Romance of Spanish History - John S. C. Abbott

The Reign of Philip II

(From 1558 A.D. to 1568 A.D.)

Extent of the Empire of Philip IL—Sadness of Queen Mary.—Her Death.—Philip solicits the Hand of Queen Elizabeth.—Marries Elizabeth of France.—Disappointment of his son, Don Carlos.—Death of Henry I.—The Auto de Fe.—Sorrows of Isabella.—Fate of Don Carlos.—The Father accused of the Murder of his Son.

By virtue of the abdication of Charles V. his son, Philip, became one of the most powerful monarchs upon the globe. He was king of united Spain. He was also King of Naples and Sicily and Duke of Milan. He was sovereign of the Low Countries, which comprehended some of the most enlightened, populous, and powerful provinces in Christendom. As husband of the Queen of England, who doted upon him, he had much influence with the British Cabinet. The Cape Verde Islands and the Canaries were under his sway. A large portion of the Mediterranean coast in Africa acknowledged his dominion, as also the Philippine and Spice Islands in Asia. He inherited those islands which Columbus had conferred upon Spain in the West Indies, and also the vast realms of Mexico and Peru, which subsequent discoverers and adventurers had won for the Spanish crown. Such was the power which passed into the hands of a young man not thirty years of age, of moderate abilities, in religion a fanatic, and in morals a debauchee. The power of this young man was absolute. There was no constitution to restrain him. In the Netherlands indeed there was a slight show of independence. It was the shadow only. The crown had completely triumphed over the nobles in Spain, and the Cortes, which was occasionally assembled, became a mere state pageant.

Philip, wielding this colossal power, which eclipsed that of every other monarchy in Europe, established himself at Madrid. From his palace there he sent forth his edicts to the remotest bounds of his almost boundless realms.

A year and a half elapsed before Philip, in March, 1557, revisited England. His fond wife, in many affectionate letters, had importuned him to return. His object seems to have been, not so much to pay her an affectionate visit, as to constrain her to unite with him in his war against France. In this he succeeded. After a visit of four months, during which he was annoyed by the excessive fondness of his infirm, emaciate, and dejected wife, he returned to the Netherlands. Poor Queen Mary was as unhappy as a woman well could be. Her health was wretched; her love was not requited; her husband was only anxious to avoid her; she had no children, really no friends, and not only her throne but her life was menaced by conspiracies. The humblest subject in the realm could not envy the lot of the queen. On the 17th of November, 1558, Mary died, utterly weary of the world. Her half-sister Elizabeth ascended the throne of England.

Philip was at Brussels when the news of the death of his wife reached him. Though her obsequies were attended with all the external demonstrations of respect, and though Philip doubtless regretted thus losing his hold upon the crown of England, it can not be supposed that the loss of a wife whom he had never loved caused him any real sorrow. The remains of the unhappy Mary had not reposed one month in Westminster Abbey ere Philip made proposals for the hand of Elizabeth, her successor upon the throne. But Elizabeth espoused the Reformed religion. Parliament reversed the decree establishing the Roman Catholic faith. Philip could not think of marrying a Protestant. Thus the negotiation ended.

Philip seems to have been impatient for new nuptials. But a few weeks elapsed ere an alliance was effected with the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the King of France. She was fourteen years of age, and had been espoused to Philip's only son, Don Carlos, who was also fourteen. Queen Elizabeth was very much piqued in seeing how easily her lover could turn to another. Assuming that she had not given a positive refusal to his application for her hand, she testily exclaimed to the Spanish minister, "Your master must have been much in love with me, not to be able to wait for one month." The marriage ceremony with Elizabeth of France took place on the 24th of June, 1559, the Duke of Alva acting as his sovereign's proxy. Philip was then thirty-two years of age. The marriage festival was attended by all those brilliant displays which were characteristic of that spectacle-loving age. A sad event closed these days of rejoicing.

