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Yale University Press
The Grand Strategy of Philip II

The Grand Strategy of Philip II

by Geoffrey Parker
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ISBN-13: 9780300082739
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 03/11/2000
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 470
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.33(d)

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Chapter One

Part I: The Context of
Strategic Culture

One reason the Kennedy and Johnson administrations failed to take an orderly, rational approach to the basic questions underlying Vietnam was the staggering variety and complexity of other issues we faced. Simply put, we faced a blizzard of problems, there were only twenty-four hours in a day, and we often did not have time to think straight. This predicament is not unique to the administration in which I served or to the United States. It has existed at all times and in most countries. I have never seen a thoughtful examination of the problem. It existed then, it exists today, and it ought to be recognized and planned for when organizing a government.

Robert Strange McNamara, the author of this lament, has, like Philip II, generally had a very bad press. Both men failed to achieve most of their policy goals; both sacrificed lives, resources and reputation on a prodigious scale; both left their countries weaker than when they took office. Furthermore, McNamara's 'explanation' for his failure -- which recurs frequently in his memoirs -- overlooks the obvious fact that every Great Power must expect to confront a 'blizzard of problems', and so cannot normally concentrate on a single threat for long. To expect otherwise, as McNamara seems to have done, is unrealistic, unreasonable and unwise.

    The government of Philip II naturally differed greatly from that of the United States four centuries later. Most obviously, its ruler exercised absolute power by hereditary right, coming to power by genes rather than 'grey cells' -- and a somewhat restricted pool of genes at that, given the remarkable propensity of many European dynasties, led by the Habsburgs, to marry close relatives (see table 3, p. 79 below and table 7, p. 294). Perhaps because of this in-breeding, the number of outstandingly successful, intelligent and sympathetic hereditary rulers remains fairly small. Moreover, sixteenth-century communications also varied dramatically from those of today: then, messages from distant theatres of operations took weeks if not months to arrive (and decisions took just as long to send back), whereas a modern commander-in-chief can consult with his subordinates at the front in 'real time'. Finally, sixteenth-century statesmen, confronted by the religious passions unleashed by the Reformation, found their freedom to manoeuvre -- and above all their ability to compromise -- severely restricted by ideology. Admittedly, some leaders managed to overcome this: Henry of Navarre, leader of the French Protestants, converted to Catholicism in 1593 specifically to secure the surrender of the nation's capital, allegedly remarking as he did so that 'Paris is well worth a Mass'. Philip II and most of his contemporaries could never have done that.

    Perhaps, however, these contrasts are more apparent than real. Outstandingly successful, intelligent and sympathetic statesmen are rare in any age, whatever their path to power; although slow by twentieth-century standards, Philip II's communications system worked faster and better than that of any rival state; and the ideological passions unleashed by communism have exercised a powerful influence on modern international relations. Above all, the same three considerations shaped strategic culture in the sixteenth century as in the twentieth: first, the prevailing structure of command and control -- the means chosen by each government to formulate and achieve its strategic goals; second, the network of communications and intelligence created to assemble information on the prevailing threats and to overcome the obstacles posed by time and distance; and, finally, the assumptions that inform its strategic vision and influence the selection of its strategic priorities, so that despite the 'blizzard of problems' that faced them, they still had 'time to think straight'.

    Towards the end of his self-serving memoirs of the 1960s, Robert McNamara once more paused to address the structural problem that he held largely responsible for the failure of his Vietnam policies:

Readers must wonder by now -- if they have not been mystified long before -- how presumably intelligent, hardworking, and experienced officials -- both civilian and military -- failed to address systematically and thoroughly questions whose answers so deeply affected the lives of our citizens and the welfare of our nation. Simply put, such an orderly, rational approach was precluded by the 'crowding out' which resulted from the fact that Vietnam was but one of a multitude of problems we confronted. Any one of the issues facing Washington during the 1960s justified the full attention of the president and his associates.

