Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II

Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II

by Geoffrey Parker


View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, August 28


A vast archive of documents, unread since the sixteenth century, revises the portrait of Spain’s best-known king

Philip II is not only the most famous king in Spanish history, but one of the most famous monarchs in English history: the man who married Mary Tudor and later launched the Spanish Armada against her sister Elizabeth I. This compelling biography of the most powerful European monarch of his day begins with his conception (1526) and ends with his ascent to Paradise (1603), two occurrences surprisingly well documented by contemporaries. Eminent historian Geoffrey Parker draws on four decades of research on Philip as well as a recent, extraordinary archival discovery—a trove of 3,000 documents in the vaults of the Hispanic Society of America in New York City, unread since crossing Philip’s own desk more than four centuries ago. Many of them change significantly what we know about the king.
The book examines Philip’s long apprenticeship; his three principal interests (work, play, and religion); and the major political, military, and personal challenges he faced during his long reign. Parker offers fresh insights into the causes of Philip’s leadership failures: was his empire simply too big to manage, or would a monarch with different talents and temperament have fared better?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300216950
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 11/24/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 456
Sales rank: 616,790
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Geoffrey Parker is Distinguished University Professor, Andreas Dorpalen Professor of European History, and associate of the Mershon Center, Ohio State University.

Read an Excerpt

Imprudent King

A New Life of Philip II

By Geoffrey Parker


Copyright © 2014 Geoffrey Parker
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-300-21044-6


Apprenticeship, 1527–1543

On 10 March 1526 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and ruler of Spain, Mexico, the Netherlands and much of Italy, rode into the bustling city of Seville for the first time. Still in his travelling clothes and covered in dust, he dismounted in the courtyard of the royal palace and strode into the room where Princess Isabella of Portugal, his cousin, was waiting. The pope had already sent a dispensation to permit the two cousins to marry in Lent, and their representatives had already signed the marriage contract; so, after 15 minutes of polite conversation with the fiancée he had never seen, Charles changed into his finest clothes, attended a nuptial mass and danced. Then at 2 a.m. the couple went to bed and consummated their union.

The first weeks of married life for the imperial couple proved idyllic. They stayed 'in bed until 11 or 12' each morning and gave 'every sign of contentment' after they emerged. They and their retinue then travelled slowly to Granada to pay their respects to their common ancestors buried in the cathedral, planning to continue their stately progress to Barcelona whence Charles would depart to lead a crusade against the Ottoman Turks, leaving his wife to govern Spain; but then news arrived that King Francis I of France had declared war on him. This precluded the emperor's departure from Spain. He and his wife therefore spent the next six months in Granada, hoping that the international situation would improve, and in the Alhambra high above the city the future Philip II was conceived. The English ambassador was the first to find out. 'The empress is with child, at which all the people are delighted,' he wrote on 30 September 1526 – the first known mention of the future king. The empress remained in Granada, resting, until early the following year when she travelled slowly to join her husband in Valladolid, then the administrative capital of Castile.

As is often the case with a first child, the empress was in labour for many hours. She asked for a veil to be placed over her face, so that no one would see her agony; and when a midwife urged her to give full vent to her feelings the empress replied sternly: 'I would rather die. Don't talk to me like that: I may die, but I will not cry out'. Philip entered the world around 4 p.m. on 21 May 1527. Many Spaniards had expected the prince to receive one of the traditional names of the peninsular dynasties, such as Fernando or Juan, but Charles insisted on calling his firstborn after his own father, and so at the baptism ceremony two weeks later the royal heralds shouted three times: 'Philip, by the grace of God prince of Spain!' But Philip was heir to far more than Spain.

