Traditionally Philip has been viewed as the aggressive ‘Black Legend’, a Catholic Monarch who, through foreign policy seeked to expand his lands and destroy Protestantism and heresy. He was greatly influenced by his father who even provided ‘Instructions of 1543’ stating that Philip ‘should not give up one inch of territory’. This traditional view is a misconception and in fact Philip’s foreign policy was less aggressive and more conservative in approach. Philip had both successes and failures in foreign policy throughout his reign.
However it can be argued that during the period before 1584, he enjoyed more success in his policies. When Philip came to throne, Henry II of France was very much the aggressor. France posed a particular threat to Spain, since Henry viewed Spain to be in a vulnerable position after the death of Charles I and the arrival of an inexperienced Philip to take his place. However Philip’s foreign policy with France was relatively successful. Philip realised the importance of ending the Italian campaign with France if he was to save Milan and preserve his credibility.
Surprisingly France agreed to a five-year truce at Vaucelles in February 1556. Philip had an additional concern. The Pope Paul IV was a Francophile and strengthened the anti-Spanish alliance. He was keen to persuade Henry II to join him in an invasion of Naples. Philip’s reaction to the situation was to conduct a pre-emptive strike. It was a financially expensive and morally provocative but it was actually a successful move. The Duke of Alva marched troops into the Papal States in September 1556, whilst the opposition failed to capture Naples and retreated to France.
Philip treated the Papacy with generosity, making no territorial or financial demands, in return for peace. This was a wise decision because Philip earned a reputation for clemency, which gained him the support of major states in Italy. However Spanish relations with France remained poor. Philip wished to demonstrate that he could at least match Henry’s power. Philip’s alliance with England secured control over the channel. Philip invaded St. Quentin in Northern France and the expected response from Henry came in December 1557 when the French captured the English town of Calais.
Philip was furious, because Henry’s success had encouraged him to make further attacks on the Netherlands. However Franco- Spanish peace talks were underway since neither side could afford to continue the war. Peace was agreed and although Calais was lost Philip arranged to marry Henry’s daughter Elizabeth and was delighted with the treaty signed on 3rd April. His reputation had been established. Philip’s foreign policy towards France after 1559 was to keep it politically divided and religiously united. However he had very little involvement in French policy until relations worsened in 1568.
Finally his family ties were broken with the death of Elizabeth, and Philip turned down her sister in favour of Anne of Austria. More particularly Philip was aware of France ‘probing his weaknesses’. Threats were made by France to Perpignan and the Netherlands. Philip was pleased in August 1572, however, to hear of a massacre of St. Bartholomew, confirming that France was again at war with itself. After 1572, Philip’s aim was to defend his empire from Henry of Navarre who had a claim both to the throne of France and was also leader of the Huguenots.
It was in the interests of Philip, French Catholics and the French Guises’ to prevent Henry from becoming King and prompted the formation of Catholic League in1584. The success of Philip’s foreign policy deteriorated significantly after 1584. His contribution to the Catholic League was costly and the League was largely ineffective. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in England gave the French King encouragement and he ordered the assassination of the Guise brothers leaving Philip to head a debilitated Catholic League.
Spanish troops made some progress in 1590 and the death of the Cardinal of Bourbon (Henry’s Uncle) opened up the possibility of Philip’s daughter becoming the next monarch of France. However when Henry of Navarre declared his conversion to the Catholic faith in 1593, Philip’s cause became hopeless. Less than a year after Henry’s accession, he declared war on Spain. Once again Spain was at war with France, but this time circumstances were far less propitious for Philip than they had at the beginning of his reign. The Treaty of Vervins of May 1598 was signed once Philip had realised an honourable peace should be concluded.
It was a wise decision to take but at the same time the treaty was viewed as a considerable triumph for France. Once Spain had signed the peace treaty with France in 1559, Philip turned his attentions to the Turks. He had planned a surprise attack on Tripoli but during the preparations on Djerba Island, Draagut, leader of the Barbary Corsains, launched his own attack and captured Spanish forces as well as the Island. Philip needed to restore his reputation. His enlarged navy was only ready by 1564, but the Turks continued to attack. Once prepared, Philip enjoyed several successes against the Turks.
These included the victorious attacks from Malta against Ottoman ships and the Barabary Coast which marked the limit of Ottoman influence in the West Mediterranean. It also included the capture of more than half of the Turkish ships at Lepanto in 1571, the Ottoman fleet’s worse defeat since 1402. Despite the defeat Spain and Turkey continued to battle until 1578, but the two countries both had serious domestic problems and realised that their Mediterranean conflict was a war neither could win. Philip was not interested in a religious crusade.
Like his father he aimed to preserve his prosperity of Spain and believed it to be his Christian duty to reach an honourable peace with the Porte. This also allowed Philip to turn his attentions towards Northern Europe. It could be argued that Philip’s foreign policy towards Turkey was defiant and honourable. However in reality he had been mainly on the defensive. Perhaps Philip’s dealing with Portugal was evidence of his greatest success in foreign policy. His reactions to the situation could be regarded as opportunist, but in acquiring the Portuguese throne Philip showed considerable ingenuity.
In 1578, Philip through marriage had a claim to the throne. The Portuguese King had died in battle, in Morocco and had been succeeded by an old great uncle, Henry who died in 1580. Philip had received support for his claim to the throne, from the Portuguese nobility and the church. He then decided to invade with 37,000 troops. From 1580 Philip ruled Portugal. He lived in Lisbon for three years and was careful to recognise and adopt Portuguese customs. In 1581 the Portuguese Cortes recognised him as King and he in turn recognised Portuguese liberties and allowed Portugal to remain a separate political unit with its own laws.