The three chapters that follow examine how, four centuries earlier, Philip II and his 'presumably intelligent, hardworking, and experienced officials' addressed the 'multitude of problems' that confronted the global empire over which they ruled, and the nature -- and adequacy -- of the command structure, the communications system, and the assumptions that they brought to the task.

I 'The Largest Brain in the World'

For much of his life Philip II, like his contemporary Elizabeth Tudor, lacked a suitable successor. Had he died in 1555, at the same age as his grandfather, Philip I (28), he would never have succeeded to the throne; had he died in 1570, at the same age as his only surviving son, Philip III (43), his possessions would have passed to his four-year-old eider daughter; had he died in 1585 at the same age as his father Charles V (58), he would have left his vast Monarchy to a sickly son of seven. In fact, like Elizabeth, Philip II lived longer than any previous sovereign of his dynasty, but of course no one at the time -- whether friend or foe -- could foresee this. Thus in 1574 a concerned minister begged 'Your Majesty, on whose life and health every present undertaking depends, to rest and recover from your labours'; while in 1580, when the duke of Alba found out that his master had fallen ill with a fever, he berated his chief ally at Court: 'It is not reasonable, sir, that when His Majesty is ill, even only slightly, I should not know about it within a matter of hours'. In 1583, according to a minister in the Low Countries, the Dutch rebels 'placed all their hope in the king's death'; three years later, the French ambassador in Madrid wrote that 'Well-informed Spaniards foresee a dramatic change in the entire Monarchy should Philip die'; and shortly after that the Venetian ambassador argued that the whole Spanish Monarchy 'is held together by the authority and wisdom of the king, and if he were to die everything would fall into confusion and danger'.

    In the event, from the time of his father's abdication in 1555-56 until his own death in 1598 aged 71 Philip ruled absolutely. At the beginning of the reign, when he promoted a man of humble birth to be primate of all Spain, the wife of a courtier irreverently commented: 'These are the miracles that the king now wishes to perform, and they seem very like those of Christ, who made men out of clay'; by its end, however, many of his servants and subjects genuinely saw him as the incarnation of God on earth, believed he had been a saint, and attributed miracles to him. Philip himself made no such claims -- on one occasion he wrote 'I don't know if [people] think I'm made of iron or stone. The truth is, they need to see that I am mortal, like everyone else' -- but he seldom had qualms about exercising his absolute power over life and death. On the one hand, in 1571 he pardoned numerous prisoners in Spain and the Indies to celebrate the birth of a son and heir, and in 1580 as he entered his new kingdom of Portugal in triumph he freed prisoners along his route. On the other hand, during the decade 1566-76 he had over 1,200 of his Low Countries' subjects executed by a special legal tribunal because they disagreed with his views on religion and politics. In 1580 he placed a price on the head of William of Nassau prince of Orange, his most eminent Dutch vassal, and four years later he rewarded handsomely the family of the prince's assassin. Foreigners who opposed him could likewise expect no mercy if they fell into his power. In 1572, when his forces in the Netherlands captured some of Orange's high-ranking French supporters, Philip ordered that they be kept under strict guard but 'should any fear arise that they might be rescued, it will be necessary to kill them'. A year later he ordered them to be secretly murdered anyway.

    These, however, were extreme and unusual cases. Philip normally took great pains to exercise his authority through established constitutional channels. On one occasion he sent back a set of orders unsigned since 'it seems to me that there are problems, because those for the three kingdoms of the crown of Aragon, and especially the one for Aragon itself, will not be obeyed and are against the fueros [local customs]'. All royal letters for his eastern kingdoms, the king pointed out, should be issued by the council of Aragon and he ordered them to be redrafted. Thanks in part to this sensitivity, Philip enjoyed great popularity among most of his subjects. When he returned to Madrid in 1583, after an absence of almost three years in Portugal, the enthusiastic crowds that poured out of the city to welcome him 'stretched over a mile from the palace, as much outside the city as inside, with as many men and women at the windows and on the roofs. It was almost incredible. I would never have thought that this city contained half of the people whom I saw then.'

