His reign, after a few passing years of barren successes, was a long story of political and military decay and disaster. The king has been held responsible for the fall of Spain, which was, however, due in the main to internal causes beyond the control of the most despotic ruler, however capable he had been. Philip certainly possessed more energy, both mental and physical, than his father. There is still in existence a translation of Guicciardini which he wrote with his own hand in order to qualify himself for government by acquiring a knowledge of political history. He was a fine horseman and keen hunter.
His artistic taste was shown by his patronage of Velasquez, and his love of letters by his favour to Lope de Vega, Calderón, and other dramatists. He is even credited, on fairly probable testimony, with a share at least in the composition of several comedies. His good intentions were of no avail to his government. Coming to the throne at the age of sixteen, he did the wisest thing he could by allowing himself to be guided by the most capable man he could find. His favourite, Olivares, was a far more honest man than the Duke of Lerma, and was more fit for the place of prime minister than any Spaniard of the time. But Philip IV had not the strength of mind to free himself from the influence of Olivares when he had grown to manhood. The amusements which the favourite had encouraged became the business of the king's life.
When, in 1643, the disasters falling on the monarchy on all sides led to the dismissal of Olivares, Philip had lost the power to devote himself to hard work. After a brief struggle with the task of directing the administration of the most extensive and the worst organized monarchy in Europe, he sank back into his pleasures and was governed by other favourites. His political opinions were those he had inherited from his father and grandfather. He thought it his duty to support the German Habsburgs and the cause of the Roman Catholic Church against the Protestants, to assert his sovereignty over the Dutch United Provinces, and to extend the dominions of his house. The utter exhaustion of his people in the course of a hopeless struggle with the Netherlands, France and England was seen by him with sympathy, but he considered it an unavoidable misfortune and not the result of his own errors, since he could not be expected to renounce his rights or to desert the cause of God and the Church.
In public he maintained a bearing of rigid solemnity, and was seen to laugh only three times in the course of his life. But in private he indulged in horseplay and very coarse immorality. His court was grossly vicious. The early death of his eldest son, Baltasar Carlos, was unquestionably due to debauchery encouraged by the gentlemen entrusted by the king with his education. The lesson shocked the king, but its effect soon wore off. Philip IV died broken-hearted on September 17 1665, expressing the hope that his surviving son, Carlos, would be more fortunate than himself.
The best accounts of Philip IV will be found in the Estudios del reinado de Felipe IV, by Don A. Canovas del Castillo (Madrid, 1889), and in the introduction by Don F Silvela to his edition of the Cartas de Sor Maria de Agreda y del rey Felipe IV (Madrid, 1885-1886).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Philip III of Spain
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Charles II of Spain