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Biography of Philip II


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PHILIP II, King of Spain, the only son of the German Emperor, Charles V, and Isabella of Portugal, was born at Valadolid, May 21st, 1527. While still very young, he was intrusted, under the direction of a Council, with the government of Spain, and in 1543 he espoused Mary of Portugal, who died three years after. In 1548 he went to join his father at Brussels. While there he was presented to his future subjects, and was at the same time fully initiated into his father's policy, the two chief items of which were the maintenance and extension of absolute rule throughout his dominions, and the support and propagation of the Catholic religion. In 1554 he married Mary Tudor, Queen of England, and, to gain the support of that country to his political projects, and at the same time restore it to the Roman Catholic pale, he labored to ingratiate himself with his wife's subjects, taking the greatest care to avoid exciting the national jealousy of foreign influence. But his plans were discovered and frustrated, and this disappointment prompted him to leave England and return to Brussels (September 1555).

In the following month he became, by the abdication of his father, the most powerful potentate of Europe, having under his sway, Spain, the two Sicilies, the Milanese, the Low Countries, Franche Comte, Mexico and Peru; his European territories being more fertile, and their inhabitants more wealthy and prosperous than any others on the continent, while his army was the best disciplined, and headed by the greatest generals of the age. Philip was eager to begin the crusade in favor of Catholicism, but he was obliged to postpone it, owing to a league which had been formed between France, the Pope, and the Sultan, to deprive him of his Italian dominions. He soon got over his religious scruples at engaging in warfare with the Pope, and intrusted the defense of the Sicilies to Alva, who speedily drove out the Pope and French, and conquered the Papal territories, while Philip himself vigorously prosecuted the war against France in the north, and defeated the French at St. Quentin (August 10th, 1557), and Gravelines (July 13th, 1558). These reverses forced the French to agree to terms of peace at Chateau-Cambresis (April 2nd, 1559). Philip's wife was now dead, and after an unsuccessful attempt to obtain the hand of her successor, Queen Elizabeth, he espoused Isabella of France, and returned to Spain, where from this time he always resided. He now set about establishing absolute government in those of his states that were in possession of something like free institutions, and with this view, sought to introduce the Inquisition into the Low Countries and Italy. But the introduction of this instrument of tyranny was successfully resisted in Naples and by the Milanese; in Sicily its powers were so shackled as to render it quite a harmless institution; but these failures only stimulated him the more to establish it in all its pride and power in the Low Countries. For a number of years it continued in vigorous action in that country; but the natural result of such a course of conduct was a formidable rebellion of all classes, Catholic and Protestant, which was partially successful - the northern portion (the seven united provinces) establishing its independence in 1579. In 1580 the direct male line of Portugal having become extinct, Philip laid claim to the throne, and after the Duke of Alva had occupied the kingdom with an army, the Spanish monarch's title was recognized by the Portuguese estates. His enmity to England on account of the anti-Spanish policy of Queen Elizabeth, incited him to attempt the conquest of that country, but his most formidable attempt failed signally. After the accession of Catharine de Medicis to power, France and Spain drew closer the bonds of amity which had previously subsisted between the two countries; but the refusal of Catharine to adopt Philip's plan for the wholesale slaughter of heretics, produced a coolness in their relations. However, when Henry, King of Navarre, a Huguenot, became heir-presumptive to the throne, Philip allied himself with the Guises and other chiefs of the Catholic party who were in rebellion, and his obstinate persistence in these intrigues after the cause of the Guises was shown to be hopeless, prompted Henry to declare war against him. The Spaniards had the worst of it, and Philip was glad to conclude the treaty of Veroins (May 2nd, 1598). He died in the Escurial at Madrid, September 13th of the same year.