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Duke of Lerma

Francisco Goméz de Sandoval y Rojas, Duke of Lerma (Seville,1552/3 — Valladolid, 1625), the Spanish favorite of Philip III of Spain and minister, was the first of the validos or 'strongmen' through whom the later Spanish Hapsburg monarchs ruled. After his fall from grace in 1625 he was succeeded by Gaspar de Guzman, Count-Duke of Olivares.

The family of Sandoval was ancient and powerful. Goméz de Sandoval was raised at Seville, where his uncle was archbishop and his father the marquis of Denia. As long as Philip II lived, the nobles had little effective share in the government, with the exception of a few who were appointed viceroys or commanded armies abroad. The future duke of Lerma passed his time as a courtier, made himself a favourite with the young prince, and was in fact one of the incapable men who, as the dying king Philip II foresaw, were likely to mislead the new sovereign. The old king’s fears were fully justified.

No sooner was Philip III king than he entrusted all authority to his favourite, who amassed power unprecedented for a privado or favorite and became the "king's shadow," the filter through whom all information passed. Philip III, preoccupied with piety and luxury, soon created him duke of Lerma (1599), pressured the papacy to create his other uncle Bernardo a cardinal the same year, and lavished on him an immense list of offices and grants, even authorizing him to affix the royal signature to documents.

Gifts poured in from outside the royal court. From the Medici in Florence in 1601 came an over- lifesize marble of Samson and a Philistine by Giovanni da Bologna, presented as a diplomatic gift. It had been made for a Medici garden, and though it had recently been in storage, it was a princely gift (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London).

Lerma assembled a vast collection of paintings. Duke Mario Farnese sent over a Fra Angelico Annunciation (it was a little old-fashioned), which Lerma passed on to the Dominicans of Valladolid (now at the Prado, Madrid).

As chief minister Lerma's ideas of foreign policy were firmly grounded in feudal ideas about royal patrimony. He cemented Spanish rule by many marriage alliances with the Austrian Hapsburgs and then with the French Bourbons. Lerma's administration began with a treaty with France Treaty of Vervins 1598, declaring peace, but he persisted in costly and useless hostilities with England till 1609, when Spain was forced by exhaustion to make peace. Lerma used all his influence against a recognition of the independence of the Low Countries. The fleet was neglected, the army reduced to a ‘remnant', and the finances ruined beyond recovery.

Though in 1607 the monarchy declared itself bankrupt, Lerma carried out the ruinous measures for the expulsion of the Moriscos officially Christianized Moors, in 1609-14, a decision affecting over 300,000 people. A policy motivated by religious and political considerations, in which no economic consideration played a part, the expulsion secured him the admiration of the clergy and was popular with the msss of the nation. Lerma's financial horizons remained medieval: his only resources as a finance minister were the debasing of the coinage, and foolish edicts against luxury and the making of silver plate.

Bankrupt or not, the war with the Dutch dragged on till 1609 (12 year truce allowed to lapse). There was constant anti-Spanish agitation in Portugal, dynastically joined to Spain.

Lerma's trusted and unscrupulous secretary was Rodrigo Calderón (d. 1621), a greedy ambitious upstart who attracted some of the enmity that Lerma earned, as Lerma's agent. At Lerma's fall from power, Calderón's torture and imprisonment, for witchcraft and other crimes, as a scapegoat when Lerma's enemies could not touch him, demonstrate what would have been Lerma's fate, if the cardinal's hat hadn't protected him.

At a time when the state was practically bankrupt, he encouraged the king in extravagance, and accumulated for himself a fortune estimated by contemporaries at forty-four million ducats.

On the hilltop overlooking the village of Lerma in Old Castile that provided his grand title, Lerma built a palace (1606-1617, by Francisco de Mora) capped with corner towers, on the site of a fortification, ranged round a double-arcaded courtyard facing an arcaded square and linked to the rebuilt church of San Pedro with a private passageway. Lerma was pious, spending lavishly on religious houses.

