New Advent
 Home   Encyclopedia   Summa   Fathers   Bible   Library 
 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z 
New Advent
Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > P > Philip II

Philip II

Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more — all for only $19.99...

King of Spain, only son of the Emperor Charles V, and Isabella of Portugal, b. at Valladolid, 21 May, 1527; d. at the Escorial, 13 Sept., 1598. He was carefully educated in the sciences, learned French and Latin, though he never spoke anything but Castilian, and also showed much interest in architecture and music. In 1543 he married his cousin, Maria of Portugal, who died at the birth of Don Carlos (1545). He was appointed regent of Spain with a council by Charles V. In 1554 he married Mary Tudor, Queen of England, who was eleven years his senior. This political marriage gave Spain an indirect influence on affairs of England, recently restored to Catholicism; but in 1555 Philip was summoned to the Low Countries, and Mary's death in the same year [actually in 1558 — Ed.] severed the connection between the two countries. At a solemn conference held at Brussels, 22 Oct., 1555, Charles V ceded to Philip the Low Countries, the crowns of Castille, Aragon, and Sicily, on 16 Jan., 1556, and the countship of Burgundy on the tenth of June. He even thought of securing for him the imperial crown, but the opposition of his brother Ferdinand caused him to abandon that project. Having become king, Philip, devoted to Catholicism, defended the Faith throughout the world and opposed the progress of heresy, and these two things are the key to his whole reign. He did both by means of absolutism. His reign began unpleasantly for a Catholic sovereign. He had signed with France the Treaty of Vaucelles (5 Feb., 1556), but it was soon broken by France, which joined Paul IV against him. Like Julius II this pope longed to drive the foreigners out of Italy. Philip had two wars on his hands at the same time, in Italy and in the Low Countries. In Italy the Duke of Alva, Viceroy of Naples, defeated the Duke of Guise and reduced the pope to such distress that he was forced to make peace. Philip granted this on the most favourable terms and the Duke of Alva was even obliged to ask the pope's pardon for having invaded the Pontifical States. In the Low Countries Philip defeated the French at Saint Quentin (1557) and Gravelines (1558) and afterwards signed the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis (3 April, 1559), which was sealed by his marriage with Elizabeth of Valois, daughter of Henry II. Peace concluded, Philip, who had been detained in the Low Countries, returned to Spain. For more than forty years he directed from his cabinet the affairs of the monarchy. He resided alternately at Madrid which he made the capital of the kingdom and in villégiatures, the most famous of which is the Escorial, which he built in fulfillment of a vow made at the time of the battle of Saint Quentin.

In Spain, Philip continued the policy of the Catholic Ferdinand and Isabella. He was merciless in the supression of the Lutheran heresy, which had appeared in various parts of the country, notably at Valladolid and Seville. "If my own son were guilty like you", he replied to a gentleman condemned to death for heresy who had reproached him for his cruelty, "I should lead him with my own hands to the stake". He succeeded in exterminating Protestantism in Spain, but encountered another enemy no less dangerous. The Moriscoes of the ancient Kingdom of Granada had been conquered, but they remained the implacable enemies of their conquerors, from whom they were separated by religion, language, dress, and manners, and they plotted incessantly with the Mussulmans outside the country. Philip wished to force them to renounce their language and dress, whereupon they revolted and engaged in a bloody struggle against Spain which lasted three years (1567-70) until ended by Don Juan, natural son of Charles V. The defeated Moriscoes were transplanted in great numbers to the interior of the country. Another event of historical importance in Philip's reign was the conquest of Portugal in 1580. After the death of the young King Sebastian at the battle of Alcazar (1578) and that of his successor the aged Cardinal Henry (1580), Philip II, who through his mother was a grandson of King Emmanuel, pleaded his title of heir and sent the Duke of Alva to occupy the country. This was the only conquest of the reign. Iberian unity, thus realized, lasted from 1580 to 1640. Other events were the troubles in Aragon, which were fomented by Antonio Perez, former secretary of the king. Being pursued for high treason he sought refuge in his native country, and appealed for protection to its fueros that he might not be delivered to the Castilian judges, nor to the Inquisition. The inhabitants of Saragossa defended him by force of arms and he succeeded in escaping abroad, but Philip sent an army to punish Aragon, infringed on the fueros and established absolutism in the Kingdom of Aragon, hitherto proud of its freedom (1592).

