“It is best to keep an eye on everything,” Philip II of Spain often said—and he meant it. As king of the most powerful nation in Europe, he gave little time to pleasure. Instead, he plowed through a mountain of paperwork each day, making notes on even the most trivial matters. But Philip’s determination to “keep an eye on everything” extended far beyond trivia. It helped him build Spain into a strong centralized state. By the late 1500s, he had concentrated all power in his own hands. Over the next 200 years, other European monarchs would pursue similar goals.
Charles V Inherits Two Crowns
In 1516, Ferdinand and Isabella’s grandson, Charles I, became king of Spain, and thereby ruler of the Spanish colonies in the Americas as well.
Ruling the Hapsburg Empire When his other grandfather died in 1519, Charles I also became heir to the sprawling Hapsburg empire, which included the Holy Roman Empire and the Netherlands. As ruler of this empire, Charles took the name Charles V. Historians now usually refer to him by this title.
Ruling two empires involved Charles in constant warfare. As a devout Catholic, he fought to suppress Protestantism in the Ger-man states. After years of religious conflict, however, Charles was forced to allow the German princes to choose their own religion. Review: What was that peace treaty called?
Charles also faced the Muslim Ottoman empire, which was based in Turkey but stretched across the Balkans. Under Sule- iman, Ottoman forces advanced across central Europe to the walls surrounding Vienna, Austria. Although Austria held firm during the siege, the Ottomans occupied much of Hungary following their crushing victory at the Battle of Mohács. Ottoman naval forces also continued to challenge Spanish power in the Mediterranean.
Charles V Abdicates The Hapsburg empire proved to be too scattered and cumbersome for any one person to rule effectively. Exhausted and disillusioned, Charles V gave up his titles and entered a monastery in 1556. He divided his empire, leaving the Hapsburg lands in central Europe to his brother Ferdinand, who became Holy Roman emperor. He gave Spain, the Netherlands, some southern Italian states, and Spain’s overseas empire to his 29-year-old son Philip, who became Philip II.
During his 42-year reign, Philip II expanded Spanish influence, strengthened the Catholic Church, and made his own power absolute. Thanks in part to silver from Spanish colonies in the Americas, he made Spain the foremost power in Europe.
Centralizing Power Like his father, Philip II was hard working, devout, and ambitious. Unlike many other monarchs, Philip devoted most of his time to government work. He seldom hunted, never jousted, and lived as simply as a monk. The King’s isolated, somber palace out- side Madrid, known as the Escorial (es kohr YAHL), reflected his character. It served as a church, a residence, and a tomb for the royal family.
Philip surpassed Ferdinand and Isabella in making every part of the government responsible to him. He reigned as an absolute monarch, a ruler with complete authority over the government and the lives of the people. Like other European rulers, Philip asserted that he ruled by divine right. That is, he believed that his authority to rule came directly from God. Philip therefore saw himself as the guardian of the Roman Catholic Church. The great undertaking of his life was to defend the Catholic Reformation and turn back the rising Protestant tide in Europe. Within his empire, Philip enforced religious unity, turning the Inquisition against Protestants and other people thought to be heretics.
Review: Which territory in Southeast Asia is named after Philip?
Battles in the Mediterranean and the Netherlands Philip fought many wars as he attempted to advance Spanish Catholic power. In the Mediterranean, the Ottoman empire continued to pose a threat to Euro- pean control of the region. At the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, Spain and its Italian allies soundly defeated an Ottoman fleet off the coast of Greece. Although the Ottoman Empire would remain a major power in the Medi- terranean region for three more centuries, Christians still hailed the battle as a great victory and a demonstration of Spain’s power.
During the last half of his reign, Philip battled rebels in the Nether- lands. At the time, the region included 17 provinces that are today Bel- gium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. It was the richest part of Philip’s empire. Protestants in the region resisted Philip’s efforts to crush their faith. Protestants and Catholics alike opposed high taxes and autocratic Spanish rule, which threatened local traditions of self-government.
In the 1560s, riots against the Inquisition sparked a general uprising in the Netherlands. Savage fighting raged for decades. In 1581, the northern, largely Protestant provinces declared their independence from Spain and became known as the Dutch Netherlands. They did not gain official recognition, however, until 1648. The southern, mostly Catholic provinces of the Netherlands remained part of the Spanish Empire.
