Greatest Nations: Spain - C. F. Horne

Spain Under the Hapsburgs

The Escurial


Ferdinand and Isabella were singularly unhappy in the misfortunes of all their five children. These were sought in marriage by Europe's foremost rulers; but Isabella's only son and two of her daughters died in their early days of youth and promise. Of the two surviving daughters, the younger was that Catharine of Spain, who wedded Henry VIII. of England, and to divorce whom he broke with the Pope and quarrelled with most of Europe.

The older daughter, Joanna, was married to Philip of Hapsburg, only son of the great German Emperor, Maximilian of Austria. This young couple thus seemed ultimately destined to rule the combined Spanish and Austrian possessions, then at their widest extent, including all America and most of Europe. But alas! Philip died, and Joanna, who had loved him devotedly and had always shown symptoms of insanity, went completely out of her mind at his loss. It is one of the saddest tales in history; for the poor mad queen insisted that her husband was not dead, and she bore his coffin everywhere about with her.

This final breakdown of her intellect did not come until after Isabella had died and Joanna had borne to Philip two sons, to be inheritors of all this wealth and sorrow. Joanna's oldest son, Charles of Hapsburg, was named King of Castile, in 1504, to succeed his grandmother, Isabella. But as Charles was an infant, as his mother was insane, and as his Austrian father, Philip, soon died, the real control of Castile remained in the same hands that had so long held it, those of Ferdinand of Aragon, widowed now, grown old, and cold, and very wise, and very crafty.

No difficulties of state marred his reign, and at his death, in 1516, he left the Spanish domain at its highest efficiency. Young Charles, a cold and shy but highly educated lad of sixteen, inherited all his grandfather's possessions, and was promptly declared to be of age, King of Aragon as well as Castile, and of all Aragon s Italian possessions. A year later his other grandfather, the German Emperor Maximilian, also died, and Charles succeeded to all the properties of the great house of Hapsburg.

Condemned by the inquisition.


Of the reign of this young world-ruler, Charles I. of Spain, Charles V. of Germany, you have already heard. He was neither Austrian, nor German, nor Spanish. He had been born at Ghent, in the Netherlands, where his father, Philip, held rule, and his early training was Flemish.

Taking up the rule of Spain where Ferdinand had laid it down, Charles easily made his authority there absolute. Spain had, indeed, a sort of parliament called the Cortes, but Ferdinand had deprived this of almost all power. The Spaniards had learned to trust their sovereigns, and there was no machinery of government to thwart the young despot's will.

The nobles, indeed, looked with dislike upon the rule of a man who was not a Spaniard. In those days, the voyage between the Netherlands and Spain was a considerable undertaking; and Ferdinand had left a will placing the kingdom in charge of Cardinal Ximenes as regent until the arrival of Charles. The cardinal was an able and wise prelate, who did much to smooth the way for the new sovereign. Had he not done so, there might have been open revolt. It required months of urging on the part of Ximenes before Charles visited his dominion, but he finally set out, and arrived in the month of September, 1517. He treated his faithful servant with such gross discourtesy that Ximenes died before completing two years of his regency. This insulting course, it is said, was due to the interference of the King's Flemish ministers, he having assumed the rule of Flanders several years before.

When the Emperor Maximilian died, there were a number of competitors for the imperial throne of Germany. Charles was elected, mainly through the influence of the Elector Frederick of Saxony, and on the 22nd of October, 1520, was crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle, the Pope giving him the title of Roman Emperor. You will recognize the period as one of tremendous agitation in Germany owing to the crusade against the Catholic Church by Luther. Alarmed by the excitement which threatened a convulsion and overturning of everything, the famous Diet of Worms was held in 1521, before which Luther made his declaration that marks an epoch in the history of Protestantism.

Meanwhile, the towns of Castile had leagued themselves together in a war to maintain their ancient liberties. The Emperor marched thither a force which brought them under subjection. Soon after he became involved in a war with the Turks under Solyman the Great, and also defeated them. Then followed a war with France, whose armies, after long fighting and varied fortune, were driven out of most of their conquests in Italy. Francis I. of France became a prisoner to Charles at Pavia, in 1525.