    Despite at least seven assassination attempts, for most of his reign Philip travelled unarmed through crowded streets and deserted fields; he drank cups of water proffered by ordinary people along the way; he ate the fresh catch offered by local fishermen; when he visited a university town he attended public lectures along with the students; and when a religious procession passed him as he walked in the streets, he fell to his knees among the crowd in shared reverence. Philip always worked with his study door open, and ministers would sometimes panic when they saw him 'enter the patio of this building entirely alone', unprotected against attack. He, like Elizabeth, could proudly boast: 'Let tyrants fear: I have always so behaved myself, that under God I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and goodwill of my subjects'.

    On most occasions Philip dressed simply -- indeed to some the king's modest attire made him look 'just like a physician' or even 'just like the citizens'. Although he was fastidious about personal cleanliness, he remained conservative in taste: he had a new suit of clothes made every month, but the design and the colour -- black -- remained the same, a perfect example of the 'dignity through understatement' advocated in Castiglione's influential Book of the Courtier. That is how he appears at the height of his power in the Alonso Sanchez Coello's portrait of 1587 (Plate 4). Nevertheless, Philip instilled instant respect in all who met him. When she entered his presence one day in the 1570s, Teresa of Avila 'began to speak to him totally agitated because he fixed his penetrating gaze on me and seemed to see into my soul ... I told him what I wanted as quickly as I could.' When Venetian ambassador Leonardo Dona had an audience, he spent hours beforehand 'reading and re-reading more than ten times' the letters and instructions that he had received in case Philip should ask him a question. One of the king's earliest biographers confirmed that 'Brave men who had withstood a thousand dangers trembled in his presence, and no one looked on him without emotion.' Everyone also remarked on his remarkable self-control: the same Dona, when obliged in 1573 to tell the king in a public audience that Venice had defected without warning from its Spanish alliance and made a separate peace with the Turks, noted in amazement that he listened to the terms of the treaty impassively -- except that 'his mouth made a very small, ironic movement, smiling thinly' (Plate 5). Most people likewise paid tribute to Philip's intelligence. Towards the end of his reign, even a critic admitted that 'His Majesty's brain must be the largest in the world'; while just after his death, a court preacher (who also noted that 'with a sideways glance he sent some people to their grave') compared Philip's wisdom with that of Solomon 'so that if, in order to become king, one had to enter a competition, as for a university chair ... ours would have won the professorship of the realm without difficulty and by a large margin'.

    All these examples, however, referred to Philip's official 'body' which represented his majesty and power to the world. Like all kings, Philip also possessed a mortal body of flesh and blood. As the Valencian humanist (and royal councillor) Fadrique Furio Ceriol wrote in 1559:

Every prince is made up, as it were, of two persons: the first, the natural person, is fashioned by the hands of nature and as such is given the same essence as other human beings. The other is a gift of fortune and the favour of heaven, created to govern and protect the public good, for which reason we call it the public person ... Each and every prince may therefore be considered in two distinct and different ways: as a man and as a sovereign.

Philip created a distinct institutional setting for each of his two 'persons'. By the 1560s, thanks to the elaborate Burgundian etiquette of the Spanish Court, almost 1,500 persons attended on the king (about 800 in his household, over 200 in the stables, more than 100 in the chapel and so on) while hundreds of other officials manned the central organs of government: over 100 in the court's special police force (the Alcaldes de Casa y Corte); 79 in the council of Finance and its various dependent bureaux, 53 in the council of Castile, 39 in the council of Aragon, 25 in the council of the Indies, and so on. Such a huge concentration of people -- with their families, servants and ancillary staff, they may have totalled 4,000 -- could scarcely travel around in the king's wake, and so Philip decided to establish a fixed centre for his government. He tried out both Valladolid and Toledo, but in June 1561 opted for Madrid because of its central location, its excellent water supply, and its open situation which would enable both the palace and the city to expand with minimal difficulty. And expand they did: the surviving registers for six parishes of the city recorded 242 baptisms in 1560, but 410 in 1561 and 627 in 1562; by the end of the reign, Madrid had become (after Seville) the largest city in Spain. Meanwhile, major building programmes in the 1560s and 1580s more than doubled the size of the royal palace (Plate 6).

