Other Discussions on Spain

Phillip II


What do the vociferously anti-papal Ian Paisley and Philip II have in common? A lot. Philip II married Bloody Queen Mary of England, who burned Protestants in defense of her Roman Catholic faith. Hence the legacy of anti-papism which has faded away in England but still is strong in Northern Ireland. Philip II, "the Devil of the South," was largely responsible for triggering the "Black Legend," the traditional hatred of Spain among liberals. Spanish liberals shared this distaste for Philip II, but Unamuno said that every Spaniard should visit the Escorial, the somber palace-monastery Philip II built in the mountains north of Madrid. Unamuno said ambivalently that this building tells us more about Spain than any other.

Philip II died in the Escorial on September 13, 1958. A major exhibition is being held there to mark the fourth centennial of his death. It is part of a carefully orchestrated attempt by conservative historians to rehabilitate him. The monarchy of King Juan Carlos is the most popular institution in Spain. Through him the monarchy as an institution is promoted as the key element in the history of Spain. Hence the rehabilitation of his grandfather, Alfonso XIII, whom the republic forced out in 1931. A previous memo described the visit of King Juan Carlos to the impoverished region of Las Hurdes to commemorate the enlightened efforts of Alfonso XIII to help the peasants of the area. It will be interesting to see how far this rehabilitation of the monarchy will go. It is doubtful if it will help Carlos IV, the monarch pilloried by Goya. 

Ronald Hilton - 04/19/98 


More on Phillip II


Earlier memos have discussed the discreet efforts to rehabilitate the Spanish monarchy by burnishing the tarnished reputation of Alfonso XIII, deposed in 1931. He was given credit for the campaign to improve the lot of the destitute people of las Hurdes. The tricentennial of the death of Felipe II has provided an opportunity to exalt his memory. Years ago I did research on his marriage with "bloody Mary" of England and had occasion to examine the literature on "the Devil of the South." In my study of Michelet, I stressed his hatred of Spain and of Felipe II, who tried to prevent the accession of Henri IV. It may thus be a surprise that in Spain "Felipe el Prudente" was popular. The Escorial, described as a monstrosity by many foreign travelers, was admired by the liberal Unamuno as the embodiment of the soul of Spain. Reading reports on the visits of illustrious foreigners to the anti-clerical Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid, I have been struck by the fact that they were habitually taken on an excursion to El Escorial.

There have been in Spain a number of meetings devoted to Felipe II, but one event has puzzled me. Guipuzcoa is the Basque province most troubled by ETA violence. Yet a village there called Ondarilla (?), which does not appear on detailed maps of the area, was the scene of much publicized festivities in the streets, ending in a mass in the church. The accompanying statements said something about the village having been the birthplace of Felipe's mother (?), but it all made no historical sense to me. Can any Hispanist please enlighten me? The point is of course that this was carrying pro-Spanish propaganda to ETA's heartland.

Ronald Hilton - 08/13/98

A Footnote:

The place where the festivities honoring Philip II took place must be Hondarribia, the Basque form of Fuenterrabia, close to the French border and right in the heart of ETA terrorism. That still leaves the historical question as to what happened there of importance to Felipe II. It escapes me. I will ask our Basque friend, Ignacio Palacios-Huerta. 


Death of Phillip II


A previous memo expressed puzzlement at the impressive festivities in Hondarribia (Fuenterribia), on the Basque frontier with France, marking the tricentennial of the death of Philip II. Indeed, the stress on its connection with Philip II seems a little contrived. In the once royal castle (now transformed into an elegant parador) Philip's third wife, Isabel de Valois, spent the night, as did (earlier) his grandmother, Juana la Loca. I visited it some years ago, but stayed in a less expensive tourist hotel. The celebration served as a reminder of the Spanish presence in the area of ETA terrorism. Otherwise it was a joyful celebration. The only gesture toward Philip II was the celebration of the Missa Philippus Secundus by Philippe Rogier. Ignacio Palacios-Huerta found this information in the online editions of El Pais and El Correo.

El Pais also ran an amusing article by the well-known Hispanist Hugh Thomas, "Philip II in the House of Lords" of which the Hispanist is a life member as Baron Thomas of Swynnerton. The Spanish Albassador Alberto Aza gave a luncheon there as part of the tricentennial celebrations. Philip II became King of England as a result of his marriage with Bloody Mary in Winchester in 1554. Incidentally, my study of that marriage made me wonder about historians, since the illegible writing of James Froude led all those who followed him to refer to a chronicle which does not exist. There was a discreet (perhaps ignorant) silence about Froude at the luncheon, since he would definitively have spoiled the happy event. He inspired Spain's "black legend", one expression of which is Tennyson's "The Revenge", which Thomas mentions, but I doubt if the speakers did; they dedemonized Philip II. He tried to get wife Mary to stop burning heretics. Indeed , his four wives came from Portugal, Austria, France and England, showing that he was as good a European as Jacques Delors. Lord Montgomery of Alamein provided the thick red Rioja wine which rejoiced the guests and quieted their critical facilities. The ghosts of King Philip and Queen Mary were sitting in the back of the room. 

Ronald Hilton - 08/16/98 

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