Philippe II & Felipe II: two successful Philips

Philippe II & Felipe II: two successful Philips

Felipe II painted by Antonio Moro /

Felipe II painted by Antonio Moro /

There were nearly two hundred years between the births of these two triumphant kings of France and Spain respectively. I shall use the anglicised version of their names. The French Philip came to be known as ‘Augustus’ as well, as if he were a Roman emperor. He did not appear to object to this magniloquence.

French Philip was born in 1165, a member of the Capet royal dynasty, and therefore referred to by historians as Capetian. He succeeded his father Louis VII when he was but one year old, and the first eighteen years of his life had to be supervised by regents. When he was nineteen he decided to take the reins himself, and did so. As he was a bit of a young lion he instantly set about the restoration and expansion of his kingdom, which was of course infinitely smaller than present-day France, though it contained most of the North.

Showing remarkable presence of mind, bravery and military good sense, the teenaged king defeated the Count of Flanders and the Duke of Burgundy (q.v.), adding the territory gained to his lordship, seized Artois and parts of the valley of the Somme.

Like all Capetians, he was permanently irritated by the English Plantagenets (q.v.), and distrusted John I entirely, which was a wise career move because the younger brother of the recently dead Richard ‘The Lionheart’ was a nasty piece of work. He was already suspected of having personally dispatched his own nephew Prince Arthur of Brittany (q.v.), son of his older brother Geoffrey, who should by rights have become king after the demise of Richard I. In 1216 Augustus sent his son and heir Louis to invade England. For some eighteen months King John, then Henry III and his champion William Marshal were heavily bothered by this attempt at a second French invasion, following William the Bastard’s in 1066.

For the sake of medieval politics French Philip was initially obliged to accept the homage of John I for his keeping of Normandy, Aquitaine and Anjou, but before you could mutter cavalry he had recovered Normandy, Anjoy, Poitou and the Auvergne for France. This was a considerable achievement for a king not yet twenty-five.

Even greater victories were to come before illness snatched his life from him, as so often happened in the early centuries. At the Battle of Bouvines (August 1215), he thrashed both John I and the Holy Roman Emperor, making his country even stronger and more united than ever.

Having shown what he could do on the battlefield and in diplomacy, he devoted the rest of his  life to reforming the laws of France, and building extensively in Paris, fortifying the strategic points as he did so. He had been king from 1180 – 1223. He died suddenly when he was fifty-eight.

Spanish Philip (Felipe Segundo) was born in 1527, the only legitimate son of Charles V, who was king of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor (q.v.). He became king of Spain, Naples and Sicily and reigned from 1556 to 1598.

Though ascetic and monk-like in his personal life, he diplomatically married four times: his wives were Mary of Portugal, marriage in 1543; Mary I (Mary Tudor q.v.) of England, marriage in 1554 – an unconsummated alliance; Isabella of France, marriage in 1559, and Anne of Austria in 1570. With her he at last had a son, the future Philip III of Spain.

Felipe was king when Spain had the largest empire the world had ever seen. Everything in Central and South America except Brazil, great chunks of North America (examine the Spanish names of the modern states – Texas, Arizona, Montana, California etc. and the Mexicos), dozens of large islands in the Caribbean including Cuba, islands in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. The king organised the vast empire from a small suite of rooms he had commissioned inside his colossal monastery/palace of the Escurial. He disliked the idea of Court life, kept only close friends and confidants around him, disliked drink, ate sparingly, and dressed in subdued tones. But he never left the Iberian Peninsula after 1559, claiming (rather like the English) that ‘abroad’ was horrid and best left to foreigners.

He had faults of course, and had vigorously to control his crusading zeal, but his stout Catholicism caused the long revolt of the Dutch in the Spanish Low Countries (1568 – 1648) and the revolt of the Moors (Moriscos) within Spain’s borders.

Philip II also fought against the Turks, especially at sea, and remained at war with England for nineteen years, though he had been married to England’s queen. His most resolute enemy was Elizabeth I, who employed professional seamen and navigators as corsairs to attack and rob Spanish treasure fleets. Not once but three times Philip sent Armadas to invade impertinent England, but a combination of smaller, faster ships commanded by men like Frobisher and Drake (q.v.), fierce British sailormen and the terrible British weather defeated his intentions and his troop-filled fleets.

The king got himself involved with the French Wars of Religion, motivated by interests of state. One of the few negative points against him is that he left Spain economically crippled as a result of his military expenses; in this respect he must join a very long list of monarchs who did exactly the same thing. He died at the age of seventy-one, not in Madrid, a town he disapproved of.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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