The inheritance

Dynastic accident had brought together in the person of Charles V four separate inheritances. From his father's father, Emperor Maximilian of Austria, Charles received the ancestral Habsburg lands in central Europe; from his father's mother, Mary of Burgundy, he inherited numerous duchies, counties and lordships in the Netherlands and the Franche-Comté of Burgundy. From his mother's mother, Queen Isabella the Catholic, Charles received Castile and its outposts in North Africa, the Caribbean and Central America; from his mother's father, Ferdinand the Catholic, he inherited Aragon and the Aragonese dominions of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia. Charles soon added more territories to this impressive core of patrimonial states: several provinces in the Netherlands by treaty; the duchy of Lombardy in Italy when its native dynasty died out; and Tunis in North Africa by conquest. Most spectacular of all, in the Americas, about 2,000 of his Spanish subjects destroyed the Aztec empire and occupied an area eight times the size of Castile, whence fewer than 200 of them began the conquest of the Inca empire in Peru. In 1535, as he entered the city of Messina in Sicily, Charles V saw for the first time the felicitous phrase coined by the Roman poet Virgil for the possessions of the Emperor Augustus, fifteen centuries before: A SOLIS ORTU AD OCCASUM, 'from the rising to the setting of the sun' – or, as his 'spin doctors' would put it, 'an empire on which the sun never set'.

No European ruler had ever controlled such extensive territories, and the absence of precedents helps to explain the apparently haphazard nature of decision-making by the Spanish Habsburgs: they had no choice but to improvise and experiment, to test different techniques of government as they went along, to learn by trial and (sometimes) error. In any case, prior experience might not have helped, because for most of his reign Charles faced an unprecedented combination of enemies: two religious, the Protestants and the Papacy, and two political, France and the Ottoman empire.

A dangerous synergy between these enemies occurred after Maximilian died in January 1519, leaving two important items of unfinished business. The late emperor had failed to silence Dr Martin Luther, a professor at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony who wrote pamphlets and speeches to mobilize public support for his claims that the Papacy was corrupt and required urgent reform. Maximilian had also failed to arrange for Charles to succeed him as Holy Roman Emperor, paramount ruler of Germany, and throughout the spring and summer of 1519, Charles and Francis I paid huge sums of money to the seven Electors (Kurfürsten) who would choose the 'king of the Romans' (emperor-elect, pending papal coronation). Eventually, Charles won the contest, so that his territories now surrounded France to the north, east and south. In 1521 Francis declared war, and for over a century the kings of France would strive to end what they saw as Habsburg encirclement by the various territories inherited or acquired by Charles.

The popes, too, felt threatened by the Imperial election because Charles now ruled not only Sardinia and Spain to the west, and Naples and Sicily to the south, but also the Empire (and, after 1535, Milan) in the north. Moreover, Rome depended on grain exports from Sicily, while its entire commerce by sea and land lay at the mercy of the surrounding Habsburg bases. Papal support for the 'crusades' by Charles (and later by his son) against both Muslims and Protestants therefore tended to remain muted for fear that any further success would tighten their grip on Rome. The Ottoman sultans also saw Charles as their natural enemy. In the course of his long reign (1520–66), Suleiman the Magnificent led his troops up the Danube five times, on each occasion gaining lands either from the Habsburgs or from their allies. Only his need to deal with other foreign and domestic enemies prevented further advances.

Domestic enemies periodically distracted Charles, too. To begin with, the death of his grandfather Ferdinand of Aragon in 1516 left a contested inheritance. Although Ferdinand's marriage to Isabella of Castile had created a dynastic union, it left intact the institutions, laws, currency and judicial structure of each of their possessions – Castile, Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and Navarre (annexed by Ferdinand in 1512) – and the powers and policies of the crown differed in each area. Above all, although Ferdinand had been king consort of Castile during Isabella's lifetime, when she died in 1504 his title lapsed and the crown passed to the couple's oldest child, Juana, and her husband Philip of Habsburg, ruler of the Netherlands, Charles's parents.