    As Maria Jose Rodriguez-Salgado has perceptively noted, the king's decision to establish an elaborate Court in Madrid had, as its corollary, the creation of a periphery of private retreats to which he could periodically escape and live more informally. The king alternated between these two institutional settings. In the spacious rooms on the upper floor of the Madrid palace, flanked by his magnificent collections of tapestries, paintings and other trappings of Christian kingship, and with his ministers toiling on the floor below,

He was easily accessible for formal and informal audiences. The king set aside part of his day to see people and receive petitions. He made sure that those without official business or regular access could approach him on his daily walks to and from church. He communicated daily with his advisers and councillors. His days were hectic, full of direct pressure, and he dealt with a great diversity and quantity of business.

The truth of this emerges from an incident in 1577, while the king was in Madrid. Philip's private secretary asked if Juan Fernandez de Espinosa, one of the financiers engaged in a crucial rescheduling of Spain's debts, might call on him at 2 p.m., but the king protested:

Let him come at half past three, because it is already two o'clock, and I have no time to see the queen and her children except right now. And impress upon him that he will have to leave at four, because I have a lot of audiences then -- even though I have [already] held thirty today. And, in view of that, just look at the back-log of papers I shall have!

Naturally, such a frenetic pace could not be sustained indefinitely and the king regularly sought solace in one of his country palaces: Aranjuez, Valsain (near Segovia), the Pardo and (above all) the Escorial. There, his life -- and his style of government -- took on a totally different aspect. When the same Juan Fernandez de Espinosa arrived at Aranjuez bearing a special licence from the council of Finance to discuss important business with the king, he received very different treatment:

I do wish that Juan Fernandez had arranged the audience in Madrid, because he could have had one there, even though I was busier ... I have brought so many papers down here with me that if I start giving audiences I shall not be able to think of reading any of them ... I need time and quiet, and with audiences believe me I shall have neither.

The note concluded briskly: 'I am replying to this now so that Juan Fernandez will not be detained in the hope of an audience that I cannot give him.'

    Philip's desire to limit the number of meetings is easily explained. To begin with, they could last a long time. Thus in September 1588 Jose de Acosta, SJ, received an audience in order to present a lengthy paper on the problems faced by the Jesuit Order in Spain. The king read each point, after which Acosta offered clarification; sometimes the king asked questions (while speaking of the 'secretary of Father Borgia, the king interrupted and said "Which Father Borgia?" I said "The one who was General of our Order". "You mean Father Francis" said the king; "Yes, sire, Father Francisco de Borgia, our General"'). Acosta's blow-by-blow account of the meeting filled four closely written sides of foolscap; it can hardly have lasted less than an hour. Nevertheless at the end of it Philip took no decision but announced that a particular minister would convey his views at a later stage.

    Audiences for ambassadors could take just as long and proved no more conclusive -- the king invariably agreed at the end only to 'think about it' -- yet with up to fourteen envoys resident at the Court, each constantly seeking the chance to put the concerns of his principals to the king in person, small wonder that the king sometimes complained that ambassadors' visits had 'made me waste the day'. Yet diplomatic audiences could not be entirely avoided: most of them took place because a foreign government instructed its representative to explain a particular policy, to seek clarification of Spain's intentions, or to protest against one of Philip's actions -- and to do it in person. The king might procrastinate, but eventually the ambassador had to be both seen and heard. Sometimes, indeed, the occasion could be exploited in order to obtain or impart information. Thus on 31 October 1571 Ambassador Dona received a full description from Venice of the victory of Lepanto three weeks before. He hurried to see the king, who happened to be in his chapel, and told a courtier his business; Philip at once invited him to sit in the same pew. 'Straight after the incense', Dona gave him the news, to which the king listened attentively, and they then knelt side by side as the palace choir sang the Te Deum 'with the most beautiful harmony I ever heard'. Philip kept the ambassador with him for the rest of the day in order to make sure of every detail. Another use of audiences emerged a few days later when Ambassador Fourquevaux of France came to complain about the conduct of his Spanish counterpart in Paris. Philip listened attentively, but then began to grill Fourquevaux on some recent rumours: was it true that Jeanne d'Albret, queen of Navarre, had set out from her Court at Pau on a journey to Paris to meet with Charles IX? Was Louis of Nassau (Orange's brother) among her entourage? Fourquevaux had to answer both questions affirmatively, and perhaps rashly ventured that several leading Huguenots wanted to persuade the king of France to accept Louis into his service, since he was a German prince who held no territory in Philip's dominions. No doubt, Philip replied, the leading Huguenots wanted Charles IX to do many foolish things, but he reminded Fourquevaux that Louis had waged open war against him in the Netherlands in 1568, with the clear implication that Charles should therefore send him away.

