The Crusades of Philip II

No one could question the commitment of Philip II to the cause of Catholicism. He was the son of HRE Charles V, who had left Spain to him to rule as well as the Low Countries (present day Holland), Luxemburg, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, Milan and all of the Spanish holdings on the west coast of Africa and in the Western Hemisphere. IN 1580, he conquered Portugal in the name of his mother, who was Portuguese, and annexed it to Spain. He sponsored the colonization of the Philippine Islands, which bear his name. He could claim legal authority over more of the earth’s surface than any monarch in the history of the world, including Alexander the Great.

Philip was cautious, but hard working and patient. He had a penchant for details that drove other people crazy. Almost every document of state passed through his hands, as he did not trust his subordinates with them; however he treated servants and nobles with equal courtesy. He was a ladies man in his younger days, but as a married man was dedicated to his children. He was devoutly religious, and found solace in his faith from the tragedies of his personal life: He lost his mother father, sister, four wives, one daughter, and four sons in rapid succession. He felt an obligation to the Catholic Church, and took it upon himself to use the wealth and power of his empire to restore the dominion of the Church over as much of Europe as possible. He also believed he had a divine mandate to protect Christendom from Islamic forces.

The War against Islam: A large number of Moors (Spanish Muslims) had nominally converted to Christianity, and were known as Moriscos. Many were gradually reverting to Islam, and Philip distrusted them. He feared that they would assist if Muslim forces were to attack Spain. In January, 1567, Philip issued a decree ordering the Moriscos to stop practicing Islam and using the Arabic language. Their response was to revolt, in which cause they were aided by Muslims from Algiers and other Muslim lands. The rebellion lasted for two years, during which time both sides committed unspeakable atrocities.

Before suppressing the Moriscos, other developments in the Muslim world commanded Philip’s attention. Suleiman the Magnificent, died in 1566, and was succeeded by his son, Selim II, who was determined to make a name for himself independent of his fathers. To do so, he sent new forces to Europe and conquered the Island of Cyprus. This provoked the Pope, Pius V, to call for a new crusade against the Muslims. Philip joined forces with the Pope and formed a Holy League, and sent a huge fleet under his illegitimate half brother, Don Juan of Austria. The fleet met the Muslim Fleet at Lepanto. Over 400 ships and 160,000 men were involved. The Holy League had over 1815 naval guns, and soon defeated the Sultan’s fleet. The Holy League’s victory prevented the Muslims from conquering territory in Europe for another one hundred years.

Don Juan’s victory inspired Philip, who now believed that he must crusade against the remaining Muslims in Spain and then the Protestants, whom he considered the spawn of the devil. Don Juan managed to defeat the Moriscos, and in 1609, Philip issued a royal

Decree whereby they were expelled from the country.

The Revolt of the Low Countries: The Low countries were the richest part of Philip’s empire, but also the most troublesome. The people of the area had been fond of his father, Charles V, as Charles had been born in Flanders. Philip did not depart drastically from his father’s policies, but the Netherlanders resented him for his Spanish nature. They believed that he used their taxes for the benefit of Spain. Worse, the area had become largely Protestant, which caused Philip no small amount of agitation.

In 1566 Philip told the Spanish ambassador to Rome, "I neither intend nor desire to be the ruler of heretics. If things cannot be remedied as I wish without recourse to arms, I am determined to go to war.

A group of Dutch nobles approached Philip’s half sister, Margaret of Parma, in April 1566, to request that he ease up his persecution of the Protestants. During the interview, Margaret’s counselor referred to the nobles as "those beggars." The label was quickly used to indicate the contempt the Spanish king and Catholic church had for the Netherlanders, and a campaign of desecrating Catholic churches began. In response, Philip sent the Duke of Alba, known as the "Iron Duke" to put down the rebellion. He organized a "council of blood" which dealt with suspected heretics brutally. Thousands were put to death; his actions were so brutal that Margaret of Parma resigned, and was promptly replaced with Alba. Ultimately, the Dutch rebels persuaded Elizabeth I of England to send 6,000 troops to assist the rebels, and allowed Dutch rebel ships, known as "Sea Beggars" to dock in British ports. The revolt did not end until 1609, several years after Philip’s death. In 1648, the full independence of the Protestant Low Countries was recognized.