Juana, unlike her mother, showed neither desire nor aptitude for government and so Ferdinand and Philip vied for control of Castile. Philip won – but almost immediately died, whereupon Ferdinand dismissed the officials appointed by his son-in-law, most of whom (later known as 'Philippists') fled to the court of the young Charles in the Netherlands, where they spent the next decade plotting revenge. Ferdinand also placed Juana, although 'queen proprietress' of Castile, in preventive custody and acted as 'governor' of the kingdom. In his last testament he named Charles his sole heir and in 1517 the prince and the 'Philippists' arrived from the Netherlands to take charge. Two years later Charles's election as Holy Roman Emperor obliged him to return to northern Europe to restore order in Germany, and in his absence major anti-Habsburg uprisings broke out in Mallorca, Sicily, Valencia and, above all, Castile, where rebels known as the Comuneros sought to make Juana queen in fact as well as name. The emperor's return to Spain in 1522 restored order there, but four years later Habsburg military and financial support failed to prevent Suleiman from advancing into Hungary. In desperation, Charles offered the Lutherans of Germany toleration in return for military assistance against the Turks. The spread of Protestant ideas now accelerated both within and beyond Germany.

'Little Phil'

Charles was powerless to halt these developments because his war with France and several Italian states kept him confined to Spain, so instead he orchestrated displays of rejoicing for the birth of Felipito ('Little Phil') as the emperor's jester called him. According to an ambassador, 'the Emperor is so happy, delighted and proud of his new son that he does nothing but order celebrations'. 'Felipito', of course, remained oblivious to this, and also to the ceremony in Madrid in 1528 at which his future subjects swore allegiance to him as prince of Castile. Instead, his attention focused on those who looked after him.

Charles and Isabella continued to appear in public as 'the happiest spouses in the world', but although the empress doted on her husband, he saw his wife primarily in terms of administration and procreation. Thanks to the wet-nurses, the empress swiftly recovered her fertility and, three months after the prince's birth, Charles left his newly pregnant wife as regent of Castile while he went to Aragon to meet its Cortes (the representative assembly), intending to travel on to Barcelona and thence to Italy; and when hostilities with France once again prevented his departure, he went to Valencia instead of returning to his wife's side. Charles was therefore not present when Isabella gave birth to their second child, María, in June 1528. He returned a few weeks afterwards, but departed nine months later – once again leaving his pregnant wife to serve as regent. This time an advantageous peace with his enemies enabled Charles to sail across the Mediterranean to Italy. Although his new son, Ferdinand, died in infancy, the emperor did not return to see his wife and his surviving children again for four years.

'Felipito' therefore passed most of his infancy without a father. At age two he was weaned, and the following year he and his sister 'spend their time competing to see who has more clothes'. An obsequious courtier informed Charles that his son 'and his crossbow are such a threat to the deer that I fear that when Your Majesty returns [to Spain] you will have nothing left to kill'. Like all small children, the prince had his ups and downs. In 1531, when he 'organized the children' at court for a mock joust 'using lighted candles as lances', everyone laughed. They laughed again when Philip tried to persuade a courtier to accept one of his page boys 'because he had lots of them', and when the courtier refused he offered 'the page to his sister, who had none; and they replied that it was not so easy to find pages. To this he replied angrily "Then find another prince: you will find lots of them in the streets"' (Philip's first recorded dialogue). At other times, however, 'His Highness becomes angry when he does not get to eat what he wants. He can be so tiresome' that his mother 'becomes really annoyed and sometimes smacks him'.

At age four, Philip refused to travel with his mother in her carriage; instead 'he wanted the Infanta [María] to travel in it with him, because he enjoys her company so much – which suggests that he will be quite a lady's man'. The prince also refused to ride his mule side-saddle: 'He would only ride if he had his feet in the stirrups'. On the feast of St James, 1531, for attending a ceremony in a convent at which three young women became nuns, the prince discarded the long robes then worn by infants of both sexes and appeared for the first time in the doublet and hose worn only by boys. Henceforth, although still accompanied everywhere by his mother, her ladies and his sister, the prince began to attend tournaments, festivals and other public activities. He had begun to move from the private to the public stage.