Queen Joanna


Connected with those stirring times is the history of Ignatius de Loyola, born in the Basque provinces, in 1491. He served a while as page in the court of Ferdinand, and then his restless nature led him to embrace the profession of arms. His fortitude was proved when in battle he received two frightful wounds in the legs, was taken prisoner by the French, and by them carried to his paternal castle of Loyola, where he hovered between life and death for a long time owing to a severe surgical operation. When he recovered, he found himself suffering from a partial deformity, owing to the poor setting of one of the fractured limbs. He had it re-broken and set again, and then, since another long and tedious confinement was before him, his light-hearted and frivolous temperament found relief in reading all the romances upon which he could lay hands. When the stock was exhausted, he took up the solemn volume, "Lives of the Saints." He became absorbed, and was soon thrilled with a spiritual enthusiasm, that led him to throw aside his military ambition, turn his back on his friends, and give all his energies to the cause of religion.

In the garb of a wretched beggar he retired to the monastery of Montserrat and hung up his arms as token that henceforward his life was to be devoted to spiritual warfare. Withdrawing to a secluded cavern, he led such a life of austerity and self-denial that he was utterly worn out and was carried back to the hospital in which he had formerly served. When his powers rallied, he made his way to Rome, where he received the papal benediction of Adrian VI., and then trudged as a beggar to Venice and embarked for the Holy Land. His wish was to remain at Jerusalem and preach to the infidels, but the local authorities discouraged him, and he returned to Venice and Barcelona. Conscious of his deficiency in education, he set resolutely to work, when past the age of thirty, to learn the rudiments of grammar. He spent years in study at different places, and completed his task in Paris, sometimes incurring the censure of the authorities by his attempts at religious teaching in public. There it was that he formed the organization of the Jesuits, whose influence has been of the most marked nature on the religious and moral character of the modern world. His biography has been written in nearly all languages. Dying In 1556, his name was admitted to the preliminary step of beatification in the Church of Rome, in 1609, and he was solemnly canonized as a saint in 1622, by Gregory XV.

The Pope became alarmed over the continuous successes of Charles and made common cause with France and the leading Italian States, declaring the King of France released from the obligations assumed in his treaty with Charles. The Pope was jealous of any encroachments upon his Italian domains, and was determined to keep the Emperor out of them, but his attempt was the sowing of the wind and the reaping of the whirlwind; for Charles of Bourbon, former Constable of France, captured and plundered Rome and made the Pope himself prisoner. Here was an opportunity for Charles to play the hypocrite, and he did it to perfection. He expressed great sorrow for the occurrence, caused his court to go into mourning, and directed prayers to be said for the liberation of the holy father, and yet it was by the Emperor's own orders that he was kept prisoner for many months. Peace was made in 1529 on terms satisfactory to Charles.

The tumult created by Luther would not down, and Charles was hopeful of bringing it to an end and restoring tranquillity to the empire; but he would not recognize the principles of the Protestants, and they on their part refused to help him in his war with the Turks, who had overrun Hungary and were besieging Vienna. The Protestant princes went further, and, in 1531, formed the League of Smalcald, allying themselves with England and France as a means of self-protection. The Turks were still threatening Austria, and Charles perforce made some concessions to the Protestants.

Two brothers known as Barbarossa, renegade Greeks, had made themselves the terror of the Mediterranean. As Mahometan corsairs, they became masters of Algeria and Tunis, and robbed and slew with as much daring as did their successors nearly three centuries later, when the United States brought them to terms. Spain and Italy suffered so much from these pirates that their commerce was in danger of extinction. The Barbarossas were established in Tunis, whither Charles sent an expedition from Spain against them. The miscreants were utterly defeated, and more than 20,000 Christian captives, belonging to different nations, which would do nothing for them, were set free. This naturally added to the popularity of the Emperor, but he alienated his own people by his subsequent course. War broke out with France, and a truce was established, but it did not last long, and hostilities began again in 1542. The great success which seemed always to follow Charles did not desert him now, and he was successful at Muhlberg in April, 1547, against the Protestant princes of Germany.