The Armada Sails Against EnglandBy the 1580s, Philip saw England’s Queen Elizabeth I as his chief Protestant enemy. First secretly, then openly, Elizabeth had supported the Dutch against Spain. She encouraged English captains such as Francis Drake, known as sea dogs, to plunder Spanish treasure ships and loot Spanish cities in the Americas. To Philip’s dismay, Elizabeth made the pirate Drake a knight.
To end English attacks and subdue the Dutch, Philip prepared a huge armada, or fleet, to carry a Spanish invasion force to England. In 1588, the Spanish Armada sailed with more than 130 ships, 20,000 men, and 2,400 pieces of artillery. The Span- ish were confident of victory. “When we meet the English,” predicted one Spanish commander, “God will surely arrange matters so that we can grapple and board them, either by sending some strange freak of weather or, more likely, just by depriving the English of their wits.”
This prediction did not come to pass. In the English Channel, lumbering Spanish ships were outmaneu- vered by the lighter, faster English ships. Strong winds favored the English, scattering the Armada. After further disasters at sea, the tattered remnants limped home in defeat.
An Empire Declines The defeat of the Armada marked the beginning of the end of Spanish power. Throughout the 1600s, Spain’s strength and prosper- ity decreased. One reason for this decline was that Philip II’s successors ruled far less ably than he had
Economic problems were also to blame. Costly overseas wars drained wealth out of Spain almost as fast as it came in. Treasure from the Amer- icas led Spain to neglect farming and commerce. The government heavily taxed the small middle class, weakening a group that in other European nations supported royal power. The expulsion of Muslims and Jews from Spain deprived the economy of many skilled artisans and merchants. Finally, the influx of American gold and silver led to soaring inflation.
As Spain’s power dwindled in the 1600s and 1700s, Dutch, English, and French fleets challenged—and eventually surpassed—Spanish power both in Europe and around the world.
What were Philip II’s motivations for waging war?
Spain’s Golden Age
The century from 1550 to 1650 is often referred to as Spain’s Siglo de Oro (SEEG loh day OHR oh), or “golden century,” for the brilliance of its arts and literature. Philip II was an enthusiastic patron of the arts and also founded academies of science and mathematics.
Among the famous painters of this period was a man called El Greco, meaning “the Greek.” Though not Spanish by birth, El Greco is consid- ered to be a master of Spanish painting. Born on the Greek island of Crete, El Greco had studied in Italy before settling in Spain. He pro- duced haunting religious pictures and striking portraits of Spanish nobles. El Greco’s use of vibrant colors influenced the work of Diego Velázquez (vuh LAHS kes), court painter to King Philip IV. Velázquez is perhaps best known for his vivid portraits of Spanish royalty.
Spain’s golden century produced several outstanding writers. Lope de Vega (LOH pay duh VAY guh), a peasant by birth, wrote more than 1,500 plays, including witty comedies and action-packed romances. Miguel de Cervantes (sur VAN teez) was the most important writer of Spain’s golden age. His Don Quixote, which pokes fun at medieval tales of chivalry, is con- sidered to be Europe’s first modern novel. Although Don Quixote mocks the traditions of Spain’s feudal past, Cervantes depicts with affection both the foolish but heroic idealism of Don Quixote and the unromantic, earthy realism of his sidekick, Sancho Panza.
Questions: (Answer on a separate sheet of paper).
1. What were the advantages and drawbacks of Philip “keeping an eye on everything”?
2. With whom did Charles V go to war? What were the main reasons for these wars?
3. What types of challenges did Charles V face as king? Identify at least 3 challenges. Why did Charles V divide the Hapsburg Empire?
4. How did Philip ensure absolute power? How did he try to further Catholicism?
5. What was Philip’s main military victory?What were his two major defeats? Discuss whether he was more successful overall than his father had been.
6. Why were the Ottomans and Protestants both threats to Philip’s kingdom/rule?
7. Why did Philip II hate Elizabeth I so much? Side note: Philip II was also the husband to Mary Tudor—how might this have influenced his feelings towards Elizabeth?
8. How did Spain’s colonies in the Americas lead to its economic decline?
9. Compare and ContrastHow were Charles V and Philip II alike and different in their goals of ensuring absolute power and strengthening Catholicism?
10. Summarize Why is the period from 1550 to 1650 considered Spain’s golden age?
11. Synthesize Information Why did Spanish power and prosperity decline?