Philip II of Spain

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Podcast Transcript

Philip II of Spain was one of European history’s most important yet underrated monarchs. 

He had more titles and kingships than almost anyone and was behind some of the biggest events in the history of several European countries. 

On top of all of that, he also reigned over one of the largest empires in world history. 

Learn more about Philip II and the incredible events surrounding his life on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.

This episode is sponsored by the Tourist Office of Spain. 

After far too long of being unable to travel, Spain is once again open to tourists. 

If you aren’t familiar with Spain there is a lot more than just Barcelona and Madria….which are great cities. 

If you want an island holiday, you can visit the Canary Islands in the Atlantic and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. 

If you are into mountains, you can visit any number of mountain towns in the Pyrenees.

If you love history, you can find everything from ancient cave paintings, to Roman ruins, to Islamic architecture, and El Escorial, the great palace of Philip II. 

If museums are your thing, the Prada and the Renia Sophia in Madria are two of the greatest museums in the world. 

And of course, there is the world-class food and some of the highest rated restaurants on Planet Earth

I’ve personally spent months in Spain visiting many its regions all over the country, and I can tell you there is a good reason why 83 million people visit Spain each year. 

If you are interested in planning a trip to Spain visit to start planning your dream vacation. 

Once again, that is

Philip’s life got off to a pretty good start. His father was the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and his mother was Isabella of Portugal.

His father was the ruler of most of Austria, northern Italy, Castile, and Aragon in Spain, as well as the Low Countries, which included the Netherlands

If you looked at a map of Western Europe, he held sway over almost everything save for England, France, Portugal, and the Papal States. He was certainly the most powerful ruler in Europe. 

Philip was born in 1527 in Valladolid, the capital of Castile. 

He was raised with a top-flight team of tutors and showed great intellectual promise. 

Despite being a member of the Hapsburg Dynasty, Philip grew up in Spain, not in Germany, and he culturally considered himself to be Spanish, despite being an Archduke in Austria. His first language was Spanish, and he never quite mastered German. 

His mother, Isabel, died when he was only 12, which resulted in his father staying in Castile for several years. He had been away from his son for  years and was impressed at how mature and competent he had become. 

When Charles left in 1543, he appointed the 16-year-old Prince Philip as regent of Spain. Basically, he ran the country, in fact, even if he wasn’t the king yet in name. 

I should note that “Spain” at this point wasn’t just the country in the Iberian Peninsula but the entire Spanish Empire.

He had previously received the title of Duke of Milan at the age of 13.

1543 also saw the first of Philip’s marriages. He was originally promised to the daughter of the King of Navarre, a kingdom in the north of Spain. 

However, that fell through, and he married his double first cousin, Maria Manuela, the daughter of King John III of Portugal. 

This marriage didn’t last long. In 1545, before their two-year anniversary, Maria died of a hemorrhage just four days after giving birth to their son Don Carlos. 

Don Carlos was the heir to Philip but died at the age of 23 without any children. 

Philip’s rule of Spain was not what you might think. Spain at that time was a collection of kingdoms, and Philip’s ability to rule was through the titles he held in each region. 

Spain wasn’t a unified state at this time, and there would often be local councils or rulers overriding Philip’s decisions. 

By his early 20s, it became necessary for Philip to marry again. This time the arrangement for his wife was something far more ambitious than a first cousin from the other side of the Iberian Peninsula. 

In 1554, he was wed to Mary I, Queen of England, the Catholic daughter of Henry VIII….who was also a first cousin. 

The negotiations between The Holy Roman Empire and England were extensive and there was a special act of parliament called the ??Act for the Marriage of Queen Mary to Philip of Spain, which outlined exactly what each party would expect. 

The treaty stipulated that Philip would enjoy all the titles of Mary and that they would rule England jointly. All laws and edicts would be signed in both their names, and parliament would be called under their joint authority. 

Moreover, there were restrictions on what Philip could do regarding appointments, and most importantly, his authority would end in the event that Queen Mary should die. 

So, Philip was actually, according to parliament, the King of England. 

Now, if you are familiar with the monarchs of England, you might realize that King Philip is often not listed. This is because Philip was considered a king Jure uxoris. Jure uxoris is a Latin term meaning “by the right of the wife.” 

It is similar to the idea behind a queen consort, like Queen Camila is now in the United Kingdom. Except, in this case, Philip had a bit more official power than just being a consort. 

One of the reasons why Philip was chosen was the power of the Holy Roman Empire, which at the time it was assumed Philip would one day control and the fact that Philip was very Catholic. 

After Henry VIII abolished the Catholic Church in England, Mary and the Catholic faction in England wanted to ensure that England remained Catholic, and what better way than to marry the most powerful eligible Catholic bachelor in Europe? 

Mary was already 37 when she was married, and she and Philip never had children, despite her high-profile false pregnancy. 

When Philip married Mary, his father gave him the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily. The next year, he made Philip the Lord of Netherlands and Burgundy, and in January 1556, he officially made Philip the King of Spain. 

However, Mary died in childless 1558 at the age of 42 after just four and half years of marriage. This ended any titles and claims Philip had to England. It is interesting to think how different history would have been if Mary had lived and they had a child. 

Mary was replaced by her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth. 

Not wanting to walk away from England, Philip offered to marry Elizabeth, but that idea was quashed for a host of reasons, and we will return to Elizabeth in a bit.

A month before Mary’s death, Philip’s father, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, died. 

