King Philip of England

David Loades looks at the man who was king of England in his youth, and her bitter enemy thirty years later.

Philip, the only legitimate son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (r. 1530-56), and known to history as Philip II of Spain (r.1556-98), was King of England for rather more than four years. He achieved that dignity when he married Queen Mary (‘Bloody Mary’, r.1553-58) in July 1554, and surrendered it when she died in November 1558. This fact is properly acknowledged in all reputable textbooks, and is examined in specialist monographs on the period, but has made little impact on popular historical culture. There are two good reasons for this. The first is that he spent only about fifteen months in England, and made little attempt to govern the country. The second is that, as Philip of Spain, he was the bitter enemy of Elizabethan England, against whom a twenty-year war was fought, and the ‘Drake’s drum’ school of historiography has airbrushed him out since the days of the Armada. Nevertheless, potentially his reign was one of huge significance. Had Mary borne him children, particularly a healthy son, the entire subsequent history of England could have been different. Elizabeth would never have come to the throne, the country would have remained Roman Catholic, and England would have been linked for an indefinite period with the Netherlands in a dynastic union. The fact that Mary died childless and that Elizabeth reigned for forty-five years makes all such speculation in a sense pointless, but it is nevertheless important to realize how close England came to being absorbed into the Habsburg empire. A Habsburg king of England could even have inherited the Crowns of Spain after the death of Don Carlos (d.1568), and created a seaborne federation which would have embraced the Atlantic littoral on both sides of the ocean. The thought is tantalizing, but elusive.

 

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