HOW WAS SUCCESSFUL A RULER WAS PHILIP II?
To fully answer this question it is necessary to truly evaluate each of his policies with dealing his enemies and compatriots both foreign and domestic throughout his reign. This essay will attempt to take each main area of conflict in his life and provide clear indications as to the degree of success that Philip achieved.
Philip’s character itself is a critical as his personality and characteristics convey, not only himself, but also his empire to others. It is believed by some historians that Philip was a far poorer leader than his father, Charles I, who had reigned before him. Philip grew up to be an outsider and carried this flaw with him into leadership. He never fully trusted anyone and so was incapable of calling upon others resources to aid him. He controlled a multi-cultural empire but was held very basic skills in the languages which he needed to communicate with all of his subjects. The only language he spoke fluently was Spanish and he lived in Castille throughout his time at the throne, which made the people from more far-flung areas of his kingdom begin to distrust him, and treat him more as a Castillian than one of their own. He was a devout catholic and a strong belief in ridding the continent of all forms of heresy at any cost, which could often cloud his judgement in making key decisions. All of the above contributed to his troublesome reign as leader.
The moriscos were the Muslim population inhabiting the south of Spain. Throughout Phillip’s reign his primary objective had been to expel all forms of heresy and to have only his own Catholicism as the surviving religion. The moriscos existence had come about through Phillip’s efforts to convert them into the Christian lifestyle. This name was given to the converted Muslims, or ‘new’ Christians. His policy was to attempt to make the moriscos genuine coverts through the teaching and persuasion of catholic missionaries, designed to guide them into their new way of life. This effort was largely a failure as provided that the moriscos went to Christian mass and looked to be practising their new religion, then little more was asked of them. The majority of moriscos retained their old faith in spite of Phillip’s efforts.
It wasn’t until the 1560s that Phillip decided that his policy would have to be changed. A section of the Christian clergy were angry that the moriscos abided in name only and insisted that action needed to be taken. There was a higher military incentive to remove the presence of the moriscos, however. While the battle in the Mediterranean between the Spanish and the Turks raged on, it was feared that the moriscos could become ‘an enemy within’. It was deemed possible that the moriscos would support a Turkish incursion, particularly from North Africa. There was also a chance that they would join with Protestants in Southern France in any attack on Spain itself. Phillip was extremely concerned about Turkish power and agreed that any possibility of a Turkish-morisco alliance would have to be quashed. It is for these reasons that Phillip took the decision to take a sterner approach on the moriscos in Granada.
This new policy began in 1567. The morisocs were completely forbidden to practice any of their own customs including language and dress. They were to suffer severe economic hardships as a result. This brought them to revolt in Granada in 1568. The government was completely unprepared as it was fighting the war in the Netherlands. There was no plan on how to curb the uprising and many paid with their lives. The moriscos eventually lost in 1570.
Phillip’s next policy was to spread the moriscos throughout the Christian population to try to prevent any future hostilities. This met with adverse effects as ‘old’ Christians became angrier at the moriscos turning up on their doorstep. Phillip was encouraged to expel the moriscos completely from his country, but he decided against it as the moriscos in Valencia made up a large portion of the workforce on its estates. Instead the number of missionaries was increased but had little effect.
The main reason why Phillip’s policy of assimilation had failed was because he never thought things through properly. He was always one step behind. In the concoction of his plans, he never seemed to consider the consequences his actions, or lack of, would create. In conclusion his policies failed because he was never completely sure of what he was hoping to achieve.
Phillip believed in no more holy a cause than the battle against the Muslim Turks. Spain was undergoing reconquest of lost lands and so considered the Turks as natural enemies. Unfortunately, Phillip always had other problems in his empire to be able to concentrate fully on the Turkish problem and was not in a position to mount a full-scale attack. Due to this his policy was mainly the defence of Spain in fortifying coasts and to protect his Mediterranean lands.