His foreign policy in Portugal was undoubtedly a success. With minimal military aggression he had secured his position on the throne and become the most powerful ruler in Europe. The addition of Portugal gave Philip a large colonial empire including Brazil and the Spice Islands. The title of ‘King of Portugal’ increased Philip’s international prestige and the country also provided an ocean going navy, which allowed him to adopt a more aggressive foreign policy with England. In respect of England, the success of Philip’s foreign policy is less clear. In 1554 Philip married Mary Tudor in an attempt to contain the growing power of France.
Despite the marriage of the two monarchs, relations between Spain and England were never ideal, but Philip valued England as a ‘counter weight to the Guises in France and Scotland’ that could make a critical contribution to the Habsburg-Valois struggle in Northern France. The diplomatic nature of the marriage meant that Philip shed few tears over the death of Mary in November 1558. He showed more concern at its potential effect on the peace negotiations taking place in Cateau-Cambrais. It was important to retain England’s alliance to offset the French Guise’s influence in Scotland. Marriage was proposed between Philip and Queen Elizabeth.
She refused and Philip married Elizabeth of Valois instead, daughter to King Henry of France. Between 1559 and 1567 Anglo-Spanish relations were sound but never particularly successful. Co-operation was based primarily on a mutual opposition to the Guise’s rather than on trade or marital ties. The Protestant religious settlement of 1559 disturbed Philip but he took the view that interfering in English affairs was not wise. However he did personally persuade the Papacy not to excommunicate Elizabeth fearing such an action could trigger a Catholic revolt in England, which France would exploit.
Philip’s foreign policy at this time was not aggressively promoting Spanish influence but was a carefully orchestrated handling of international diplomacy with Spanish interests being central to his actions. There was a turning point in the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth in 1567. The conflict occurred when Elizabeth began supporting the Netherlands. The situation was sparked by Alva’s army, which was seeking to establish Spanish rule at the expense of Dutch political and religious liberty.
If he succeeded Elizabeth was concerned that it might encourage Philip to try and regain England for the Catholic faith. Elizabeth did not have the military, naval or fiscal strength to stop Alva. Indeed she seized Spanish silver heading to Alva’s army in an attempt to bleed his supply lines. Spain reacted by imposing an embargo on Anglo-Dutch trade. What followed was a series of retaliations between Spain and England, each responding to the previous actions of the other. Relations gradually deteriorated. Both Philip and Elizabeth were provocative in their actions.
In 1571, Philip approved a plan to send a small fleet of warships to gain control of the North Sea and ordered Alva to transport 10,000 troops to help Catholic Mary secure the throne. Philip had hopes that Mary might become a Spanish puppet. Elizabeth responded by signing the Treaty of Nonsuch in August 1585 agreeing to send i?? 126,000 and 6,000 men to aid the Dutch Rebels. The sending of the Spanish Armada was a turning point in Philip’s foreign policy. Philip had several objectives. The Armada was to a certain extent a religious crusade, partly to satisfy the Pope and also to obtain a donation of funds.
Certainly Philip would have welcomed the conversion of England to Catholicism. If the invasion was successful he planned to demand religious toleration for Catholics. However Philip’s real motive was to stop England interfering in the Netherlands. To regain control over the Netherlands Philip needed to be in control over the sea and the English were impeding his plans. Initially the plan involved a simultaneous attack on Southern Ireland and Southern England. Later the attack on Ireland was dropped, to increase the size of the Armada.
Secrecy was important if the Armada was to be successful, but the expedition got off to a very bad start. 130 ships carrying 30,000 men left Lisbon on 28 May 1588 and sailed straight into a storm off the coast of Finisterre. Philip refused to abandon the ill-fated expedition. He believed Spain’s reputation to be in doubt ‘To leave our fleet bottled up and ineffective would be a disgrace’. The fleet of now 122 ships reached Calais on 6 August. It was supposed to meet Parma and his army and navy forces. However Parma, who was commanding the attack, did not hear of the Armada’s arrival until the following day.
He needed 48 hours to prepare, but during this time English fire ships scattered the fleet. Over the following two months half of the remaining ships were lost at sea or wrecked off the Scottish and Irish coasts. Philip was determined to succeed and a further two Armadas set sail in 1596 and 1597 only to be destroyed by severe gales. Attack and counter attack continued as neither Philip nor Elizabeth could win the war, nor could they bring themselves to reach a compromise. The failure of the Armada caused problems since it encouraged the Dutch and English to counter attack.
Before 1584 Philip enjoyed successes in his foreign policy. His most notable was his acquisition of Portugal. Philip was in a position where he was likely to be attacked by other European powers. Spain was Europe’s superpower and therefore several European countries especially France and England welcomed any chance to damage Philip’s position of power. As a result much of Philip’s foreign policy was defensive. Although Philip went to war on several occasions, often losing as much, if not more land than he gained, he was successful in maintaining his hold over his empire.
With the exception of Portugal, Philip did not enjoy any outright advances through his foreign policy. However, what he achieved was a continuation of Spanish power and authority. After 1584 however, his insistence on continuing his plans for an Armada were damaging. The Armada suffered heavy losses but more importantly it gave the other European countries encouragement. The continual attempt and failure of the Armada to demonstrate itself as a formidable power brought Spain’s image of invincibility into doubt.