Philip III (1578-1621), also known as Philip the Pious, was King of Spain. He was also King Philip II of Portugal, Sicily and Naples. During his reign, he relied on his chief minister, the Duke of Lerma, something which earned him much criticism. On the other hand, he was able to achieve temporary peace with the Dutch and brought Spain into the Thirty Years’ War. Ruling the Spanish Empire at its height, Philip’s reign is considered to be a critical period in Spanish history.
Early Years and Ascension to the Throne
Philip III was born on April 4, 1578, in Madrid. His father was King Philip II of Spain and his mother was Anna of Austria, who was the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.
After Philip’s older brother Don Carlos passed away due to insanity, his father reached the conclusion that his death could have been avoided had Carlos been raised properly. Therefore, he paid much attention to Philip’s upbringing and decided that his education should be based on the model laid down by Father Juan de Mariana, which focused on forming the prince’s personality from an early age.
During his teens, Philip met the Marqués of Denia, who would later become the Duke of Lerma, and quickly became close friends. However, King Philip disliked the Duke and dispatched him to Valencia.
In 1598, King Philip II died and Philip, who by that time was twenty years old, was crowned King Philip III of Spain and II of Portugal, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia. A year later, he married his cousin Margaret of Austria, who was Emperor Ferdinand II’s sister. Together, they had eight children.
Soon after ascending to the throne, Philip put the power of the kingdom in the hands of the Duke of Lerma. The Duke was named Philip’s favourite and ruled the country for the following twenty years.
The early years of Philip’s reign were marked by economic problems caused by the big amount of debt he had inherited from his father. Moreover, the bubonic plague killed a significant portion of the population. The political situation was further worsened by the rise of the proconsuls, Spanish representatives stationed abroad, who began exercising independent control.
In 1609, Spain’s difficulties to subdue the rebels in the Netherlands and the lack of funds to continue with the Dutch War forced the Crown to sign a 12-year truce. As a result of the truce, the Dutch Republic began to build diplomatic ties with other European powers. In order to disguise this failure, the Government decided to expel the Moriscos (Moors converted to Christianity), which turned out to be a very popular measure. About 275,000 Moriscos were expelled from the country, which led to economic loss.
To control the economic damage, the asiento tax system, which consisted of high-interest loans owed to tax farmers, was converted into juros bonds, longer-term bonds with a lower interest. Even though this was beneficial at first, it ended up worsening the financial crisis.
In the meanwhile, the Duke of Lerma had gained many enemies and his administration was at risk. His son, Cristobal de Sandoval, the Duke of Uceda, decided to join his enemies and overthrow the Duke in 1618. At that moment, all of Philip’s income was assigned to bankers, creditors and lenders.
By the end of his reign, Spain entered the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in support of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, which resulted in a Spanish victory.
Death and Legacy
Philip III passed away on March 31, 1621, in Madrid. He was succeeded by his son Philip IV, who removed the last elements of the Duke of Lerma’s regime from the court. According to the memoirs of French ambassador Bassompierre, the King was killed by the heat of a pan of hot charcoal because the official in charge of taking it away was not available, although this seems to be more of an exaggeration than a real account.
King Philip’s legacy is considered by historians as rather poor and his political reputation is negative. This is mainly due to his reliance on the Duke of Lerma, which received much criticism. Moreover, many consider that the beginning of Spain’s decline is marked by the economic difficulties during his reign.
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