A brief history of Spain – part 12, the Wars of Philip II (1568-1640)

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To put things into perspective man has to know about the past. From the Romans to the present day, Spain has played an important role in the progression of the Western World. InSpain.news gives a resume of the history of Spain based on several (scientific) sources. This is part 12. Read parts 1 here2 here3 here4 here, 5 here,  6 here7 here8 here , 9 here10 here and 11 here.

The Spanish empire could always have expanded its territory without actually having to go to war. However, emerging powers such as England, France and the Netherlands posed a threat to the dominant position in Europe and the Spanish overseas possessions. Catholicism also had to be defended. A great empire is always at war somewhere. The wars were financed with revenue from the new world and with taxpayers’ money. The Spanish state’s debts and interest obligations became increasingly unbearable towards the end of the 16th century, and so did the tax burden. By the end of the 16th century, Spain employed around 100,000 mercenaries. Several major wars were fought under Philip II.

The Eighty Years’ war against the Netherlands (1568-1648)

Through marriage policy the Netherlands had become Habsburg property and at the abdication of Charles V, this came into the hands of his successor Philip II. The religious contradictions between the Protestant Dutch and the authority established by Spain led, in addition to conflicts about the constitution and taxation, to revolts and these revolts culminated with the Battle of Heiligerlee in 1568 in the Eighty Years’ War.

The War with England (1585-1604)

In 1588 the English Queen Elizabeth I had the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scotls executed. Moreover, after some hesitation, Elizabeth decided to support the Netherlands in their fight against Spain. In addition, the English merchant shipping for Philip II was an eyesore. In response, in 1588 Philip II sent the Armada to the north of Spain. This was a huge fleet, consisting of 130 ships with a total of 26,000 people on board.

The large but unwieldy Spanish ships that had already been ravaged by storms on their journey from Spain did not stand a chance against the smaller and more manoeuvrable Dutch and English ships. The Armada was crushed and the remaining ships fled northward before part of the fleet smashed against the rocky coast of Ireland in another storm. The war with England was an intermittent conflict with varying degrees of success for both sides.

Christianity against Islam: Battle of Lepanto (1571)

In 1566, the Islamic Turkish Empire covered the Balkans, parts of the Arabian Peninsula and the North African coastal strip, in addition to present-day Turkish territory. The northern border posed a threat to Habsburg Austria. Turkish piracy in the Mediterranean and attacks on Spanish territory posed a threat to Spanish hegemony in the western Mediterranean and to trade. The measure was over when the Turks plundered Cyprus without declaring war in 1570, massacred 30,000 Cypriots, and enslaved some of the remaining 20,000 islanders.

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The “Holy League”

Pope Pius V organised a “Holy League” comprising the Spanish monarchy, Genoa, Venice, the Duchy of Savoy, the Vatican and Malta. Collections were made in 400,000 European parishes to fund the League. Spain accounted for half of the contribution and Philip II set himself up as the patron of Christianity against Islam. A huge fleet of 207 ships with a crew of 90,000 heads was built and gathered in the port of Messina, Sicily. From there, a course was set for Lepanto, located on the west coast of Greece.

Galley slaves

galley slaves

The Turks were confident. They had already won quite a few naval battles and had more ships at their disposal. A major advantage of the Christian fleet was that they had many more guns and better trained soldiers, equipped with small arms as opposed to the Turks who wielded bows and arrows. The Christian fleet was led by the charismatic Juan of Austria, a half-brother of Philip II. The ships were driven by galley slaves, convicts who were chained to a wooden bench in the hold of the ship among the rats. These slaves were not paid, and were poorly fed, and many of them hoped with each expedition that it would be their last. They would rather die than living the misery of a galley slave. Juan of Austria decided to provide them with good food and wine and promised freedom in the event of a victory.

The Battle of Lepanto

On October 7 that year, the battle of Lepanto took place. The Christian fleet won the 10-hour battle gloriously. It was the bloodiest naval battle in history. Killing 40,000 crew members in both fleets, the vast majority on the Turkish side. The victory was not further exploited. The Holy League soon fell apart and with the coming of autumn, the risk of storms was too great. Moreover, Philip II desperately needed his men for the battle in the Netherlands. It would take more than a century before the Turkish empire was finally pushed back.

The annexation of Portugal (1580-1640).

Spain and Portugal, although both colonial powers, had always coexisted in relative peace. In 1494, both countries signed the treaty of Tordesillas in the Spanish town of Tordesillas. This divided the new world between the two countries. In 1580 the royal family of Portugal had no heir to the throne. Therefore, Philip II, with his mother being a Portuguese princess, put himself forward as a pretender to the throne. The Portuguese population was not pleased with this. Consequently, Philip II sent the Duke of Alba to annex Portugal. The additional income from the Portuguese colonies alleviated Philip II’s financial problems.

War with France (1589-1598).

Also in France there were conflicts between Protestants (Huguenots) and Catholics, the Huguenot Wars. Philip II intervened and sent his best general, Alexander Farnese, from the Netherlands to France to support the Catholics in their struggle. In the absence of Farnese, the rebellious Dutch managed to regain a lot of territories. In 1598, the Edict of Nantes ended the religious disputes and so did the Spanish intervention in France.

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