In the Low Countries, where Philip had committed the government to his aunt [some sources say half-sister --Ed.], Margaret of Parma, the nobles, chafed because of their want of influence, plotted and trumped up grievances. They protested against the presence in the country of several thousands of Spanish soldiers, against Cardinal de Granvelle's influence with the regent, and against the severity of Charles V's decrees against heresy. Philip recalled the Spanish soldiers and the Cardinal de Granvelle, but he refused to mitigate the decrees and declared that he did not wish to reign over a nation of heretics. The difficulties with the Iconoclasts having broken out he swore to punish them and sent thither the Duke of Alva with an army, whereupon Margaret of Parma resigned. Alva behaved as though in a conquered country, caused the arrest and execution of Count Egmont and de Hornes, who were accused of complicity with the rebels, created the Council of Troubles, which was popularly styled the "Council of Blood", defeated the Prince of Orange and his brother who had invaded the country with German mercenaries, but could not prevent the "Sea-beggars" from capturing Brille. He followed up his military successes but was recalled in 1573. His successor Requesens could not recover Leyden. Influenced by the Prince of Orange the provinces concluded the "Pacification of Ghent" which regulated the religious situation in the Low Countries without royal intervention. The new governor, Don Juan, upset the calculations of Orange by accepting the "Pacification", and finally the Prince of Orange decided to proclaim Philip's deposition by the revolted provinces. The king replied by placing the prince under the ban; shortly afterwards he was slain by an assassin (1584). Nevertheless, the united provinces did not submit and were lost to Spain. Those of the South, however, were recovered one after another by the new governor, Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma. But he having died in 1592 and the war becoming more difficult against the rebels, led by the great general Maurice of Nassau, son of William of Orange, Philip II realized that he must change his policy and ceded the Low Countries to his daughter Isabella, whom he espoused to the Archduke Albert of Austria, with the provision that the provinces would be returned to Spain in case there were no children by this union (1598). (See ALVA; EGMONT; GRANVELLE; NETHERLANDS.) The object of Philip's reign was only partly realized. He had safeguarded the religious unity of Spain and had exterminated heresy in the southern Low Countries, but the northern Low Countries were lost to him forever.

