Philip the II: 'The Most Catholic King'?

Jonathan Lewis takes issue with a common interpretation.

Philip II, as befits one of Europe's most important kings of the early modern period, has had numerous titles bestowed on him by historians and contemporaries alike. Attempts to explain and clarify the most complex of monarchs have led to titles such as 'the Prudent King' and 'the largest brain in the world'. Similarly Philip has been described as the 'spider king', weaving his plots of intrigue, and even as a ruler with parallels with Churchill and Kennedy. Perhaps the label most often used, even by historians such as the impressive Geoffrey Woodward, is that of the 'Most Catholic King'. Whilst it is natural to express doubts on all titles that deal in gross generalisations of a reign that spanned huge sections of the known world for nearly 50 years, it is this name that poses the most problems for students of Philip II. It has become a myth perpetuated over time that, whatever else Philip was, he was foremost a devout servant of the Catholic Church, all other motives being secondary - but this has led to a misunderstanding at the heart of any analysis of Philip's rule.

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