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Philip II’s Inheritance

Philip II became King of the Spanish Empire in 1556, when his father Charles I
abdicated. The two decisions made by Charles, (abdication, and the decision to
leave the Spanish Empire to his son and the Holy Roman Empire to his brother
Ferdinand) are evidence already that Spain was going to be difficult to govern.


✔ New councils had been set up, such as the Council of War. These allowed
for more efficient administration within Philip’s government.
✔ Charles I had appointed many of his family members to positions within
government. These were loyal people who Philip could depend on.
✔ Charles’ government had been functioning well for years.


 A conciliar style of government was in use, having been very useful for
Charles: an ‘absentee monarch’. In his absence, Charles’ government
could rule the country efficiently by itself. However, it required a certain
amount of delegation by definition, and so was highly unsuited to Philip,
who did not like to delegate. The government needed to adapt to fit the
new monarch’s style of rule, and it failed to do this. This meant that the
Spanish government was flawed from the beginning of Philip’s rule.
 Separate assemblies within the government ruled themselves, such as the
Castile Cortes. These guarded their own laws and traditions from before
Spain was united, making it difficult for Philip to rule Spain as a whole.
 Philip held different titles and powers in each state. The inconsistency
across provinces made it harder to rule Spain as a whole. For example,
Philip met with difficulties when he tried to collect a consistent level of
taxation across the domains.
 Communication to parts of the empire was extremely slow. Direct
government was impossible, as orders were long out of date before they
reached their destination. Governors in these parts of the Empire were left
with little choice but to ignore Philip’s out-of-date orders, and rule by
 Although the appointment of family members to government meant that
governors could be trusted, they were also not necessarily the best people
for the job. This made government less effective.
 There was no fixed capital in Spain from which Philip could rule his empire,
making government more difficult.
 Secretaries grew in power and status, which could be threatening to Philip
as King.


✔ Spain was completely Catholic and untainted by Protestantism. Spain
would not have religious problems on the same scale as England.
✔ Philip made sure that he had power over the Pope in Spain. Papal laws
needed royal approval before they could be passed in Spain.
✔ Censorship gave Philip control over what new ideas his people had access
to. This restricted the spread of dangerous Protestant ideas.
✔ The Inquisition, set up before Philip’s accession, helped him to maintain
Spain’s Catholic unity by finding and destroying heresy.
✔ Such complete religious uniformity helped to maintain order within Spain.


 Uniformity of worship was debatable, especially in rural areas. Farmers
were known to worship certain particular Gods for good harvests, etc, and
this was in conflict with Catholicism.
 The growth of Protestantism was always a threat to Spain.
 Inquisition – Black Legend.
 Censorship hard to enforce.

Economy and Finance

✔ The Spanish economy benefitted from ‘bullion’ – precious metals brought
in from the New World.


 Charles left debts of around 36 million ducats to both Spanish and foreign
banks. This put serious limitations on what Philip could achieve as
monarch. This was because before he could do anything, such as invade
another country, he had to consider the financial implications of his
 Around 68% of Spain’s annual revenue was needed to pay off previous
 Lack of investment in new farming and industrial techniques made it
harder for Spain to make money in the future.
 Charles had sold crown land and offices to make immediate money, but
this meant that later on, there was no income from things such as salt
mines as these were privately owned and so exempt from tax.
 Trade was continually disrupted by war. Population also suffered, as war
inevitably costs lives.
 As early as 1532, revenue had been outstripped by expenditure.
 Each area of Spain needed to be self-supporting, with a little profit for the
empire. In reality though, only the Netherlands and Castile regularly did
 The Spanish treasury was strained by forty years of continuous warfare.

Law and Order

✔ There had been very little opposition to Charles’ reign, and the Comuneros
revolt in 1520 had been defeated.
✔ Philip’s subjects accepted and supported him as their rightful King.


 Law and order relied heavily on Grandees and Corregidores (the nobility of
Spanish society) to enforce it. The nobility did this, but they often had self-
interests at heart and could easily become too powerful.
 Philip was biased towards Castile and this caused resentment. Castilians
were appointed as ministers, and Philip himself only spoke their dialect.

Foreign Policy

✔ Although Philip inherited the Habsburg-Valois war, Spain eventually won,
and made gains at the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis. Maybe the war was
not such a bad thing for Spain.


 Philip inherited the continuous war with France, which was not going well
on the Netherlands border. War was damaging to population, trade and
the economy.
 Although a ceasefire had occurred with the Turks, it was uneasy, and there
was still a threat from the Mediterranean that Philip could not forget about.
 The rising power of the Ottoman Empire was a constant worry for Philip.


✔ Philip inherited what is now seen as one of the largest and most powerful
empires in history.


 This empire demanded constant and extensive defence. There was little
time for growth as concentration was always primarily on defence.
 Military forces were strained across the empire, leaving some areas
vulnerable to attack.
 The Spanish Empire threatened France, who were surrounded on all sides
by Spanish territory. The French therefore made it their aim to destroy