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The accession of Philip II in 1556 Essay

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When Philip became king in 1556, he inherited one of the largest empires in Europe. However with an empire meant he faced many threats from foreign countries.

Philip was concerned about his Mediterranean possessions due to the threat from the Turks. He had to deal with their attacks and also pirate raids on Spain’s southern coastline, and there was also continuous fear of the spread of Islam from the Muslim Turks.

There were also fears of France, which was Spain’s traditional enemy as the two countries bordered each other. The Habsburg-Valois wars had dragged on for decades and Philip had to make sure he did not lose this for the sake of the Hapsburg dynasty and his reputation.

England at the time was less of a threat to Philip, as he was married to Mary Tudor. However he was still concerned as the English people were generally hostile towards the Spanish and he had to be careful not to push any Protestants in England into revolt.

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Finally a major worry for Philip was the growth of Protestantism in Europe. Philip was determined to stamp out heresy in his kingdom so at the same time he had to make sure that it did not spread in from places such as Geneva. Spain was a major Catholic power so he also attempted to maintain relations with the Pope, which was not easy as Charles had sacked Rome before and the Pope’s territories bordered with Philip’s Italian lands, hence the Pope often felt threatened by Philip and this made maintaining good relations a more difficult task.


Philip always looked up to his father and followed his advice, so when Charles told him to ‘depend on no one but yourself’ Philip tried his best to follow this advice.

Philip’s rule was often seen as a personal monarchy. He wanted to make the decision on everything and worked hard to achieve this. He was nicknamed the ‘Paper King’ as he went through so many documents every day. The administration of Spain was very slow as a result, because Philip was not one for making quick decisions.

The administration was based on a conciliar system which assisted Philip in governing the country. There were six territorial councils eg. Castile, Aragon, and eight departmental councils eg. State, War. This system was good as Philip promoted people based on their ability rather than birth and this meant each council had people who had expertise in the area. However the negative side was that the information he received was often fragmented and so his knowledge was sometime inaccurate. The councils also sometime interfered in each other’s works, but Philip was always in control and had power over all the councils.

Philip also established a permanent capital in Madrid in his native Castile and used the Castilian Cortes as his principal court. He had the best postal system in Europe but letters from distant parts of his empire still took days to reach him, so often his officers were left frustrated as Philip insisted on making the decisions himself.

Philip was unable to delegate jobs and he was also very distrustful of his subjects. Therefore there was never one person other than Philip in dominant position of power and the government was full of faction fighting. Philip used this to his advantage by playing the factions against each other so that no one faction was in control and they all had to work to please him.

This was demonstrated in the rivalry of the Eboli and Alva factions. When Philip’s personal secretary died both Eboli and Alva pushed for their candidates to take the job and Philip characteristically divided the post between them. After the death of Eboli the faction fighting continued between Perez and Alva, with Philip removing both from power in 1579. This shows that Philip always made sure that he was the one with the most power and all factions had to work harder to win favor with him. He did not even trust his regents such as Margaret when she governed the Netherlands, as he instructed her not to make any changes and all decisions had to be made by him.

Another example of Philip’s personal monarchy was that he did not let the Pope interfere with the church in Spain. Despite the Pope being the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Philip retained control of the Spanish church and all Papal Bulls had to be approved by him to be effective in Spain. This shows that Philip was not prepared to let a foreign power have any part in governing Spain, including the Pope. To help his own governing of the church he used the infamous Inquisition which worked to stamp out heresy and in cases such as the Perez affair Philip used it as a political tool to remove subjects whom he considered to be a threat, showing that he was prepared to overrule the law in order to keep his absolute control.

However although Philip was an absolute monarch in theory, this was debatable in practice. Philip relied very much on the councilors offering him advice and even though he made the decisions, he was influenced by the information he received from them. Later in his reign he relied on the Junta de Noche which consisted of around 4 members and they had great influence on what the King thought and did.

Philip was also unable to have all the nobility obeying him at will. This is particularly reflected in Philip’s constant need for more money to finance his wars. The Cortes at times rejected his demands for new taxes or attached conditions for their approval. The nobility were often wealthy landowners and well established families in their areas so Philip needed their support to be able to govern effectively. This meant he could not force his will upon them if they objected and thus he had to be careful not to upset the noble classes. This need was particularly reinforced by the Aragon revolt when some nobles of Aragon even called for war against Philip for fear of their freedom being jeopardized.

Therefore I think that Philip tried his hardest to follow his father’s advice and Charles’s words very much shaped how the government was run. However this was not completely feasible in reality as a monarch had to rely on his subjects in order to run a country. However Philip did well to make sure none of his subjects became too significant in government and he always kept the most power, so he did manage to follow Charles’s advice to a large extent.

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