    Normally, however, Philip said virtually nothing at audiences -- Dona, who wrote down every word in his subsequent reports to the Doge and Senate of Venice, seldom recorded more than one sentence ('although, as usual, his words were most gracious') -- but this taciturnity may have stemmed from the fact that the king sometimes had difficulty in remembering what people said to him at formal encounters. When turning down yet another request for a personal meeting he confided one day to his secretary: 'I can remember little from audiences -- although do not tell anyone that! I mean from most of them.' Furthermore, written requests gave him more time to consider the best response. Whenever he could, therefore, the king preferred communications from others in writing. When a prominent nobleman asked to see him, Philip replied: 'If you were closer to Court, it might be appropriate to hear the details from you in person, but ... since you can write securely [a letter] for my eyes alone, I think it would be best if you did so'. Shrewd ambassadors indulged the king's preference. Fourquevaux, for example, sometimes ignored commands from his master to seek an audience with Philip, especially in summer: 'I know that I would please him more if I communicated with him by letter,' he explained, because 'he prefers ambassadors to deal with him by letter rather than in person while he resides in his country houses'.

    Not everyone proved so tactful. Philip's understandable desire to protect his privacy equally understandably infuriated some of those who wanted to see him but could not. It was all very well, lamented the nuncio (dean of the diplomatic corps), for the king to insist on receiving requests for action in writing, provided he then replied to them; but 'It is rather irritating to have the king living so close [at the Escorial], and not occupied with anything important [!], and yet for four months I have been unable to secure an audience and I have received an answer to none -- or very few -- of the memorials I have sent him in this time.' Some Spaniards shared the frustration. Traditionally, the culture of royal courts had been largely oral and so transacting everything in writing seemed novel: 'God did not send Your Majesty and all the other kings to spend their time on earth so that they could hide themselves away reading and writing, or even meditating and praying,' thundered Don Luis Manrique, the king's almoner, and he proceeded to criticize 'the manner of transacting business adopted by Your Majesty, being permanently seated at your papers ... in order to have a better reason to escape from people'. According to another court critic, 'it seems as if Your Majesty's efforts have gradually made him totally inaccessible and built a tower without doors and windows, so that you cannot see other people and they cannot see you'.

    The king nevertheless remained set in his ways, certain that he could transact far more business on his own than in meetings with others. Thus in 1576, while forwarding a pile of papers from Hernando de Avalos, a government auditor appointed to introduce double-entry book-keeping into the Castilian treasury, the king's personal secretary cautiously suggested that

It might be of great benefit both to Your Majesty and his ministers, and to [the dispatch of] business, to start listening to some [ministers in person] ... because in that way they could clarify anything Your Majesty doubted or did not understand; and Your Majesty could still, in order to avoid an immediate decision and to think about it more, ask them to put what they had said in writing, and later reply to them in writing with your decision.

Philip dismissed this out of hand: '[Speaking] as one who has already almost 33 years of experience in handling public affairs, it would be a lot of work to listen to them and then see them again to give a response -- especially those like Avalos who talk all the time.' A few years later, a courtier suggested that the king should spend twice as long listening as he spent writing; while Cardinal Granvelle, a minister with even more experience of government than the king himself, regretted that Philip so seldom made use of the pomp of Burgundian court ceremonial, 'in order to be more respected by his subjects. But', Granvelle added wearily, 'he has already made up his mind to live in seclusion so that, after 56 years, I have little hope of seeing any change'.