The Turkish navy was considered vastly superior and it was feared that a large-scale naval invasion could occur at any time. Spain often come under pirate raids and the was the constant threat of morisco co-operation. A Spanish attack was made in 1560 against Tripoli but only the small island of Djerba was captured, and soon lost again. This failure was a blow to Spanish prestige and Phillip began to revise his military strategy. He made the decision that a powerful navy had to be raised to have any chance of success against them. This saw to the development of many more vessels in Spanish shipyards.
In a Barbary pirate raid on Spanish outposts in North Africa, the new fleet was sent into action, and this was done so both quickly and efficiently. This is a good example of Phillip acting decisively when the need arose. Further victories followed as the Spanish defeated the Turks in Naples. This was a huge moral boost for the Spanish people and soldiers.
In 1570 the Spanish garrison at La Goleta was isolated by a take-over in Tunis. Cyprus was also invaded by the Turkish. This led Phillip to form the Holy League, an alliance between Italian States and Spain, thus increasing the defending force available to protect Cyprus. This was an important step for Phillip who was never once to trust the help of others.
Led by Don John of Austria, the fleet set sail and met the Turkish fleet in Greek waters. Victory came to the Christians when John masterminded the battle including the death of a Turkish admiral. The majority of Turkish ships were sunk or captured. Despite the lack of territorial gain for the Spanish, the moral victory was huge. The Turkish fleet had long been considered invincible and now this could be proved otherwise. It was now believed that the Turkish could no longer pose as large a threat to the Mediterranean lands.
The Holy League soon broke up and Phillip once again embroiled in other matters of concern, this time the Protestant challenge in England, France and the Netherlands. The Turkish themselves were also becoming more concerned with enemies on their opposite borders, the Persians. Peace was therefore now a plausibility.
Phillip was largely successful in his dealing with the Turks. He recognised the areas of concern and made decisions to change them. He had regained the support of his subjects and could now move on to concentrate on other affairs.
The unification of the Iberian Peninsula is one of the greatest successes of Phillip’s reign. The area we now know as Portugal existed as an independent state on the borders of Phillip’s home territory of Spain. When the Portuguese King died, the only heir was the aged Cardinal Henry who was expected to live for not much longer. This was the opportunity that Phillip needed to establish a foothold in Portugal. Knowing that soon the Portuguese would need to find a new leader, he began to make plans so that he would be able to step in as quickly as possible once the Cardinal passed away.
Phillip was already a strong candidate for successor without him having to act at all, mainly due to his mother, Isabella’s, influence over the principality. He was widely supported by both nobles and clergy, in particular the influential religious order of the Jesuits. This support had been mostly achieved by Phillip’s forward planning, in the payment of ransoms to the Moors to release said clergymen and nobles after the Battle of Alcazarquivir, and so ensuring their backing and political hospitality. Aides of Phillip were also sent into Portugal long before Henry’s death to pay necessary bribes to people of standing and influence who would go towards providing Phillip’s road to the throne. He had also made certain of the support of trading merchants who would benefit from increased trading opportunities from the Americas once Portugal’s empire had been assimilated into his own. These quick and pre-emptive decisions played a strong role in the eventual success of Phillip, as it was this decisiveness which would give him the edge over his rivals.
His main challenger to the throne was Antonio, Prior of Crato, who was the illegitimate son of Cardinal Henry’s brother. Phillip had begun to gather an army, under the command of the Duke of Alba in the event that an invasion proved necessary, which it soon did. When Henry died, no decision had yet been made about his successor, so Phillip stepped in with force. He soon captured Lisbon and defeated Antonio’s less prepared army, who was then forced to flee to France. Portugal had become part of Phillip’s empire.
Once he was ruler of Portugal he made every effort necessary to ensure that he retained the respect and support of his subjects. Portugal still existed independently in all but name alone. Phillip allowed the people to keep all their own customs and heritage they had held for years before. The Portuguese kept their own language, laws and even coinage. On Phillip’s arrival he even took it upon himself to don the native dress and also shaved his beard. He liked Portugal so much that he resided there throughout 1580-83. He appointed a well-respected archduke to govern Portugal in his absence, Albert, and he did so both well and efficiently.
