Philip, in the prime of his life, by Giacomo Antonio Moro.
Spain became the dominant power in Europe in 1492; its formerly independent provinces united in the same year that explorer Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) made his historic voyage to the New World. This year also marked the beginning of Spain’s colonial empire. Spain’s army quickly earned fame, winning every land battle in which it fought for more than a century. In 1516 Charles V (1500–1SS8) became the king of Spain. Charles was also the Holy Roman Emperor, the leader of a loose confederation of states and territories that included the German states and most of central Europe. His inheritance of Spain and other regions gave him control of a major portion of Europe. Charles decided to divide up his empire in 1SS4, giving Spain and the Netherlands to his son, Philip. At that time Spain included all of present-day Spain, plus the southern part of present-day Italy—Naples, Sardinia, and Sicily—and Spain’s overseas colonies—most of South and Central America and parts of Africa. The Netherlands, also called the Lowlands, at the time included present-day Belgium, Luxembourg, the present-day Netherlands, and parts of France and Germany. Philip had become the ruler of a vast and powerful empire.
Philip was a very restrained, hard-working king. He was a quiet man, preferring solitude and work to court and society. The Spanish king trusted no one and did not allow others to help him with the duties of running a large kingdom. He reviewed every government document, analyzed the accounts, and deliberated painfully over every decision, whether large or small. His military forces were the most powerful in Europe, but they were made less effective by the fact that they were frequently forced to wait for word from the king himself before taking action.
Philip was a devout Catholic. As early as 1573 he had signed a treaty with Pope Gregory XIII (1502–1585), agreeing to invade England and exterminate Protestant heresy there. But Philip distrusted the pope, and he chose to control the Spanish Catholic church himself. The pope feared Philip. The power of the church in Rome would be greatly reduced if Philip became the supreme ruler in Europe. The extreme distrust between the pope and the Spanish king hindered the mission to restore Catholicism to England.
Hostilities grew very slowly between Spain and England. Philip initially respected Elizabeth. He had protected her when his wife, Queen Mary I (1516–1SS8), had been determined to execute Elizabeth as a traitor. He had even proposed marriage to Elizabeth after Mary died. Though his motives for the proposal were certainly political, in the first two decades of Elizabeth’s reign, Philip seemed willing to accept her as queen (though always under careful watch), perhaps believing that she would soon come to her senses and return to the Catholic religion. Like Elizabeth, Philip was hesitant to go to war. Despite the great wealth brought into Spain from the gold and silver mines in the New World, the Spanish economy was weak, particularly because of conflicts in the Netherlands.
It was around 1580 that Philip started planning the ‘‘Enterprise of England,’’ a plan to invade and conquer the island, starting with building a great fleet of war ships known as the Armada (the Spanish word for ‘‘fleet’’). He had many reasons to choose war. For Philip the primary reason was religious: he believed it was his obligation to God to eliminate Protestant heresy from Europe. But it was also an attempt at territorial conquest. With England under Spanish rule, Philip would have a strategic foothold over a large area of western Europe, expanding his vast empire as well as his religion. War was also a reaction to what Philip considered bad behavior on Elizabeth’s part: her aid to rebels against him in the Netherlands, English raids of Spanish ships, and finally the execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542–1587), who was considered by many Catholics to be the rightful queen of England.