    The criticism was unfair, however. Aranjuez, the Pardo and the Escorial may have been 'secluded', and the king may have spent increasing amounts of time there as the reign advanced, but they did not serve as vacation resorts where he idled away his time in hunting, shooting and fishing (although he regularly indulged in all three). Rather they offered him the opportunity to govern (as he said) in the way that experience had proved to be the most efficient. Jose de Siguenza, who saw the king at close quarters for the last two decades of his life, claimed that he managed to transact four times as much business while he resided at the Escorial; and an ambassador noted that although the king 'spends most of his time away from the Court, in part to escape from tiring audiences and in part to take care of business matters better, he never stops reading and writing, even when he travels in his coach'.

The majority of the papers that Philip dealt with came from the various councils in Madrid whose number increased in the course of the reign from eleven to fourteen (see Table 1). The councils' principal function was to discuss the incoming letters and memoranda in a given area of responsibility and to recommend what action, if any, the king should take: they never initiated policies. Moreover, strict lines of demarcation defined their duties. Thus the council of War considered and reported on letters concerning the crown's armed forces, both naval and military, within Spain; but the council of State, which possessed exclusive responsibility for all Spain's interests in Europe, whether diplomatic, commercial or military, supervised the crown's armed forces in the Netherlands and Italy. Likewise, the council of the Indies dealt with military and naval affairs in Spanish America, while after 1583 a new council reported directly to the king concerning the defence of Portugal and its overseas possessions. Budgets for all military operations underwent review by yet another organ, the council of Finance.

    Government ministers throughout the Monarchy received strict orders to send their correspondence to the proper central institution. Thus at the beginning of his reign the king instructed his viceroys in Italy to direct all matters relating to 'administration, justice, the patrimony and revenues of our crown and treasury, other routine affairs and also matters concerning individuals (such as pardons, rewards, evaluations and the provision of offices)' to the newly created council of Italy, and matters of war or peace and relations with other rulers to the council of State. In fact matters soon became more complicated: ministers abroad also corresponded with the king from time to time via the councils of Finance, Aragon, Castile, Orders and Inquisition. Indeed a memorandum composed by a member of the central government in the 1570s on how to allocate incoming business between the various councils contained no fewer than 326 categories, each with its own administrative procedure. In the next decade Philip created two new councils -- Portugal and Flanders -- and reformed a third (the Camara de Castilla, which handled patronage, judicial appeals and negotiations with the Cortes -- or Parliament -- of the realm), creating even more administrative categories until in the 1590s attempts were made to simplify the system. Ministers in America, for example, received orders to streamline their correspondence with the council of the Indies, so that 'Everything that you used to write in many letters, you will now condense into four [categories], according to their contents: administration, justice, war and finance.'

    The king himself rarely attended council meetings: everyone noted as exceptional his presence at the debates of the council of State in 1566 on the correct policy to follow in the Netherlands. Except for the council of Castile, which by tradition attended on the king as a group once a week, Philip received the recommendations of each body in a written report (known as a 'consulta') to which he would write or dictate the appropriate response. The council secretary would then draft a reply for the king's approval, and send the final version for his signature. Difficult or urgent issues considered by the council would be discussed with either its secretary or its president in individual meetings (which might last for two hours) or handled via 'billetes', the legion of memoranda that provide our principal source on the king's thoughts and decisions (Plate 7).