Phillip had achieved several things from this political conquest. Finally the Iberian Peninsula had one grand ruler, which had been a long-term aspiration of Phillip. It was very important that not only was Portugal itself acquired, but its entire empire as well, effectively doubling Phillip’s territories. This opened up a greater level of trade and also gave Spain a more dominating power. Portugal could also be used as a base for attack on any Northern European foe should the need arise in the future. Just as the moriscos had posed a threat to Phillip in Granada, it was also a possibility that Portugal could be influenced, another problem which was dealt with after the take-over. The key area of the Portuguese Azores also gave important bases to Spanish fleets sailing from the Indies. Phillip had been decisive when necessary and knew exactly what he was hoping to achieve. He had been ruthless in the execution of his plans, and out-thought his opponents. This was truly a success in the reign of Phillip II.
Up to Philip’s reign, the nations of Spain and England had never had any particular conflict to speak of. This was mainly due to the representation that England posed, as a useful ally of Spain against their common enemy, the French. The first direct co-operation between the two came in 1554 with the marriage of Philip to Mary I of England. This eventuated in Philip becoming King of England, but in name only, for he held little influence and popularity amongst the English people. This ill-feeling was not helped by Spain involving England in the war against France.
Mary I died in 1558 from stomach cancer and her half-sister, Elizabeth, succeeded her to the throne. Even though Elizabeth was believed to be a Protestant, Philip was eager to offer his support and keep relations good between the nations. This was mainly due to his desire to keep Mary, Queen of Scots away from the English crown, who he feared held strong allegiances with the French.
Relations began to slowly deteriorate through the 1560s as the English were responsible for many pirate raids capturing Spanish treasure in the Indies. The most notable exploit was that of Francis Drake’s expedition in the years 1576-81. Elizabeth had given her unofficial support to Drake and this heightened the already existing anxiety.
The most obvious trigger point for the future conflicts is the invasion of Alba’s army into the Netherlands in 1567. This caused great tension in England, where Elizabeth was fearful of Spanish troops so close to her borders. England also had close links with the growing number of heretics in the Netherlands. In 1568, Elizabeth took the step of confiscating several Spanish ships who had moored in English ports following a storm at sea. The ships were carrying resources destined to supply the Spanish war effort in the Netherlands. On top of this, in the early 1570s Elizabeth began to offer financial support to the Dutch rebels and paid for mercenaries to be sent there to protect the Protestant cause.
An official war between Spain and England was confirmed in 1585 when Philip seized English ships in Spanish ports for retaliation for their piracies in the Indies. Elizabeth began to fear a Spanish victory in the Netherlands, which would inevitably lead to an invasion of England itself. She signed a treaty with the rebels and sent more money and a further 6,000 soldiers, and a year later, an official English army.
Philip prepared for a Spanish armada to be sent to attack and invade England. It was believed by some that Philip, who knew who was quickly ageing, wanted to end his reign with a final decisive victory in the name of Spain and Catholicism. The pope believed that Philip was moved only by considerations of ‘global strategy and revenge’.
The armada of 1588 failed. More than half of the ships sent were destroyed and 15,000 Spanish troops lost. Although it was a comprehensive loss for Spain, Philip was graceful in defeat. He accepted his failures and that he had been unable to break English allegiances with the rebels. Instead he made plans for further armadas to attack Ireland, which would be used as a base of attack against England. These too failed, mainly due to unreliable weather. England was a remaining blot on Philip’s mind which he could not overcome, all the way up to his death.
So it becomes apparent, that while Philip may not have been at his most effective consistently throughout his reign, he also showed signs of an evolved skill for leadership. The most clinical point is that Philip appeared to learn from his mistakes in the past and make changes in his political and military thinking to manipulate a situation to his advantage. The true indication of success can be determined by comparing the state of his empire and either chronological end of his reign. Under Charles, the Holy Roman Empire may well have fared better, but Philip in time began to account for the all the problems which his coronation had inevitably created. However deep the effects Philip left upon his contemporaries, he was to leave a legacy that would never be forgotten.