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Was Philip II an absolute ruler ?

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1 Was Philip II an absolute ruler ?
Richard Fitzsimmons Strathallan School

2 The case for Philip II as an absolute ruler …
His belief in ‘divine right’, that he was answerable to God alone for his actions … Philip took a more active role in government than his predecessors – reserving important decisions to himself Limitations on the powers of the Castilian Cortes Dominance of Castile and Castilian advisors in Philip’s empire His assertion of freedom to run the Spanish church against interference from the Papacy

3 The case against Philip II as an absolute ruler …
He continued the system of government of his predecessors – based on councils, though Philip reformed many of them He relied on, and encouraged, factions to keep his government ministers in check [ a ‘need to know’ basis ?] The Crown was limited by the privileges and powers of the nobility and towns in Castile Royal power was limited by quality of communications, and inefficiency and corruption in its government There was a lack of an imperial plan, and no evidence that Philip wanted to form a centralised empire …

4 The Black Legend Philip was seen by the protestants of Europe as their main enemy His aggressive support for the Catholic faith, and opposition to the protestants and moslems, made him look a dictator He was seen as a tyrant by the Dutch who accused him of running rough-shod over their ‘liberties’ and ‘privileges’ Claims of the ‘Black Legend’ are often based on selective readings of the evidence, and the hostile testimony of Philip’s enemies

5 Historians’ opinions …(1)
John Lynch – [the monarchy was absolute,] ‘but its absolutism was qualified by conditions, and its powers were less imposing in practice than it was in theory.’ A. Dominguez Ortiz – ‘royal absolutism was a reality under Philip II’. Geoffrey Woodward – ‘A more sensible approach to the question of royal power is to view Philip as an autocrat whose principal aim in government was to continue the work of his predecessors in pursuit of greater unity and conformity rather than absolutism’. J Viçens Vives – [Spain under Philip II had achieved] ‘a maximum concentration of power at the apex and its minimal diffusion towards the base’.

6 Historians’ opinions …(2)
Henry Kamen – ‘the day-to-day restrictions on royal power are perhaps the clearest evidence that “absolutism”, if it existed in peninsular Spain, was more a legal fiction than a political reality’ Henry Kamen – ‘Philip was not a conscious imperialist. He never held or voiced theories about imperial power or status, and never possessed any recognisable principles of empire.’ I. A. A. Thompson – ‘Absolute Monarchy is to be judged not by what it looked like but how it worked.’ Geoffrey Woodward – ‘Philip exercised a good deal less than total control. In theory his power was unlimited, but it is an historical myth to say that he was an absolute king’.

7 TASK – extended writing
In what ways have historians differed in their views on the issue that Philip II might have been an absolute monarch ? Why do you think that historians’ views on Philip as an absolute ruler have been divided ? Answer the following essay from the OCR module 2588 (June 2002) How convincing is the view that Philip II was an ‘Absolute Monarch’ in his rule of mainland Spain ?

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