In the end, Lerma was destroyed by a palace intrigue carried out by his own son, Critobàl, Duke of Uceda, who was manipulated by the Count Duke de Olivares. It is probable that he would never have lost the confidence of Philip III, who divided his life between festivals and prayers, but for the domestic treachery of his son, who combined with the king’s confessor, Aliaga, whom Lerma had introduced. After a long intrigue in which the king was silent and passive, Lerma was at last compelled to leave the court, on October 4, 1618.

As a protection, and as a means of retaining some measure of power in case he fell from favour, he had persuaded Pope Paul V to create him cardinal, the previous March, 1622. He retired to his palace in Lerma, and then to Valladolid, where it was reported that he celebrated mass every day "with great devotion and tears" When the dying King Philip III was presented with a list of prisoners and exiles to be forgiven, he granted the grace to all except the cardinal-duke of Lerma. When Lerma learned the news, he started from Valladolid to Madrid but was intercepted on the road and commanded by the count of Olivares, favorite of the heir to the Spanish throne who professed an implacable hatred for the cardinal, to return to Valladolid. The cardinal was in Villacastin and remained there until he learned of the death of the king. Then he went back to Valladolid to celebrate the requiem in the church of San Pablo. He was ordered by the count of Olivares to reside in Tordesillas but he did not obey and appealed to the pope. Gregory XV and the Sacred College defended him, considering his banishment as an attempt against ecclesiastical freedom and the prestige of the cardinalate.

Under the reign of Philip IV, which began in 1621 he was despoiled of part of his wealth. The cardinal was sentenced on August 3, 1624, to return to the state over a million ducados. Lerma died in 1625.

In the picaresque novel Gil Blas (chapter iv), the hero ingratiates himself with the count Olivarez, his new patron:

"Well! Santillane, said he, are you satisfied with your rooms, and with my orders to Don Raymond? Your excellency's liberality, answered I, seems out of all proportion with its object; so that I receive it with fear and trembling. Why so? replied he. Can I be too lavish of distinction to a man whom the king has committed to my care, and for whose interests he especially commanded me to provide? No, that is impossible; and I do no more than my duty in placing you on a footing of respectability and consequence. No longer, therefore, let what I do for you he a subject of surprise; but rely on it that splendour in the eye of the world, and the solid advantages of accumulating wealth, are equally with in your grasp, if you do but attach yourself as faithfully to me as you did to the Duke of Lerma.

But now that we are on the subject of that nobleman, continued he, it is said that you lived on terms of personal intimacy with him. I have a strong curiosity to lean the circumstances which led to your first acquaintance, as well as in what department you acted under him. Do not disguise or gloss over the slightest particular, for I shall not be satisfied without a full, true, and circumstantial recital. Then it was that I recollected in what an embarrassing predicament I stood with the Duke of Lerma on a similar occasion, and by what line of conduct I extricated myself; that same course I adopted once again with the happiest success; whereby the reader is to understand that throughout my narrative I softened down the passages likely to give umbrage to my patron, and glanced with a superficial delicacy over transactions which would have reflected but little lustre on my own character. I likewise manifested a considerate tenderness for the Duke of Lerma; though by giving that fallen favourite no quarter, I should better have consulted the taste of him whom I wished to please."

Gil Blas ruminates ironically upon the cardinal's hat that Paul V gave the Duke of Lerma: "This pope, wishing to establish the inquisition in the kingdom of Naples, invested the minister with the purple, and by that means hoped to bring King Philip over to so pious and praiseworthy a design. Those who were best acquainted with this new member of the sacred college, thought much like myself, that the church was in a fair way for apostolical purity, after so spiritual an acquisition."

External links


Antonio Feros, Kingship and Favoritism in the Spain of Philip III, 1598–1621 (Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History.), New York: Cambridge U. Press. 2000.

Sarah Schroth, ''The Picture Collection of the Duke of Lerman, 2002

The history of Lerma’s tenure of office is in vol. xv. of the Historia General de Espana of Modesto Lafuente (Madrid, 1855)—with references to contemporary authorities.