    The council secretaries possessed great power. First, they dealt directly with those who came to Court on council business -- even ambassadors in the case of the council of State (when Secretary of State Antonio Perez fell from power in 1579 the representatives of Genoa learned that no Italian political business could be resolved until the king appointed his successor). Second, secretaries had orders to highlight pressing affairs and refer them to the king for immediate attention: as the king wrote to a council secretary in 1583, 'Although I am busy, if the matter is urgent and needs to be seen, send it to me here, even though it is in draft.' When time was deemed to be of the essence, Philip even allowed a final version of an order or letter to be submitted for his signature, along with the supporting consulta. Finally, council secretaries not only chose which letters and papers to show to the king and which to summarize, they also determined when he would see them. In May 1574, although the war in the Netherlands occupied almost all of the king's waking hours, his private secretary still forwarded a dossier with a cover note that read: 'Although I see how occupied you are with the Low Countries, and that the crisis there leaves little time to deal with other things, I thought I should bring to Your Majesty's attention this letter from Don Diego de Mendoza ...' On occasion secretaries might also withhold letters addressed to the king. Thus in 1576 Antonio Perez informed Don John of Austria (Philip's brother) that he had 'resolved not to show to His Majesty' a letter in which Don John 'spoke ill of the marquis of Mondejar [viceroy of Naples], something unworthy of the person who wrote it and of the person to whom he wrote'; and three years later he informed the Spanish ambassador in Paris that 'our master is very pleased with your letters, and has seen all of them -- I mean the ones that he ought to see'. In 1588 Perez's successor, Don Juan de Idiaquez, likewise intercepted and suppressed a letter addressed to the king by the duke of Medina Sidonia, declining his appointment to command the Spanish Armada and expressing serious doubts about the wisdom of the enterprise itself. 'We did not dare to show His Majesty what you have just written', Idiaquez and his colleague Don Cristobal de Moura announced, and went on to rebuff the duke for his pusillanimity: 'Do not depress us with fears for the fate of the Armada, because in such a [just] cause God will make sure it succeeds.'

    Other defects marred the conciliar system. For example, some councillors used their position in order to favour or discredit other ministers, especially those serving abroad. In the 1560s two factions developed, one centred around Ruy Gomez de Silva, the king's groom of the Stole (sumiller de corps) whom court protocol required never to let the king out of his sight, the other around the duke of Alba, the head of the royal household. Each man tried to gain the king's support for his candidates and policies at the expense of the other, causing all ministers to tread carefully. Thus in 1565 the duke of Alba refused to share his views on the correct policy to be followed in the Netherlands with Ruy Gomez, although both men served on the council of State, and the secretary of the council told the king that 'I do not know whether he will even tell me'. Ten years later Don Luis de Requesens, governor-general of the Netherlands (the most powerful overseas executive position in the Monarchy), worried about maintaining his credit at Court. To this end he began to write directly to the king so that criticisms of the policies of his predecessor, the duke of Alba, would not be seen by the council of State (on which Alba sat); and he devoted considerable time to analysing whether his conduct might offend any prominent courtier, who would then criticize his policies and thus jeopardize their outcome (and his standing with the monarch). A few years later, the unpopularity of Antonio Perez became so great that one colleague, Mateo Vazquez (the king's private secretary and chaplain), left the Court and another, Gabriel de Zayas (also a cleric and Perez's predecessor as secretary of state, subsequently demoted to secretary of the council of Italy), refused to speak with him when they met in the palace. The impasse only ended with Perez's dismissal. Even given harmonious relations between ministers, so many persons reported directly and separately to the king that confusion could easily arise. According to one adviser, in 1565:

His Majesty makes mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes, in many matters because he handles them with different people, sometimes with one, at other times with another, concealing something from one minister but revealing other things. It is therefore small wonder that different and even contradictory orders are issued ... It cannot fail to cause grave problems for the conduct of business and many inconveniences.

    In the course of his reign Philip introduced certain procedures to deal with these various defects. First, a number of key advisers served on several councils -- a position on both State and War, or on Indies and Finance, was common; a seat on State, War and Finance was not unknown -- so that they knew what was happening in other advisory bodies and could, at least in theory, help to coordinate affairs. For example Francisco de Erasso, who had served the Spanish Habsburgs for thirty years, had by 1559 become the secretary of no fewer than six councils and a member of two more. Such overlaps served a useful purpose because, otherwise, the councils operated almost entirely in the dark: each body dealt directly with the king, without knowing what other organs might be doing. Thus, in the felicitous formulation of a modern historian, 'The council of Finance had no idea where the money was going, nor the council of War when it was coming'.

