Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

The Seventeenth Century

Two royal lives practically extend throughout the sixteenth century, or from the year 1500 to 1598. The lives and reigns of three; of their successors carry us forward exactly a century further, for Philip III reigned; from 1598–1621; Philip IV, 1621–1665; and Charles II, 1665–1700. The house of Hapsburg had come in with Charles I, who was also Charles V of Germany; it terminated in Spain in the reign of Charles II, after an even two hundred years of power.

It will do us no harm to recapitulate, that under Isabella and Ferdinand the Spanish monarchy was consolidated; under Charles I it grew to be an empire, wide-extended, world-embracing; and under Phillip II began to shrink again to meaner proportions.

Charles could not secure the empire to his son, as it went to his brother Ferdinand, neither could he bestow upon him transcendent abilities; but Philip equaled him in his intensity of purpose, his capacity for protracted labour, his inclination to provoke war, and surpassed him in religious fanaticism. Both, however, were self-sufficient, needing no counsellors, no outside help to formulate their plans of action. With the incoming of Philip III we witness the beginning of a long line of favourites, of irresponsible courtiers, under whom Spain suffered for nearly two centuries more. The first was Sandoval, whom his royal servant created Duke of Lerma, and under whom (notwithstanding the death of Holland's great ally, Elizabeth, in 1603) the United Provinces gained their virtual independence by the Treaty of Antwerp, in 1610. The Netherlands were under the comparatively mild sway of the Infanta Isabella, her armies led by the Archduke Albert and the Marquis Spinola, and opposed by Prince Maurice of Nassau. By the end of the first decade of this century the Dutch East India Company was established, and their fleets not only brought rich cargoes to Holland, but they preyed upon Spanish commerce as well. To such a condition, finally, had Philip II's policy brought affairs, that after thirty years his former vassals, the sturdy rebels of. the northern Netherlands, were rejoicing over inflowing wealth, while Spain's treasuries were empty, or exhausted as soon as replenished.

Though without that positive power for evil possessed by his father, Philip III was malignant, capable at times of great evil, as was shown in his expulsion of the Moriscoes, or the last of the Moors, in 1609. At this time the bulk of them were living in Valencia, where they were highly esteemed for their sobriety, diligence, conformity to the laws, and as skilled artisans; but owing to the suggestion of the Archbishop of Toledo, Sandoval's brother, Philip banished them all to Africa, to the number of more than half a million, where and in the voyage thither they suffered incredible hardships. Their only blame lay in their industry and thrift, and the country soon felt their loss through a further decline of its agriculture, manufactures, and mining. Thus departed from Spain the last vestige of the Moors, whose ancestors had invaded the peninsula nine hundred. years before. With them, and with the Jews, departed also in great measure the country's prosperity. The Moors, says a writer on Spain, had brought here the cultivation of the mulberry, sugar cane, cotton, and rice. The spices and sweets of Valencia were famous, as well as the sword blades of Toledo, the silks of Granada, and the leather of Cordova. Nobody knows the extent of Moorish treasure still buried in Spain; but if the Spaniards had spent as much time in tilling the soil as in hunting, for the undiscovered gold and jewels, the country would be more prosperous than it is to-day.

Weak, vacillating, swayed by his wife and his favourites, Philip III was yet morose and melancholy, and eventually turned upon Lerma, forcing him to retire to his country seat, but not until after the Church had made him a cardinal.

The eldest son of Philip III succeeded him at his death, in 1521, which is said to have been hastened by the punctilious etiquette of his court, caused by delay in removing him from a fire, near which he had been seated by one of the attendants.

As Philip IV, the new heir to the throne dabbled in disastrous wars to even a greater extent than his father, and he could not prevent being drawn into the vortex of that terrible Thirty Years' War (1618–48) between the Catholics and Protestants of Europe. It was a legacy, indeed, from his great-grandfather, Charles, who had been compelled to a truce with the Lutherans, when he would fain have exterminated them, eighty years before.

This, the fourth Philip of the Spanish line, although called "Philip the Great," must; needs have a royal favourite in one Gasparo de Guzman, Duke of Olivarez, for whose misfortunes he served as a scapegoat. Olivarez began well, by executing a former sub-favourite, Calderon, and prosecuting Lerma for his fraudulent practices—a proceeding which has an aspect of grim humour, in view of his own subsequent venality and official corruption. He sent Spinola to war again with the Netherlands, that grave of so many Spanish soldiers; but the Dutch were now too strong for the mother of tyrants, and not many years after, in 1628, captured the Spanish treasure fleet, and in 1639 almost annihilated the Spanish navy at Dunkirk. He was scarcely more fortunate in Italy; he even ventured to match himself against that past-master of diplomacy and intrigue, Cardinal Richelieu, with a result that might have been expected. His tyranny and oppressive exactions raised a revolt in Catalonia, which lasted thirteen years; and it was about this time that Portugal threw off the coils which Philip II had wound around her and regained an independence which she has ever since retained.

