King of Spain (1555–1598) and King Consort of England (1554–1558), Philip II was born in May 1527. The son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and Isabella of Portugal, Philip was raised to rule the Habsburg family’s vast domains in Europe and the New World. From his earliest childhood, he was educated for kingship and prepared to assume control of the largest empire in the world, serving several times as his father’s regent in Spain and touring the Netherlands and Italy.
Philip’s first two marriages, to his cousins Maria of Portugal (1543–1544) and Mary I of England (1554–1558) were meant to establish Spain as the leading Catholic power in Europe and assure its position on the Atlantic coast. In 1555, on Charles V’s retirement, Philip II inherited Spain, Naples, the Netherlands, and Spain’s overseas empire, while the Austrian branch of the family inherited the Holy Roman Empire.
A hands-on administrator, Philip II improved Spanish bureaucracy by centralizing it in a permanent capital, Madrid, and in his palace complex at El Escorial, and by appointing capable and efficient men, like Francisco de Toledo, to positions of power in the Americas. Fascinated by his empire, Philip II took great interest in native cultures, preserving Aztec and Mayan art and manuscripts in his archives, supporting ethnographic and botanical studies, and ordering a geographic and cultural survey, known as the “Forty-Nine Questions,” beginning in 1576. Unfortunately, Philip II’s propensity for micromanaging, combined with slow communications with the empire, hampered innovation or initiative on the part of his viceregents and his Council of the Indies in Madrid. On his personal orders, Spanish explorers claimed Florida in 1564 and the Philippine Islands in 1570.
The enormous wealth of the Spanish Empire, with one-fifth paid directly to the king, made Philip II immensely powerful in Europe and financed his commitments to the rest of his lands. Throughout his reign, Philip II juggled threats on all sides. He led a coalition against the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean, put down the Morisco Revolt within Spain in 1568, and, in 1580, engineered the dynastic takeover of Portugal on the death of King Sebastian. His most draining campaigns centered on the Protestant-led revolt of the Netherlands, which turned into a grueling guerilla war lasting into the reigns of Philip’s son and grandson.
A pious Catholic, Philip II felt compelled to impose orthodoxy on his own realms, going to great expense and suffering personal unpopularity because of his support for the Inquisition. He also used his special authority to appoint bishops and missionaries in order to support reformers like Bartolomeo de las Casas, who argued for the humane treatment of Mexicans, and favored St. Teresa of Avila’s Carmelite reforms.
Philip II’s last two marriages, in 1559 to Elizabeth of Valois (who died in 1568) and Anna of Austria in 1570 (she died ten years later), were arranged in an attempt to hold together his European authority in the face of increasing difficulty. Spain’s huge spending on defense and suppression of the Dutch Rebellion led by William of Orange pushed the Crown toward bankruptcy a precarious situation made worse by the lack of a state bank and the inflation caused by the influx of gold and silver from America. Philip II, as instigator and financier of the Catholic League led by the Guise brothers, involved Spain in the bloody Wars of Religion in France. In 1588, he launched the Spanish Armada in a failed attempt to unseat Elizabeth I of England, his former sisterin-law. Even the Ottoman Empire continued to loom, having recovered quickly from Philip II’s naval triumph at Lepanto in 1571. Precious convoys of wealth from China, South America, and Mexico were constantly menaced and taken by such English privateers as Francis Drake, adding to Spanish financial instability. Realizing the already unwieldy nature of his empire and the dangers of over expansion, Philip II issued the 1573 Ordinance on Discovery and Populations, banning additional conquests. By the 1580s, he also had abandoned large-scale development of Florida.
Although a brilliant and pragmatic monarch, Philip II left behind a structure of government, infrastructure, and empire that seriously handicapped Spain in the sixteenth century and initiated a period of decline in comparison with England and France. Philip II died on September 13, 1598, at the Escorial and was buried as a Franciscan monk. He was succeeded by his only surviving son (by Anna of Austria), Philip III. Margaret Sankey See also: Politics and Government (Chronology); Politics and Government (Essay); Spanish Colonies on Mainland North America (Chronology). Bibliography Kamen, Henry. Empire: How Spain Became a World Power. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Parker, Geoffrey. The Grand Strategy of Philip II. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. Williams, Patrick. Philip II. Basingstoke, Hampshire, UK: Palgrave, 2002.