    As the volume of incoming papers began to rise, however, the pressure on individuals holding many posts, like Erasso, became intolerable and so Philip introduced another administrative innovation. Between 1566 and 1572 Cardinal Diego de Espinosa, president of the council of Castile and Inquisitor-General, became an 'alter ego' -- in the words of Ambassador Fourquevaux, 'another king in this Court' -- and courtiers advised their friends abroad to run everything of importance past Espinosa because 'he is the man in all Spain in whom the king places most confidence and with whom he discusses most business, concerning both Spain and foreign affairs'. The cardinal did not sit on many councils, however: instead he kept abreast of business through a series of informal committees, known as 'juntas'. Thus in 1571, following the conclusion of the 'Holy League' with Venice and the Papacy against the Turks, a 'committee of two' (one of them Espinosa) reviewed all reports arriving from Italy and recommended appropriate actions in the naval campaign that culminated in the battle of Lepanto. When Espinosa died, ministers speculated on who would succeed to 'the superintendence of matters of war, state and finance, the handling of consultas and all the rest of the burden [of business] which the cardinal carried'. The king, however, decided not to delegate the same degree of power to anyone else. 'I believed that it was right to entrust many matters which concerned my royal office to the cardinal', he informed Espinosa's successor as president of the council of Castile. 'And perhaps good reasons existed for it then. But experience has shown that it was not a good thing; and although it meant more leisure and less work for me, I do not think it should be allowed to continue.'

    Instead of an 'alter ego' or Favourite -- the system that his son and grandson would later adopt -- Philip chose to work after 1572 with a 'chief of staff': Espinosa's senior clerk, Mateo Vazquez, almost immediately became the king's private secretary and, for most of the period until 1585, played a leading role in deciding what matters should be handled by the juntas -- for that part of Espinosa's system survived him -- and who should serve on them. He also often acted as their secretary and arranged both their timetable and their agenda. In addition, Vazquez handled the king's extensive 'private' correspondence. Vazquez sometimes received orders to drop everything and read important incoming papers at once -- 'Look at these while I eat and take a siesta, and send them to me for when I awake, so I can see them and decide what to do about them' -- because almost from the beginning of his reign Philip allowed his ministers, whether at Court or abroad, to write to him directly if they had a problem that they deemed confidential, in effect short-circuiting the entire central bureaucracy. He told them: 'You may also put on the envelope "to be placed in the king's hands", because I have ordered that such letters should be brought to me sealed so that, when I have seen the contents, I can arrange what is most convenient for my service.'

    Inevitably some ministers abused the system but they did not do so for long. Thus in 1574 the king sharply rebuked the governor of Milan:

I told you [when I appointed you] what you might write 'to be placed in the king's hands', and it applied only to what I said in that letter. These matters should not be confused with those to be handled by the councils, which could reply to you better, confining yourself in letters 'to be placed in the king's hands' solely to details that could better inform me, and which you can see should not be known to others.

(Continues ...)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgements xi
Foreword to the Paperback Edition xii
Note on Conventions xiii
Preface xv
Chronology xxi
Introduction: Did Philip II Have a Grand Strategy? 1(10)
Part I: The Context of Strategic Culture 11(100)
'The Largest Brain in the World'
Distance: Public Enemy Number 1?
'With God on Our Side'
Part II: The Formation of Grand Strategy 111(94)
'The Great Bog of Europe': the Netherlands, 1555--77
The 'British Problem', 1558--85
The 'Enterprise of England', 1585--88
Part III: The Execution of Grand Strategy 205(92)
The Worst-kept Secret in Europe?
Was Parma Ready?
The Guns of August
After the Armada
Conclusion: Agent and Structure
Notes 297(100)
Note on Sources 397(10)
Bibliography 407(28)
Index 435

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Paul Kennedy

This is a deeply researched, sublime and immensely satisfying analysis of the policies of one of the most important figures in western and world history during the past one-thousand years.

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