The Spanish Armada: Philip’s most grandiose plan was to return England to the fold of the Catholic Church. His first attempt to do so was made in 1554, two years before his own coronation when he married Mary Tudor, Queen of England. The move alienated many of Mary’s subjects, and the marriage did not produce an heir. When Marry died in 1558, Philip proposed marriage to her half sister, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was determined to marry no one, let alone a sovereign who might usurp her own power. Philip was too important for her to spurn outright, so she strung him along for a number of years. By 1570, Philip saw the handwriting on the wall, and knew the marriage was not going to happen. He therefore decided to "liberate" England from the Protestant "Jezebel" or so he called Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s aid of the Dutch rebels, and sponsorship of Francis Drake’s raids on Spanish shipping made matters even worse.

Drake had attacked Spanish shipping in the Western Hemisphere, and had sailed around the world to avoid capture. While he was en route, Philip had sent an ultimatum to Elizabeth demanding that Drake be surrendered to him when he returned. Elizabeth not only refused to do so, she met Drake at the dock and knighted him on board his ship, the Golden Hind.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots pushed Philip over the edge. Mary, a Catholic, had been Elizabeth’s heir, but with her execution, the next in line was Mary’s son, James, who was being reared a Protestant. Philip called Mary a martyr of the church, and swore to avenge her death. He therefore commissioned a naval expedition, a huge Armada, to attack England.

The enterprise seemed doomed from the start. Delays in launching the fleet allowed Sir Frances Drake to attack the Spanish Fleet at Cadiz harbor in April, 1587, and damage or capture thirty ships, plus valuable war materials, including wood for the casks that would hold the armada’s water and food supplies. This action was said to "singe the beard" of Philip. Then, in February, 1588, the fleet’s commander died before it was ready to sail. The new commander was a good administrator, but inexperience.

The fleet sailed from Lisbon in May, 1588 with 130 vessels, 20,000 soldiers, 10,000 sailors, and 2,000 guns in the "confident hope of a miracle." In response, the English had 190 ships that set lower in the water and had more long range fire power. The plan was to gain control of the English channel and transport the troops of the Duke of Parma from the Netherlands across the channel and land on English soil. Elizabeth, knowing of the plan, met with her troops dressed in full battle armor, and delivered a stirring speech in which she promised to lead the troops into battle herself: "I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a King; and of a King of England too." Her words were truly inspirational.

The Spanish fleet was damaged by storms, and met the English fleet in the English channel. Neither side suffered great loss. However, when the Armada reached Calais, they found that that Parma could not reach the coast with his army. The Armada did not have enough boats to navigate the shallow coastal waters of Calais, so there was no way of loading and transporting troops. The mission had failed, even though most of the Armada was still in tact.

On the night of August 7, 1588, the English set fire to eight of their ships and sent them into the Spanish fleet. The Spanish were afraid that the ships were loaded with dynamite and would explode in their midst, and orders were given for the fleet to cut anchor and disperse. The English attacked the following morning before the fleet could reassemble and inflicted heavy damage.

The Dutch rebels had previously used ships loaded with dynamite with terrifying success. The Spanish called them "hell burners."

Unwilling to risk another encounter in the channel, the Spanish sailed north through the North Sea around Scotland and Ireland and then home to Spain. The remains of the fleet held together despite no charts for the North sea, bad weather, and catastrophic illness on board caused by lack of food and water. Less than half the Spanish fleet ever sailed again.

The defeat of the 1588 armada did not end the wars between Spain and England. The following year, Sir Francis Drake led a counterattack against Spain with 120 ships. Half the ships and their crews were lost. Six years later, Drake led another expedition against the Spanish in the West Indies where he hoped to capture a Spanish treasure fleet and destroy Spanish bases in the Americas. The raid proved to be a disaster, and Drake died before returning to England. In 1596, the English sacked Cadiz.. The Duke of Medina Sidona, who had commanded the 1588 Armada, burned the fifty ships the English had hoped to capture. Philip sent armadas against England later in 1596 and the following year, but they were driven from the channel by terrible storms. The long and expensive naval duel between England and Spain proved indecisive, except that England remained Protestant and independent. Philip II died in 1598, wondering why God had not blessed more of his crusades with success.