The French king, Henry II., delighted in those martial exercises of the tournament, in which he greatly excelled. He challenged a young Scotch noble, the Count of Montmorency, to run a tilt. The two powerful horses, bearing their armored riders, met with a furious shock in the middle of the lists. The lance of Montmorency struck the helmet of Henry with such force that the rim gave way, and a portion of the splintered lance pierced the eye of the king. The wound proved mortal. At the expiration of ten days of great agony the king died, in the forty-second year of his age. This event took place a few months after the death of Charles V.

Philip had not forgotten the injunction of his father to prosecute what the Church deemed heresy with the utmost rigor. Much of his time he spent in Germany, leaving the regency of Spain in the hands of his sister Joanna. In August, 1559, he returned to Spain and resumed the government, of which his sister was heartily weary. The Reformation was silently and rapidly advancing in Spain. Philip returned breathing threatenings and slaughter, determined to crush it. Pope Paul IV. issued a brief to the Spanish inquisitor-general ordering him to bring to condign punishment all suspected of heresy of whatever rank or profession. The wretched bigot Philip followed this brief with an edict condemning all who bought, sold, or read prohibited works to be burned alive. Decree followed decree in quick succession, in which the Pope, Philip II., and the Spanish inquisitor-general, Valdes, combined all their energies to detect and mercilessly to punish any swerving from the established faith of the Roman Church.

By secret spies and with consummate cunning the preliminary intrigues were prosecuted, until simultaneously, all over the kingdom, every person without exception suspected of heresy was arrested and thrown into the prisons of the Inquisition. In Seville alone eight hundred were arrested on the first day. The accused were dragged, one by one, from their dungeons, without counsel, without any friend to cheer, and terrified, bewildered, were placed often upon the rack until every joint had been wrenched from its socket, in the attempt to extort such confession as the inquisitors desired to obtain. We can not enter into the detail of these tortures. They are too horrible. The reader could not endure the recital. What must it have been for those who had to endure the reality? All this was done in the name of the meek and lowly Jesus. Outraged humanity, with eye moistened and check flushed with indignation, in view of this fiendish cruelty, can not but pray that if these ecclesiastical torturers escaped the penalty of their crimes in this world, they may not escape it in the world to come. God, a loving God, has implanted in every human breast a sense of justice which demands that such crimes should not pass unpunished.

The doctrine of legitimacy, of divine right to govern nations, in placing Philip II upon the throne of Spain, had surrendered the Spanish people to the dominion of one utterly despicable, both morally and intellectually. The first act of burning, under these decrees, took place at Valladolid in May, 1559. The example was followed in twelve of the principal cities of the kingdom which were the appointed seats of the Holy Office. A second auto de fé, or act of faith, as this demoniac burning alive of human beings was called, took place in Valladolid in October of the same year. The Pope wished to invest the scene with all the terrors of the Day of Judgment. That he might draw an immense crowd, an indulgence of forty days was granted to all who should be present at the spectacle.

The tragedy was enacted in the great square of the city. At one end of the square a large platform was erected, richly carpeted and decorated, where seats were ranged for the inquisitors. A royal gallery was constructed for the king and his court. Two hundred thousand spectators surrounded the arena. At six o'clock in the morning all the bells of the city. began to toll the funeral knell. A solemn procession emerged from the dismal fortress of the Inquisition. A body of troops led the van. Then came the condemned. There were two classes; the first consisting of those who were to be punished with confiscation and imprisonment, and the second of those who were to suffer death. The latter were covered with a loose gown of yellow cloth, and wore upon the head a paper cap of conical form. Both the gown and the cap were covered with pictures of flames fanned and fed by demons. Two priests were by the side of each one of the victims, urging him to abjure his errors. Those who were merely to incur loss of property and to be thrown into the dungeons of the Inquisition were clothed in garments of black. A vast concourse of dignitaries of state and of the common people closed the procession. The fanaticism of the times was such that probably but few of the people had any sympathy with the sufferers.

