Philip II of Spain was the only male child of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles, who reigned over an empire stretching from Germany to Spain, V to reach adulthood. Born in Valladolid on 21st May 1527 Philip was early schooled in statecraft and remained dependent upon his father into adulthood. In 1543, at the age of 16 Philip was appointed regent in Spain.
In 1548 Charles prepared a comprehensive review of all the problems facing him throughout the empire and its neighbours and rivals and sent a copy to Philip. Philip was urged to make the defence of the Catholic faith his primary responsibility. Throughout his life Philip used this ‘political testament’ as a blueprint for statesmanship. He claimed that when he followed his father’s suggestions matters went as planned. It was when he diverted from the testament that his plans went awry. The testament recommended avoiding war where at all possible, an ironic message given that across all of Philip’s domains were completely free from fighting during a six month period in the late 1570s.
Charles abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor on 25th October 1555, having given his Spanish Dominions to Philip. Charles’s ensured that his brother Ferdinand was his successor, retaining a Hapsburg on the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.
Maria Manuela of Portugal
Born on 15th October 1527 Maria Manuela of Portugal was married to her cousin Philip. The two cousins shared identical sets of grandparents. Maria Manuela was the daughter of the King John III of Portugal and his wife Catherine, a Spanish infanta.
Maria died on 12th August 1545 a few days after giving birth to Don Carlos, who was deformed. Carlos died at the age of 24, having been imprisoned by his father for mental instability.
Philip waited another nine years before marrying again, which is surprising given the high rates of infant mortality throughout most of recorded history.
Philip’s marriage to the new queen of England was a match proposed by his father, still very much a controlling influence in his life. Charles V had originally thought of marrying Mary himself to safeguard his lands in the Low Countries (he was only 16 years older than Mary). He then had a change of heart and suggested to Mary that Philip should be the bridegroom. Charles was a child of the Netherlands, but Philip had been brought up a Spaniard. Philip accepted his father’s instruction to marry his cousin Mary, who was eleven years older than himself.
Mary I was the oldest child of Henry VIII of England and succeeded to the throne on the death of her brother Edward VI. Mary’s mother was Katherine of Aragon whose parents, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, were Philip’s great-grandparents on both the maternal and paternal side of his family.
Mary had been brought up a Catholic by her mother and had the greatest distaste for Protestantism. The split with Rome in England enabled Mary’s father to divorce her mother, to marry her stepmother Anne Boleyn. Mary is known in England as ‘Bloody Mary’ as a result of the large numbers of her subjects, including an archbishop, killed for refusing to recant their beliefs. Following her ascension to the throne Mary initially proposed that she would not impose her religion on her subjects. But this sensible course of action was soon overturned.
In 1554 Philip was made king of Naples and inherited his father’s claims to the kingdom of Jerusalem. This was to make him a king in his own right and Mary’s equal. The couple married in July 1554, a year after Mary’s accession to the throne. Philip became King of England as Mary’s husband. The marriage was very unpopular with the English (the announcement of the marriage brought insurrections in the county). Mary loved Philip with all the desperation of a not very attractive woman, who may have believed her husband desired her younger and more attractive half-sister Elizabeth.
Philip must have seen supporting Mary to return her country to the true faith as a God-given task. He had already been enjoined by his father to be a defender of the Catholic faith. This support was to be fatal to Mary’s desire to be loved by her subjects. Support for her half-sister swelled as the arrests and burnings increased in an attempt to force the truth of the Catholic church’s teachings on an increasingly rebellious population.
Mary and Philip spent much of their marriage apart, although Philip spent some time in England when they were first married. In September 1554 Mary stopped menstruating and she exhibited all the symptoms of pregnancy. Philip was to be regent if Mary died in childbirth. Mary is believed to have suffered a phantom pregnancy and the symptoms did not fade away until July 1555.
In 1557 Mary believed she was pregnant again following a visit from Philip, but again there was no child. She is believed to have had uterine cancer or ovarian cysts. Mary’s died in the absence of her beloved husband on 17th November 1558, possibly from influenza that was sweeping the country, while suffering some form of cancer. She had finally realised that her only heir was her sister Elizabeth.
Elisabeth de Valois
In 1559 Philip married the daughter of Henri II of France, who was originally betrothed to Don Carlos, as part of the conditions of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, ending the animosity between France and Spain, which had been rumbling on since before Philip’s ascension to the throne in 1555. The two countries were fighting in Italy and the treaty required the French to depart from the Duchy of Savoy, but they received Calais from the English as part of their spoils.
Elisabeth de Valois was 14 when she married Philip, but she seems to have been happy enough with her husband, who was over twice her age.
When Elisabeth came to Spain a number of her father’s subjects made the journey too. In the 1560s, in the Toledo area, a number of these immigrants were accused of heresy by the Inquisition.
In 1564 Elisabeth was miscarried of twin girls. In 1566 Elisabeth gave birth to a daughter Isabella and the following year had another daughter Catherine. Elisabeth died on 3rd October 1568 as the result of a miscarriage, having gained a lot of weight which greatly concerned her mother Catherine de Medici. Elisabeth left Philip with two young daughters in addition to the increasingly unstable Don Carlos, who believed himself in love with his step-mother. After her death Philip was offered her sister Marguerite; an offer he refused as he believed that marrying his dead wife’s sister was against canon law.
The Netherlands rose in revolt against rule from Spain in 1568, only finding complete freedom eighty years later. The question of religion for the Protestant citizens of the north of the Low Countries was also an issue.
Anna of Austria
Instead of Marguerite de Valois Philip contracted to marry Anna of Austria. Anna was Philip’s niece and cousin. Born in 1549 Anna had been proposed as a bride for Carlos. Instead she married Philip, 22 years her senior, in a proxy ceremony in May 1570. The Pope had objected to the marriage, but his objection would appear to have been withdrawn. Anna was born in Spain but at the age of four was moved to Vienna.
Anna and Philip had a relatively happy marriage. Anna had five children, her sons Charles and Ferdinand predeceased her, while her son Diego died two years after her death. Only Philip survived both parents. Anna was a good stepmother to her predecessor’s two daughters.
Anna died of heart failure eight months after the birth of her fifth child, Maria who died within three years of her mother’s death.
The Death of Philip
Philip died of cancer in 1598 at the age of 71, an absolute monarch as he had been since the abdication of his father. His death was incredibly painful and at the end Philip was in such great pain that he could not be moved even to be cleaned. A hole had to be cut in the mattress of his bed to allow the removal of urine and faeces.
He outlived all four of his wives, a not unnatural occurrence at a time when many married women died in childbirth. Queens were under enormous pressure to provide heirs for their adopted countries. Of all the children produced by Philip’s four wives he was survived by Isabella sovereign of the Netherlands, one of his daughters by Elisabeth of Valois; and by his son Philip by his wife Anna, who was to rule Spain as Philip III.
But Philip and Anna both carried the fatal taint of Juana la loca (who spent much of her reign as Queen of Castile interned in a nunnery suffering from insanity) and the intermarriages within the Hapsburg family exacerbated this trait. This madness manifested itself most strongly in the incompetent reign of Carlos II, whose death in 1700 precipitated the Seven Year’s War, leading to an extension of the Bourbon interests in Europe.
The Mediterranean – Fernand Braudel, Fontana 1975
Catherine de Medici – Leonie Frieda, Phoenix 2005
The Spanish Inquisition – Henry Kamen, Phoenix 1998
The Grand Strategy of Philip II – Geoffrey Parker, Yale University Press 1998
Mary Tudor – HFM Prescott, Phoenix 2003