The Planet King: Philip IV and the Survival of Spain

In the mid-seventeenth century Spain was at the apogee of artistic and cultural achievement under the patronage of her monarch, Philip IV - but, as R.A. Stradling shows here, she was fighting for survival as a great imperial power.

On May 1st, 1625 – celebrated in those days as the feast of St. Philip the apostle – the Spanish admiral Fadrique de Toledo gained the great victory of Bahia in Brazil. It was a stunning success that threw the Dutch rebels, bag and baggage, out of South America. It seemed to signal the end of the outrageous design of the Dutch West India Company to capture Brazil, and even to strike across the continent to the source of Spain's silverwealth in Peru.

Victory had been gained by a superbly planned and executed trans-Atlantic operation which mobilised the resources of Castile, Portugal and the colonial dependencies of the Caribbean and Central Arnerica. Neither was it an isolated triumph, merely punctuating (as the traditional view would surely imply) the inevitable process of Spain's decline as an imperial power. Toledo himself, as befitted the Alba lineage, had defeated the main Dutch battle fleet near Gibraltar within a year of Phihp IV's accession. Six weeks after Bahia, the formidable fortress of Breda, family seat of the upstart house of Nassau, and key to the landward defences of the Dutch Republic, finally surrendered to Ambrogio Spinola.

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