Philip the Second was succeeded by his son Philip the Third, who was twenty-one when he came to the throne. He was a weak, submissive creature, who never had a mind of his own. His father decided that for reasons of state he should marry a daughter of the Archduke Charles. As there were several of them, the king showed his son the portraits of all, and bade him choose which he would take for his wife.
"Whichever you please, papa," was the dutiful reply; and he did accordingly marry Margaret. The marriage took place at Valencia, and cost a million ducats, besides presents to foreign ambassadors, though Spain was in the direst poverty.
Philip was too feeble and too lazy to carry on his government. That business he left to his favorite, an equerry named Denia, whom he created a duke, and whom the pope made a cardinal, though he had never been a priest. This cardinal-duke knew so little about governing that when money ran short in the royal treasury he coined copper pieces, and forced people to take them at the value of silver coins of the same size. He laid taxes on everything, but they yielded nothing, because business was dead. The Spaniards ceased to make linen or woollen cloths for wearing apparel, or paper to write on, or spades to dig with; all these things came from abroad.
One thing alone prospered—that was the Church. There were more priests than ever, and more churches. The cardinal founded five new monasteries and two new churches; in the cathedral at Seville one hundred priests officiated, though six could have done the work. Almost every family had one son or daughter in the Church; the other sons and daughters became servants in rich men's houses, or beggars or thieves. The king himself was so well aware how good a thing it was to belong to the Church that he got the pope to make his ten-year-old son a cardinal, and then created him Archbishop of Toledo. He, at all events, was sure not to come to want.
The Village Curate
The only event of public importance which took place in the reign of Philip the Third was the acknowledgment by Spain of the independence of the Low Countries in the year 1609. This enraged the Spaniards, and made the cardinal-duke unpopular. He had lately picked up the son of a common soldier, named Calderon, and raised him to such power that he was called the favorite's favorite. At last the people's patience was worn out, and they rose in rebellion, drove the cardinal-duke into retirement, and locked up Calderon in jail. One day, when they were particularly hungry, they took him out of jail and murdered him.
After this Philip grew tired of playing king. He was in poor health, and the general poverty which he saw round him threw him into low spirits. His royal income was far less than that of his father. He did not see how matters could be mended. So, when a serious disease attacked him, he hardly struggled against it; beyond ordering a statue of the Holy Virgin of Antioch to be carried through the streets of Madrid in a solemn procession, he made no effort to cure himself. He took leave of his family with many words of affection, and bemoaned the mistakes of his kingly career, saying that he would act differently now if he were spared. But he did not have the chance. He died peacefully on March 31st, 1621.
His successor was his son, who is known as Philip the Fourth. He was sixteen when he came to the throne, and lived forty-four years afterwards. But in all that time he never did anything by which he is remembered, except that he led an idle, dissolute life with vile women and viler men. The business of governing Spain he left to a count-duke named Olivarez, who had a hankering for war and glory, and a habit of getting the worst of every quarrel in which he engaged. To wage successful war money is as necessary as men, and Olivarez had none, though he undertook wars in the Low Countries, in Germany, in Italy, as well as at home.
One of the consequences of his folly was an uprising in Catalonia, in which the royal governor was killed, the royal troops expelled, and Spain set at defiance for thirteen years.
To put down the Catalans, Olivarez ordered Portugal to furnish him with an army. Portugal had been annexed to Spain by Philip the Second, and had not taken kindly to Spanish dominion. It raised the army, but when it was armed and equipped, the Portuguese nobles, under the lead of a gallant woman, the Duchess of Braganza—she was of the Medina-Sidonia family of Spain—asked each other why it should not be used against Spain? Portugal was governed at the time by a woman, Margaret, grand-daughter of Philip the Second, who was called Vice-Queen. When the insurgents began business by killing her secretary, she met them with intrepid words, declaring that she would overlook a trifle of that kind, but that the people must lay down their arms, or she would not beg their pardon from the king.
The leader of the insurgents said they wanted no pardon. And leading Margaret into a room, he forced her to sign orders for the surrender of all the fortresses which the Spaniards held; which done, he quietly took possession of all of them, and that night Lisbon was as quiet as if nothing had happened; the Duke of Braganza was proclaimed King of Portugal, the shops were all open, and the Spaniards were carrying their knapsacks over the border into Spain.
Under the long reign of Philip the Fourth the decay of the nation and the growth of the Church kept pace with each other. More than once the Cortes renewed their protest against the increase of Church property, and the king promised to check it. But he made no effort to do anything of the kind. Meanwhile he increased the taxes on meat, wine, oil, and vinegar. People were driven out of Spain by these taxes. Toledo lost one-third of its people, Segovia, Burgos, and La Mancha nine-tenths, Granada nearly one-half, Seville one-half, including nearly all its rich manufacturers.
The prevailing discontent induced Philip to dismiss Olivarez, but as he put his nephew in his place there was not much gained by the change. The wretched king, whose soul was wrapped up in his dissolute pleasures, felt each new piece of bad news as a shock; when he was told of the coronation of King John of Portugal, he cried, "It is the will of God," and fainted away. He died shortly afterwards, in 1665, which was the best thing be could do.
You may perhaps be surprised to hear that these dark years of misery and decay for the Spanish nation were the Golden Age of Spanish letters and art. Never till our own time did Spain produce so many writers and painters as it did during the reign of the three Philips.
It was during this period that Cervantes wrote his Don Quixote, which has been the delight of the reading world for two centuries, and which you can enjoy to-day with the same pleasure it inspired when it was first written. It is told of the third Philip that, seeing a student walking the street and laughing to split his sides as he read a book, he observed: "That fellow is either mad or is reading Don Quixote."
As famous as Cervantes was Lope de Vega, who wrote eighteen hundred plays, and many other works of prose and poetry. His plays were a mine from which French, English and Italian authors stole some of their best pieces.
Among the poets of that day, whose writings you will enjoy if you learn Spanish, are Gareilasso de la Vega, who wrote pastoral poetry; Calderon de la Barea, who entered the Church probably to make sure of bread; and Luis de Leon, who wrote beautiful religious poetry while he was a prisoner in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Among historians you would like Hurtado de Mendoza, Bernal Diaz, Las Casas, Ovido, and Gomara, from whose writings we learn all that we know about the Spanish conquests in America. Until the reign of Charles the First there was hardly any literature in Spain.
At the very time these gifted men wrote, Murillo, Velasquez, and Ribera painted such works of art that the Spanish school took rank with the schools of Italy. Their paintings are still the admiration of lovers of art. It cannot be easily explained why these men of genius suddenly appeared in a cluster just at the time when the fortunes of Spain had begun to decline, and why, after a course like that of a meteor they vanished, leaving no successors.