Charles V


Now, however, the tide turned. It was so plain to all that Charles meant to convert the German empire into a hereditary possession of his family that a more formidable opposition than ever arose, and the Emperor was compelled to yield before Duke Maurice of Saxony and the Protestants. Unable to escape the humiliation, he pledged them the peaceful enjoyment of their religion, and this pledge was confirmed by the Diet of Augsburg, in 1555.

"Vanity of vanities—all is vanity!" Charles became weary of the ceaseless vexations and never-ending trials of his stormy life, and determined to fling the burden from his shoulders. There was only one way of doing this, and he did it. Perhaps he was disgusted with his own tortuous course, his intrigue, his double dealing, and the seeming impossibility of leading an honest life. On the 25th of October, 1555, he called together an assembly of his States and announced his purpose of seeking repose and devoting the remainder of his days to the service of God. He resigned his royal rights in favor of his son, but was unable to secure for him the imperial throne. Relinquishing to him the crown of Spain, the Emperor retired to the monastery of Yuste, in Estremadura, where he thought he was serving God by spending a part of his time in mechanical amusements, a greater part in eating and drinking, and a much less part in religious exercises. Then he became a gloomy ascetic, discontented with himself and with the world, unhappy and miserable, and so he died, September 21, 1558.

Among his Spanish subjects Charles was always fairly popular. He was a mighty sovereign whose state lent splendor to their land, not seen sufficiently often to become familiar and despised. He crushed the power of the nobles, which naturally won him favor with the poorer classes, and he offered to the hardy Spanish fighters a field of adventure and plunder in Germany, of which they eagerly took advantage. The Spanish troops, trained by centuries of fighting, were long reckoned the best of Europe.

Charles was succeeded by his brother Ferdinand as Emperor, while his only son became Philip II. of Spain. Philip was born at Valladolid in 1527, and educated with extreme care. Possessing decided ability, he became a noted mathematician and accomplished linguist, but with all this he was a man of singular temperament and tastes. He despised the chivalric ideas of the time, was very reserved, rarely smiled, and seemed to distrust everybody. He spoke with such extraordinary slowness that it was impossible for it to be natural, and he assumed a calmness under the most exciting occasions that deceived no one. He was in his teens when entrusted under the direction of a council with the government of Spain, and when sixteen he espoused Mary of Portugal, who died three years later. He followed exactly the policy of his father, which was the maintenance and extension of absolute rule, and the unwavering support and propagation of the Catholic religion.

In 1554 Philip married Mary Tudor, Queen of England. His absorbing ambition was to restore England to the Catholic Church; and, to win the confidence of his wife's subjects, he threw off his natural reserve and did all he could to ingratiate himself into their favor. His purpose was discovered. Added to his humiliating disappointment was the nagging jealousy of his wife, so Philip, in 1555, shook the English dust from his shoes and never again set foot in that country.

It was in the latter part of the same year, as you will remember, that Philip, through the abdication of his father, became the most powerful potentate in Europe. Reflect for a moment upon the immensity of his domain, which included Spain, the two Sicilies, the Milanese, the Low Countries, Franche Comte, Peru, and Mexico. He had under his control the best disciplined armies of the age, and they were led by generals who had no superiors anywhere. No people in Europe were so wealthy as his subjects, though his father's numerous wars had left little in the national treasury.

Philip was bigoted and intensely eager to begin his crusade for religion; but his hand was stayed for the time by the league formed by the Pope, the Sultan, and France, to wrest his Italian dominions from him. He did not wish to go to war with the Pope, but he overcame his scruples after a while and placed the defence of the two Sicilies in the hands of the infamous Duke of Alva, who soon drove out the French and the forces of the Pope, and conquered the papal territories, while Philip himself pressed the war strongly in the north, where the French were defeated at St. Quentin, in August, 1557, and at Gravelines in the following July. These Spanish successes compelled his enemies to make peace.

By this time Philip was a widower, and he set out to win the hand of Elizabeth, Queen of England, who, as you know, refused every offer of that nature. The personality of a wife or husband makes little difference to a sovereign, and finding he could not secure the English Queen, Philip turned to Isabella of France, whom having espoused, he returned to Spain, where he remained.

His realm being at peace, Philip now gave all his energies to. the propagation of his religion. The first step was to replenish his treasury. He could force any contribution he wished from Spain and America, for in those places he held absolute sway; but it was different in his other states, where something in the nature of free institutions prevailed. As a means, therefore, to this end, the King made the attempt to introduce the Inquisition into the Low Countries and Italy. The indignant people kept it out of Naples and Milan, while it was so shackled in Sicily as to be practically powerless. Angered by these failures, Philip bent all his power to introducing the terrible thing into the Low Countries. He succeeded, and it raged for a while, but the Catholics joined with the Protestants in rebellion.

Don John at Lepanto.


The terrible Duke of Alva was sent to suppress the uprising. He established a tribunal, before which were dragged all suspected heretics or rebels, and his unspeakable cruelties drove over a hundred thousand fugitives from the country. Flanders, or modern Belgium, submitted to him in despair; but the northern provinces kept up the struggle, formed the Dutch Republic, and for over seventy years resisted all the power of Spain. It was this exhaustive war which perhaps more than any other single cause contributed to the downfall of Spain. Like the quicksand, the Netherlands devoured men and money in an unending stream.

Meanwhile, Philip's half-brother, Don John of Austria, had conquered the Mahometans of the East in the great sea-fight of Lepanto (1571), and Philip had plunged still further toward ruin by despatching against England the "Invincible Armada" (1588).

The direct male line in Portugal became extinct in 1580, and Philip promptly laid claim to the throne. The Duke of Alva, who had been banished from the Spanish court for a private quarrel, was summoned by the King to lead an army into Portugal to maintain the claim. The duke speedily drove out Don Antonio, grandson of John III., who had taken possession of the throne, and subdued the country. With his usual rapacity and cruelty, Alva seized all the treasures himself and allowed his soldiers to plunder and ravage at will. Philip wished to investigate his conduct, but was afraid to do so, and the duke died about a year later.

The hardly less perfidious Catherine de Medicis had come to power in the French court, and the union between France and Spain became closer than before. Catherine hesitated to accept all of Philip's bloody schemes for the extirpation of the heretics, but there is little doubt that both he and Alva urged her to the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. When the Huguenot Henry of Navarre became heir-presumptive to the French throne, Philip allied himself with the Guises and other Catholic leaders who were in revolt. His bigotry led him to persist in these intrigues long after all possible hope for the Guises had vanished, and because of this Henry declared war upon him. It went against the Spaniards, who were glad to make peace in May, 1598. Four months later Philip died in his palace of the Escurial. It was he who built this celebrated royal residence of the Spanish kings. He transferred the capital of the country to Madrid, and then built the Escurial outside of the city. In its gloomy recesses he planned his stealthy plots and treacherous cruelties.

No more fanatical follower of the Catholic faith ever lived than Philip II. He was absolutely without a drop of mercy in his heart for any one of another religion. Once when one of his friends protested against some shocking cruelties, he grimly replied that if his own son were a heretic he could look on and enjoy his burning to death. He broke the chivalrous spirit that had once been the pride of Spain, ground her under his savage oppression, and treated the Moriscos as if they were so many serpents not fitted to crawl over the ground. Yet it would be passing strange if this ruler did not have some qualities that can be commended. Petrus Johannes Blok, Professor of Dutch History in the University of Leyden, has this to say of him:

"Thus died the man who had once been the mightiest prince of the earth, who had dreamed of universal sovereignty, ever hampered in his ambitions and comprehensive plans by the weakness of the means as well as the narrowness of his spirit. The universal sovereignty of Spain and the supremacy of the Catholic Church—these were the two ideas for which he had lived, welding the two in his spirit into one coherent maxim. From morning to evening the sombre, reserved man had striven more than forty years for the realization of this aim, exerting an indefatigable activity, devoting himself in his lonely study to the great goal for which he was ready to sacrifice everything, and did sacrifice much—his own happiness, that of his own family, the prosperity, the riches of his states, the lives of thousands and thousands of his subjects. And when he died he was further than ever from his goal. He left his successor an exhausted treasury and an empire ruined by a war which was not yet finished. The curse of posterity was on his memory for centuries after his death, casting suspicion on his best feelings, his zealous faith, and his love for his children, as though they were hypocritical. Not until our time has it been made clear that in the heart of this politician, full of political cunning, of devilish revenge, of low craft—in the heart of this little-spirited, narrow, sombre, bitter king—there were also great world-ranging thoughts, noble feelings of belief, hearty love, rich artistic sympathies, and devotion to higher ideals."

By his fourth wife, Anne of Austria, Philip left a son, born in 1578, who now became Philip III. In the following year he married the Princess Margaret of Austria, by whom he had seven children. The assertion has been made that his father, in order to prevent his son becoming too assertive while still an heir, took measures to have his mind dwarfed. This is not credible, but Philip III. was in reality little more than an imbecile. He was lazy, had not the slightest liking for the affairs of state, and, abandoning himself to indulgence, turned over public matters to miserable favorites. He allowed the war in the Netherlands to go on, and Ostend was captured in 1604, after a siege of three years. It was under Philip III. that the last of the Moriscos were, despite their entreaties, driven out of Spain. He died in 1621, and it is of him that the astounding story is told that one day he found himself roasting before the fire, whereupon he sent a messenger to tell some other messenger to tell some one else to instruct still another officer to move him farther back from the flame, but before the whole round required by Spanish etiquette could be completed, the poor King was so nearly broiled that he fell ill and died.

Philip II at the Escurial.


This death brought Philip IV. to the throne when seventeen years old. He was little better than his father, and, like him, turned over the government to a set of incompetents. Although the country was going down hill fast, the court never saw more splendid entertainments. To one of these Charles, Prince of Wales, afterward Charles I. of England, went in company with the Duke of Buckingham in disguise, with the object of wooing the Infanta Maria, sister of Philip, but the scheme came to naught.

Philip IV. married Elizabeth, daughter of Henry IV. of France, and chose for his first minister the Count of Olivarez, whose ambition and atrocious policy brought many calamities to the kingdom. War was renewed with the Dutch, and did not end until the peace of Westphalia. The Catalans revolted and begged the aid of the French King. Philip roused himself to conduct the war in person, but Count Olivarez had not the courage to face the enemy, and set on foot a plot to assassinate Cardinal Richelieu and dethrone the French King. The war dragged on from 1635 to 1659, when the Catalans grew weary of the French rule, and were received back into the former fold, without any punishment whatever for their revolt.

The treaty which brought the end to this strife was known as that of the Pyrenees. It arranged that the Infanta Maria Teresa should marry Louis XIV. of France. Such an alliance was sure to create opposition among the other crowned heads, and it was quieted by the solemn pledge of Louis to yield all his claims to the Spanish crown both for himself and his successors, but the pledge was broken in the lifetime of Louis himself.

Portugal threw off the Spanish yoke in 1640, and the war thus started lasted till 1665, when the Portuguese were successful at Villaviciosa. This crowning calamity seemed to break the heart of Philip, who died three months later. What a melancholy man he must have been when it is said of him that he was seen to smile only three times during his whole life!

Charles V


It must not be forgotten that Velasquez, born at Seville in 1599, became court painter to Philip IV. in 1623, and was the greatest of Spanish artists. He is noted chiefly as a portrait painter, and when we look upon the likenesses produced by his marvellous brush, we know we are gazing into the faces of the most perfect resemblances that human skill can produce. Velasquez also excelled in history, landscape, and genre, and, like most of the Spanish painters, he belongs to what is called the naturalist school. His greatest works are in the galleries of Madrid, whither thousands repair every year to admire them.

This was also the period in which Cervantes, the greatest of Spanish writers produced his Don Quixote. Cervantes was a soldier and an adventurer, a playwright and a teller of short stories; but the foreign world knows him only as the author of Don Quixote. Whatever of Spanish chivalry had not been crushed by the tyranny of the court and of the Inquisition, Cervantes laughed out of existence by heaping ridicule upon it in his immortal novel.