Introduction

Throughout the late fifteenth century and into the early sixteenth century, Philip II of Spain ruled throughout Spain and all of her territories, including the Spanish Netherlands, Italy, and later Portugal. He inherited the lands from his father, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor when Charles abdicated from the throne in 1556.[1] After his father’s abdication, Philip spent several years in the Spanish Netherlands, though he had not been well prepared to live there; he spoke limited French, which did not appeal him to the Flemish nobility with whom his father had been very close. Throughout his reign, Philip II faced a number of problems including rebellions, the deaths of several wives, bankruptcy, and foreign wars. He had inherited an empire which was hopelessly entangled with much of Western Europe, and struggled throughout his time in power to extricate his holdings from these conflicts.[2]

Philip II’s ruling style was distinctly his own. While his father had commanded a global empire, including much of Europe, Philip’s influence was more limited. His reign was characterized by three key elements: his politically savvy decisions, his deeply religious nature, and his lavish court. There are a number of sources that remain in existence that support the reality of these elements, which will be examined in greater depth throughout this website. In order to explain the importance of Philip’s politically savvy decisions, letters which he wrote regarding important matters of state as well as extremely detailed instructions to his nobility and military leaders will be examined. Additionally, images of Philip from the early years of his reign will be compared to those of his father, Charles V, and to those from Philip’s later years in power. Philip’s deeply religious nature can be examined through the construction and decoration of El Escorial, as well as numerous paintings which he had commissioned of himself and his family throughout his reign. Finally, the lavishness of Philip’s court can be seen in plays and poetry written during and soon after his rule, as well as through the decoration of his palace and through the artwork that was produced at the court. Using these three elements, the ruling style of Philip II of Spain can be defined for a modern audience.


[1] Peter Pierson, Philip II of Spain (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 30.

[2] John Lynch, Spain 1516-1598: From Nation State to World Empire (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), 252.

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