growing up to be king -- 11/14/23

Today's selection -- from A Brief History of Portugal by Dominic Haynes. Philip II of Spain, known also as Philip the Prudent, son of one of the most powerful monarchs in European history, Emperor Charles V:

“Every facet of Philip's upbringing was meticulously managed. His mother, Isabel, had a Portuguese circle of influence, instilling a lifelong affinity for Portuguese culture in Philip. While his father, Charles, was often preoccupied with state matters, he remained concerned about Philip's well-being, inquiring regularly about his health. As a child, Philip was mischievous, occasionally exasperating his mother, but their relationship was generally positive. Although she passed away when he was young, he looked up to her as a role model for behavior and character. 

“In 1534, after Charles returned to Spain, Philip received a comprehensive education. He was assigned a Parisian priest as a tutor, appointed a new governor, and given a separate household. Educational materials, including books on grammar and reading, were explicitly prepared for him. Despite periodic interruptions due to illness, by 1540, Philip had achieved a level of proficiency in his studies that surpassed many children of his age. 

“Philip's nonacademic interests included things like hunting and jousting. In 1541, Philip received another tutor who focused on mathematics and architecture, trying to get the prince to his father's desired level of academic excellence. Even though his tutors often addressed him in Latin, he would respond in Spanish. He refused to become a scholar even though he grew up grounded in literature, reading Petrarch, Sophocles, Vitruvio, and Copernicus, among others. His major problem growing up was his father's absence, but he soon started participating in Cortes meetings briefly before his father dismissed them. Considering his circumstances, it isn't easy to believe Philip received affection at home. His father was an object of reverence rather than love, and his mother died when he was only twelve. 

Titian's portrait of Philip as prince (1551), aged about 24, dressed in a lavishly decorated set of armor

“Lacking a loving childhood was not uncommon for princes--they were often raised as men instead of children. Emotional attachments, such as love, were considered inappropriate for politicians. Even so, Philip did not become overly serious. He enjoyed the distractions and pleasures of young men. In 1542, Philip became betrothed to his cousin, Maria Manuela, Princess of Portugal, and the two were married in 1543. Philip was assigned a separate household staffed by 110 people, primarily the sons of bureaucrats and aristocrats. While he became familiar with Castile's staff and key towns, his knowledge of other parts of Spain remained limited until he accompanied his father on a royal tour through Aragon, Valencia, and Catalonia. 

“Little by little, Philip became the effective ruler of Spain. His early years of regency were the only apprenticeship he got, but they shaped him for his reign. In 1543, Philip took up his new role as governor of Aragon. He was still studying but was more involved in the councils' business, which he proved good at. In those days, the government was a bit simpler than today. The state's reach was limited, and there was no proper bureaucracy. The king's primary duties involved raising taxes, maintaining peace, or waging war. Philip increasingly turned to advisors to help him make decisions as his responsibilities grew. By the end of the year, Philip became interested in affairs concerning the Americas and was able to implement some policies that he favored. 

“At only sixteen years old, Philip began holding formal audiences, with one of his earliest guests being the Marquis of Mondejar. Now the undisputed ruler of Spain, he implemented a new procedure allowing individual opinions to be formally presented, aiding his decision-making process. Throughout his reign, he remained committed to considering a range of perspectives before making decisions."



Dominic Haynes


A Brief History of Portugal: Blazing the Trail of a Voyage-Shaped Nation


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