The empress's decision to hold this rite of passage in a convent reflects not only her own devotion but also the pious zeal of the two other women who oversaw the young prince's welfare: Doña Inés Manrique de Lara and Doña Leonor de Mascarenhas. The former, from an eminent Castilian family, had served Isabella the Catholic and then retired to a nunnery, where her exemplary piety earned her the reputation of a holy woman (beata). No doubt it was this that led the empress to summon Doña Inés to court to serve as her son's governess (aya), responsible for his physical and moral welfare. Doña Leonor, who was much younger and had migrated from Portugal to Castile in the empress's entourage, also lived as a beata. Although lacking the official title, she acted as informal governess to the prince. The religious zeal of these two women mirrored that of the empress: practical, ascetic and intense. Before Philip's conception, Isabella ordered special masses to be said to ensure her fertility and made a vow to the church of Santa María la Antigua in Seville that she would give a silver statue of a child as an ex-voto for every child that she conceived (her testament stipulated that five silver statues should be made and delivered to the church). She gave birth surrounded by the collection of relics she had brought with her from Portugal and clutching 'St Elizabeth's girdle', which the mother of John the Baptist had reputedly held during her labour; afterwards she sent the garments that her son had worn before and after his baptism to be blessed by another beata, who sent back some of her own garments so that, according to a chronicler, 'the prince should be swaddled in them and thus protected from attacks by the Devil'.

Philip survived not only 'attacks by the Devil' but also the normal hazards of childhood. One day he strayed outside the railings on the edge of an upper floor of the palace, and such traumatic events, coupled with the death of the empress's second son Fernando, profoundly affected Isabella. Henceforth, she panicked at the slightest illness in her surviving children, especially Philip, and her spirits sagged whenever Charles was away. According to a foreign ambassador, 'her depression stems from the loss of the Infante, who enjoys God's glory, and from the ailments of the prince, but above all from the absence of her husband'. Then, in spring 1533, news arrived that Charles would come to Barcelona, and Isabella set off with her two surviving children to meet him. Philip was by now tall enough and strong enough to ride a horse, but his intellectual development lagged: he still had not learned to read, and his principal exposure to written culture remained oral. He listened to The song of El Cid so often that he knew parts of it by heart: when one of his companions importuned him one day, Philip replied 'You really annoy me, so-and-so; but tomorrow you will kiss my hand', a rebuke clearly based on a passage from the medieval epic, in which King Alfonso tells El Cid

You really annoy me, Rodrigo; Rodrigo, you treat me badly, But tomorrow you will swear allegiance, and then you will kiss my hand.


Excerpted from Imprudent King by Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 2014 Geoffrey Parker. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of illustrations ix

Conventions xiii

Preface xiv

Part I The Threshold of Power

1 Apprenticeship, 1527-1543 3

2 A Renaissance prince, 1543-1551 26

3 The changing face of empire, 1551-1558 41

Part II The King and His World

4 The king at work 61

5 The king and God 80

6 The king at play 100

Part III The First Decade of the Reign

7 Getting a grip, 1558-1561 121

8 I would rather lose a hundred thousand lives if I had them': keeping the faith, 1562-1567 140

9 Family life - and death 156

10 The enigma of Don Carlos 175

Part IV The King Victorious

11 Years of crusade, 1568-1572 195

12 Years of adversity, 1573-1576 213

13 The crisis of the reign, 1576-1577 228

14 Murder most foul? 247

15 Years of triumph, 1578-1585 264

16 'The most potent monarch in Christendom' 282

Part V The King Vanquished

17 The 'Enterprise of England', 1585-1588 305

18 Philip at bay, 1589-1592 324

19 Towards the tomb - and beyond, 1593-1603 341

Epilogue 363

Abbreviations 376

Note on sources 380

Notes 386

Bibliography 414

Acknowledgements 424

Index 428

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews