruption through the sale of offices to those without ability but with the money weakened the system.

4. The impact of the Counter-Reformation stymied the modern approach being adopted in Protestant states. Thinking was still frowned upon and could individuals into trouble.

“To run it (the government) was well beyond the powers of such a glutton for work and government as Philip : it overwhelmed his subnormal successors.” Lockyer