I mentioned before that Philip considered himself to be culturally Spanish, and it appears most of the Holy Roman Empire agreed. 

As I mentioned in my previous episode on the Holy Roman Empire, the title of Emperor was not a hereditary position. It usually went to the firstborn son of the previous emperor, but not always.

There were electors who picked who the next emperor would be, and this time they selected his uncle Ferdinand. 

Philip was in his territory of the Netherlands where he brokered a peace treaty with France, ending a long-standing war started by his father.  Part of the peace treaty was that Philip would marry the daughter of King Henry II of France, Elizabeth of Valois. 

Elizabeth would have two daughters, 

After the marriage and the peace treaty was signed, Philip returned to Castile and never left Spain again. 

Philip still had a lot of ruling to do, he just happened to do it from Madrid. 

Philip was an extremely hands-on ruler. He personally oversaw all political appointments. Everything was done via paper and documents called consultas, creating what was, in effect, one of the world’s first bureaucracies. 

Because everything had to go through Philip, it slowed down decision-making and probably caused more problems than it solved.

Philip was also deeply distrusting of even his closest advisors, which made for a toxic atmosphere at court. 

As he was running his empire out of Madrid, he needed a headquarters befitting the largest empire in the world, which it was at that time. To that end, he began construction of El Escorial in 1563. 

El Escorial is a massive complex located about 50 kilometers outside of Madrid, and it became the seat of the Spanish Monarchy for centuries. 

El Escorial was the biggest building built during Renaissance, and it was ‘the’ grandest European palace before the construction of Versailles

El Escorial isn’t just a palace. It is also a monastery, basilica, hospital, university, library, and museum. 

Today El Escorial is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is open to the public. It is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Spain, with over half a million visitors per year, as it is an easy day trip from Madrid.

As I mentioned earlier, Philip was very Catholic. He could arguably have been called a fanatic. 

With all of the religious strife in Europe at the time between Catholics and Protestants, Philip was one of the driving forces behind the conflict from the Catholic side. Philip was in no small part responsible for the 80 Years’ War. 

He once wrote his ambassador in Rome, “You may assure His Holiness, that rather than suffer the least damage to religion and the service of God, I would lose all my states and a hundred lives if I had them; for I do not propose nor desire to be the ruler of heretics.”

Philip became a boogeyman in Protestant Europe, and stories of his cruelty were many, most of them highly exaggerated. 

His son Don Carlos died in July of 1568, and his third wife, Elizabeth, died in October after complications from giving birth. 

This left him at the age of 41 without an heir and without a wife. Having tried Portugal, England, and France, he next married his niece, Anna of Austria, the daughter of the Austrian Emperor Maximilian III.

Together, they had three sons, two of which died in infancy, including Philips’s heir, Phillip III.

The Spanish economy under Philip was pretty terrible. The entire mercantilist policy that Spain used to run their colonies with led to inflation back home with all of the gold and silver that was being imported. Philip had to declare bankruptcy several times because of all the debt he incurred.

As part of his pro-Catholic foreign policy, he fought a naval war with the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterreran.

Starting in 1568, he also faced a rebellion in the Netherlands which in no small part had to do with Catholic-Protestant relations. 

The Spainsh supported the Catholics and England and France supported the Protestants in the Netherlands, for different reasons.

Towards the end of his reign he became more belligerent towards the rest of Europe. 

In 1580, the King of Portugal died and Philip claimed the throne of Portugal in addition to all of his other titles. He also used a bit of military force, but he did wind up ruling the entire Iberian peninsula. 

By 1588, Philip figured that the only solution to his problems in the Netherlands, was to remove one of the biggest Protestant regimes in Europe. He was to invade England and overthrow his former sister-in-law, Elizabeth. 

So to achieve the goal of invading England, something which hadn’t been done in over 500 years, he assembled an enormous fleet which he called the Grande y Felicísima Armada, or as we know it, the Spanish Armada.

The Spanish Armada will have an entire episode dedicated to it, but suffice it to say that the Spanish were routed and it was an enormous setback for Spain.

Probably the biggest legacy of Philip II isn’t found in Europe, its found in Asia. 

In 1543, a Spanish explorer by the name of Ruy López de Villalobos came across an island archipelago in Asia which later became a major Spanish colony. 

He named the islands after King Philip. They are still known today as the Philippines

Every so often, the idea is floated of changing the name of the country so it isn’t named after a 16th Century Spanish King, but nothing is ever done. At one time, they were going to change the name of the country to Malaysia once, but the name had already been taken.

Philip II passed away on September 13, 1598, in El Escorial at the age of 71. He had been the de facto ruler of Spain for 55 years. 

Philip’s reign and his policies affect much of Western Europe, including England, the Netherlands, France, Portugal, Italy, and of course, Spain. 

Philip’s empire spanned the entire globe. There were Spanish territories on five continents, and that is only because they hadn’t discovered the other two yet. 

Spain and the Spanish Empire reached their zenith under Philip II. It was truly the Golden Age of Spain.


The executive producer is Darcy Adams.

The associate producers are Thor Thomsen and Peter Bennett.

Today’s review comes from listener NikEssex, over on Podbean. They write:

Love this podcast! The way subjects are presented is accessible and engaging. Plus you never know what each day’s subject will be – could be something you know a bit about or something you’ve never even heard of!

Thanks, Nik! I appreciate the kind words. I like to take the Forrest Gump approach. This podcast is like a box of chocolates. Every day you never know what you’re going to get.

Remember, if you leave a review or send me a boostagram, you too can have it read on the show.