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Legacy of Philip II: 1598

Spain's war with England continues spasmodically, after the defeat of the Armada, for the last ten years of Philip II's life. During this same period the Protestant rebellion in the northern Netherlands remains unresolved. And in the early 1590s Philip intervenes in France's civil war, sending support to the Catholics who are trying to prevent Henry IV from winning the throne.

Henry's acceptance of Catholicism in 1593 removes the ostensible reason for Spanish involvement in France. In 1598 Philip II grudgingly recognizes the new French king in the peace of Vervins.

The instinct of Philip III, succeeding his father Philip II in 1598, is that of a peacemaker. He mends Spain's fances with England in the treaty of London (1604). He even achieves a spell of calm in the northern Netherlands; the Twelve Years' Truce, agreed with the United Provinces in 1609, runs its full course and puts an end to armed hostilities until 1621.

But Philip III's father leaves him one internal Spanish problem, that of the Moriscos. And this he tackles with disastrous resolution.

Moriscos: 1502-1609

Morisco is a derogatory Spanish term, deriving from moro - meaning Moorish and used originally of Muslims from Morocco. During the 16th century Morisco becomes applied to Muslim families who have remained in Spain by converting to Christianity.

The choice of expulsion or conversion first confronts the Muslims of Granada in 1502. It is extended by Charles V in 1525 to the rest of the kingdom. Inevitably, under this form of pressure, conversion is often half-hearted. Many Muslims families keep faith with the old religion, carrying out the rituals of Islam in private.

There are also economic, political and social aspects to the problem. Morisco communities, as often with minorities, tend to be hard-working and prosperous - provoking jealousy. In the coastal areas of Granada and Valencia they are also suspected of assisting the Muslim pirates who regularly raid from north Africa.

In addition to this, the Moriscos cause offence by behaving in their traditional fashion. Conversion does not alter a community's customs or costume. The Moriscos continue to live their separate existence, in their own way and with their own robes. To Christian Spanish eyes they still look like Muslims.

In a Spain priding itself on its Catholic fervour, at the peak of the Catholic Reformation, the appearance of the Moriscos seems an affront. In 1567 Philip II introduces a law banning their customs and their clothes. The result is a violent uprising in 1568 by the Moriscos of Granada. After much brutality it is finally suppressed in 1570.

In the aftermath of the rebellion the Moriscos are deported from Granada to other regions of Spain - a measure which makes assimilation even less likely, even though there is in most cases no racial difference between the groups. Most of the Moriscos descend from Christian families converted during the long centuries of Islam in Spain.

In 1609 Philip III passes a decree (the most popular of his entire reign) ordering the expulsion from Spain of all Moriscos. It takes five years for the process to be carried out, as families are transported in galleys across the Mediterranean to the coast of north Africa.

It is calculated that 300,000 people are deported. The property which they leave behind seems at first like a welcome bonus. But these are people skilled in crafts and agriculture. Their departure does great damage to Spain's economy, just as their arrival eventually benefits north Africa.

Habsburg Spain in decline: 1598-1665

The reigns of Philip III and IV, spanning the first seven decades of the 17th century, constitute a peak in Spanish literature and art. At the start of the period Cervantes produces the western world's first great novel, Don Quixote. Lope de Vega and then Calderón establish the Spanish theatre. Velazquez, painter to the Spanish court, transforms his unglamorous masters into masterpieces. El Greco, Zurbaran and Murillo flesh out in glorious paint the certainties of the Catholic Reformation.

Yet in the practical world of economics and international affairs the period presents a very different picture.

Where Philip II kept the reins of government almost obsessively in his own hands, his son and grandson are much influenced by powerful favourites - known in Spanish history as validos. The favourite of Philip III is the duke of Lerma (1598-1618), while the validos of Philip IV are the duke of Olivares (1621-1643) and his nephew Luis de Haro (1643-1661).

Between them the favourites preside over a steady decline in Spain's prosperity. Economic troubles are compounded by the expulsion of the Moriscos, by inflation and by Spain's costly involvement in the Thirty Years' War. Meanwhile the monarchs create a problem for their royal line by constantly marrying within the Habsburg dynasty.

Habsburg inbreeding and Spanish succession: 17th c.

It is a historical truism that the Spanish Habsburgs become dangerously inbred through seeking wives from the Austrian branch of the family, and indeed the facts look startling. Three successive generations of Spanish kings (Philip III, Philip IV and Charles II) have Habsburgs as both parents.

Yet this is not as reckless as it seems. Indeed it is more a strange accident of mortality. The Habsburg mother of Philip III is his father's fourth wife. Three previous brides - successively Portuguese, English and French - bear sons who die as infants, or daughters, or no children at all. The Habsburg mother of Charles II is his father's second wife, after the death of a French princess. Fortunate Austria marries: Spain marries unfortunately.

Neverthless, the fact remains that nearly all the immediate ancestors of Charles II (who succeeds to the Spanish throne in 1665) are descendants of the emperor Maximilian. The famous Habsburg jaw, visible in Maximilian and prominent in Velazquez's portraits of Philip IV, is so extreme in Charles II that it amounts to a disability - one of many, for he is sickly from birth.

Charles II marries twice but has no children and is assumed to be impotent. In his thirties he is so often ill that his early death is widely expected. With no immediate heir, but powerful claimants to his great empire, the coming crisis obsesses Europe in the 1690s. The issue will be fought out in the War of the Spanish Succession.

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