Philip had three enemies to contend with abroad, Islam, England, and France. Islam was master of the Mediterranean, being in possession of the Balkan Peninsula, Asia Minor, Egypt, all the coast of northern Africa (Tunis, Algiers, Morocco); it had just conquered the Island of Cyprus and laid siege to the Island of Malta (1505), which had valiantly repulsed the assault. Dragut, the Ottoman admiral, was the terror of the Mediterranean. On several occasions Philip had fought against the Mussulman peril, meeting alternately with success and defeat. He therefore eagerly joined the Holy League organized by Pius V to resist Islam, and which Venice consented to join. The fleet of the League, commanded by Don Juan, brother of Philip II, inflicted on the Turkish fleet the terrible defeat of Lepanto (7 Oct., 1571), the results of which would have been greater had Venice not proved false and if Pius V had not died in 1572. Nevertheless, the Turkish domination of the Mediterranean was ended and in 1578 Philip concluded a treaty with the Turks which lasted till the end of his reign. Relations of intimacy with England had ceased at the death of Mary Tudor. Philip attempted to renew them by his chimerical project of marriage with Elizabeth, who had not yet become the cruel persecutor of Catholicism. When she constituted herself the protectress of Protestant interests throughout the world and did all in her power to encourage the revolt of the Low Countries, Philip thought of contending with her in her own country by espousing the cause of Mary Stuart, but Elizabeth did away with the latter in 1587, and furnished relief to the Low Countries against Philip, who thereupon armed an immense fleet (the Invincible Armada) against England. But being led by an incompetent commander it accomplished nothing and was almost wholly destroyed by storms (1588). This was an irreparable disaster which inaugurated Spain's naval decline. The English corsairs could with impunity pillage her colonies and under Drake even her own coast; in 1596 the Duke of Essex pillaged the flourishing town of Cadiz, and the sceptre of the seas passed from Spain to England. From 1559 Philip II had been at peace with France, and had contented himself with urging it to crush out heresy. French intervention in favour of the Low Countries did not cause him to change his attitude, but when at the death of Henry III in 1589 the Protestant Henry of Bourbon became heir to the throne of France, Philip II allied himself with the Guises, who were at the head of the League, supplied them with money and men, and on several occasions sent to their relief his great general Alexander Farnese. He even dreamed of obtaining the crown of France for his daughter Isabella, but this daring project was not realized. The conversion of Henry IV (1593). to Catholicism removed the last obstacle to his accession to the French throne. Apparently Philip II failed to grasp the situation, since he continued for two years more the war against Henry IV, but his fruitless efforts were finally terminated in 1595 by the absolution of Henry IV by Clement VIII.

No sovereign has been the object of such diverse judgments. While the Spaniards regarded him as their Solomon and called him "the prudent king" (el rey prudente), to Protestants he was the "demon of the south" (dæmon meridianus) and most cruel of tyrants. This was because, having constituted himself the defender of Catholicism throughout the world, he encountered innumerable enemies, not to mention such adversaries as Antonio Perez and William of Orange who maligned him so as to justify their treason. Subsequently poets (Schiller in his "Don Carlos"), romance-writers, and publicists repeated these calumnies. As a matter of fact Philip II joined great qualities to great faults. He was industrious, tenacious, devoted to study, serious, simple-mannered, generous to those who served him, the friend and patron of arts. He was a dutiful son, a loving husband and father, whose family worshipped him. His piety was fervent, he had a boundless devotion to the Catholic Faith and was, moreover, a zealous lover of Justice. His stoical strength in adversity and the courage with which he endured the sufferings of his last illness are worthy of admiration. On the other hand he was cold, suspicious, secretive, scrupulous to excess, indecisive and procrastinating, little disposed to clemency or forgetfulness of wrongs. His religion was austere and sombre. He could not understand opposition to heresy except by force. Imbued with ideas of absolutism, as were all the rulers of his time, he was led into acts disapproved by the moral law. His cabinet policy, always behind-hand with regard to events and ill-informed concerning the true situation, explains his failures to a great extent. To sum up we may cite the opinion of Baumstark: "He was a sinner, as we all are, but he was also a king and a Christian king in the full sense of the term".


GACHARD, Correspondance de Philippe II sur les affaires des Pays Bas (Brussels and Ghent, 1848-1851); IDEM, Lettres de Philippe II a ses filles (Paris, 1884); IDEM, Don Carlos et Philippe II (Paris, 1863); PRESCOTT, History of the reign of Philip II, King of Spain (London, 1855); CORDOBA, Felipe II, rey de Espana (Madrid, 1876-78); BAUMSTARK, Philippe II, Konig von Spanien (Freiburg, 1875), tr. into French, KURTH (1877); MONTANA, Nueva luz y juicio verdadero sobre Felipe II (Madrid, 1882); FORNERON, Histoire de Philippe II (Paris, 1882); HUME, Philip II of Spain (London, 1897).

About this page

APA citation. Kurth, G. (1911). Philip II. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Kurth, Godefroid. "Philip II." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by John Paul Bradford.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.

Copyright © 2023 by New Advent LLC. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.