Philip II was born in 1527 and he died in 1598. Philip II became king of Spain in January 1556. He governed Spain 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.

“Your majesty spends so long considering your undertakings that when the moment to perform them comes the occasion has passed and the money has been spent.” (Pius V)

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:

“The Catholic King was born in Spain……here he is treated with all the deference and respect which seemed due to him as the greatest emperor whom Christendom had ever had and to the heir to such a number of realms and to such grandeur.

Although the king resembles his father in face and speech, in his attention to his religious duties, and in his habitual kindness and good faith, he nevertheless differs from him in several of those respects in which the greatness of rulers, after all, lies.

The emperor was addicted to war, which he well understood; the king knows but little of it and has no love for it. The emperor undertook great enterprises with enthusiasm; his son avoids them. The father was fond of planning great things and would in the end realise his wishes with his skill; his son, on the contrary, pays less attention to augmenting his own greatness than to hindering that of others……….the father was guided in all matters by his own opinion; the son follows the opinion of others.

In the king’s eyes no nation is superior to the Spaniards. It is among them that he lives, it is they he consults, and it is they that direct his policy; in all this he is acting quite contrary to the habit of his father. He thinks little of the Italians and Flemish and still less of the Germans. Although he may employ the chief men of all the countries over which he rules, he admits none of them to his secret counsels, but utilises their services only in military matters, and then not so much because he really esteems them, as in the hope that he will in this way prevent his enemies from making use of them.”

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