The reign of Olivarez came to an end after twenty years or so of maladministration, but Spain's territorial losses went on under his nephew and successor, Luis de Haro. All through the history of these times there was always an undercurrent of war between France and Spain, now one nation and then the other being victorious. Hitherto the prestige of the Spanish soldiery had been sufficient to hold the French in check; but Turenne took from them Roussillon, in 1642, and at the battle of Rocroi, the next year, the great Conde administered a crushing defeat, so that their century-long reputation for invincibility was shattered. Conde again defeated the famous Spanish infantry at the battle of Lens, in 1648, and that same year a final peace was concluded with the Netherlands. On the sea Spanish ships were again defeated by the renowned Van Tromp, the same Dutch admiral who sailed with a broom at his mast head in token that he had swept the seas clean of his country's enemies. Until this period the transatlantic possessions of Spain had been kept intact, though many coast cities and towns had been bombarded, and fleets of treasure galleons destroyed; but in 1665 one of Cromwell's admirals took the island of Jamaica, and this was the beginning of such losses by Spain.

All these defeats, with but few redeeming victories, reduced Spain from the once proud position she had held as dictator in European affairs to become subordinate to France, her, ancient enemy. By the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, Spain had suffered indirect defeat, as thereby the Protestants had secured religious. toleration, against which Charles I and the three Philips had fought for more than a century. By this peace, also, France and Spain were left the only combatants on the field of European warfare, but in 1659 they came to terms by the Treaty of the Pyrenees; France gave back to Spain her territory of Catalonia, and Spain ceded to France Artois and Roussillon. Further, a promising guaranty of the stability of this present peace was the marriage the following year of the Infanta Maria Teresa, Philip's eldest daughter by his first wife, to the great king, Louis XIV of France. Six years later, after a protracted struggle, the decisive battle of Villaviciosa lost Portugal finally to Spain, at the news of which the king was so affected that he swooned away, his death occurring shortly afterward, September 17, 1665.

One would think that peace might now reign between France and Spain, since Philip IV left his throne to a helpless child of four years, whose brother-in-law was King Louis XIV. But Louis the despot was a law unto himself. He no sooner saw the opportunity, with Spain powerless to oppose him, and his hands free in other directions, than he promptly sent his armies into the Netherlands. Alarmed at his schemes of conquest, England, Sweden, and Holland joined together in the "Triple Alliance," which for a while held him in check, until they tied his hands again in 1668 by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. At the Spanish court, meanwhile, affairs were in a scandalous condition, for the queen regent was ruled at first by a German Jesuit, and later foisted into favour an agreeable young man who had been merely a page, and whose highest conception of pleasure was to occupy the place of honour at a bullfight. If it may be said of the reign of Philip IV that it was the most disastrous to Spain since that of King Roderick the Goth, little more can be claimed for that of Charles II, his son, who came into the succession in 1675, at the age of fourteen. Like all the issue of Philip II, he was weak almost to idiocy, and so superstitious that in later life he had himself exorcised for witchcraft.

His uncle, Don John, at first assisted him with his counsels, but after his death a favourite named Eguya succeeded him, to be followed by the Duke of Medina Celi, then by the Count of Oropesa; and none of them laboured for the aggrandizement of Spain. By the Treaty of Nimeguen, in 1678, and by the Twenty Years' Truce of Ratisbon, Louis' XIV should have abstained from further aggressions, but his mischief-loving spirit was not to be curbed. He invaded Catalonia in 1689, bombarded Alicante and Barcelona, capturing the latter, and acted in a manner altogether in keeping with the character of this treacherous and unfaithful monarch, whose long life is but a record of infamy.

By the Peace of Ryswick, in 1697, Louis unexpectedly gave back to Spain all the territory he had conquered, an act inexplicable until the terms of the secret "Partition Treaty" became known, when it was found that he had arranged for the partition of Spain, with the assistance of other powers, by which his son the dauphin was to have the bulk of the dominions, including the Italian possessions.

Spain had now become so weak that the expected death of her king was the signal for a gathering of her royal neighbours, who sat around like vultures expectant of their prey until the pitiful apology of a monarch at last shuffled off this mortal coil. The last of his house to reign in Spain, intellectually degenerate and physically impotent, Charles II passed away, leaving no direct heir to the throne. Before his death, however, aware of the coalition against the throne in the event of no successor being named, Charles willed his dominions to the electoral Prince of Bavaria, whose mother was a daughter of Philip IV. But the prince died before the king, and this reopened the question of succession, which will be treated in the next chapter.

It is one of the paradoxes of civilization that a barren or a blood-fertilized soil sometimes produces the most luxuriant growth and yields the richest harvests. So with Spain. During the century of her greatest oppression, during the years of her decadence, she brought forth the flower of her literature and of her art. We may call the era of intellectual and artistic development, or rather inflorescence, by whatever name we will—Augustan, Elizabethan, or Victorian—but the fact is, the sovereign has no claim to this distinction, for he or she merely happened to reign when this took place.

Thus we find during the reigns of the three Philips such world-renowned names as Garcilasso de la Vega, the historian; Las Casas, Oviedo, Bernal Diaz, and Cortes, military writers; Cervantes, author of the immortal Don Quixote; Lope de Vega, the dramatist, minor poets in great numbers, and great painters like Murillo, Ribera, and Velasquez. Titian, even, was a friend of his patron Charles I, and spent some of his last years painting portrait's for Philip II.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Spain's Religious Wars  |  Next: The House of Bourbon
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.