The ceremonies were opened with a sermon by the Bishop of Zamora. Then the whole assembled multitude took an oath, upon their knees, to defend the Inquisition and the purity of the Catholic faith, and to inform against any one who should swerve from the faith. Then those who, to escape the flames, had expressed penitence for their errors, after a very solemn recantation, were absolved from death. But heresy was too serious a crime to be forgiven, even upon penitence. All were doomed to the confiscation of property and to imprisonment—some to imprisonment for life in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Their names were branded with infamy, and in many cases their immediate descendants were rendered ineligible to any public office. These first received their doom, and under a strong guard were conveyed back to prison.

And now all eyes were turned to the little band of thirty, who, in the garb of ignominy and with ropes around their necks, were waiting their sentence. Many of these were men illustrious for rank, and still more renowned for talents and virtues. Their countenances were wan and wasted, their frames emaciate, and many of them were distorted by the cruel ministry of the rack. Those who were willing to make confession were allowed the privilege of being strangled before their bodies were exposed to the torture of the fire. After being strangled by the garrote, their bodies were thrown into the flames. Enfeebled by suffering, all but two thus purchased exemption from being burned alive.

One of these, Don Carlos de Seso, was a Florentine noble. He had married a Spanish lady of high rank, and had taken up his residence in Spain, where he had adopted the principles of the Reformation. For fifteen months, with unshaken constancy, he had suffered in the dungeons of the Inquisition. When sentence of death at the stake was pronounced upon him, he called for pen and paper in his cell. His judges supposed that he intended to make confession. Instead of that, he wrote a very eloquent document, avowing his unshaken trust in the great truths of the Reformation. De Seso had stood very high in the regards of Philip's father, Charles V. As he was passing before the royal gallery to be chained to the stake, he looked up to Philip and said, "Is it thus that you allow your innocent subjects to be persecuted?" The king replied, "If it were my own son I would fetch the wood to burn him, were he such a wretch as thou art." He was chained to the stake. As the flames slowly enveloped him in their fiery wreaths, he called upon the soldiers to heap up the fagots that his agonies might sooner terminate. Soon life was extinct, and the soul, we trust, of the noble martyr was borne on angel wings to Heaven.

The fellow-sufferer of De Seso was Domingo de Rexas, son of the Marquis of Posa. Five of this noble family, including the eldest son, had been victims of the Inquisition. De Rexas had been a Dominican monk. In accordance with usage, he retained his sacerdotal habit until he stood before the stake. Then, in the midst of the jeers of the populace, his garments were one by one removed, and the vestments of the condemned, with their hideous picturings, were placed upon him. He attempted to address the spectators. Philip angrily ordered him to be gagged. A piece of cleft wood was thrust into his mouth, causing great pain. He was thus led to the stake, and through such sufferings attained the martyr's crown. The burning-place was not in the public square where sentence was pronounced, but in a selected spot just outside of the walls of the city. The cruel exhibition occupied eight hours, from six o'clock in the morning until two o'clock in the afternoon.

In this spirit the persecution raged year after year. Neither age, sex, nor rank were exempt. Nine bishops were doomed to the most humiliating penance. Carranza, Archbishop of Toledo, was of illustrious Castilian birth. He had accompanied Philip to England upon the occasion of his marriage to Queen Mary. His elevation to the archiepiscopal see of Toledo had excited the rancorous jealousy of the grand inquisitor Valdes. Carranza was accused of believing in the doctrine of justification by faith. A ruffian band of the inquisitors entered the episcopal palace at midnight, dragged the prelate from his bed, and thrust him into the dungeons of the Inquisition. Here he was kept in solitary confinement for two years without the slightest knowledge of what was transpiring in the outside world. Pius V. then made efforts to have the illustrious prisoner brought before his own tribunal. By the artifice of Philip and the grand inquisitor this plan was thwarted until five more years of cruel imprisonment had passed away. He was then sent a prisoner to the Castle of St. Angelo, with charges filed against him in a vast complication of papers. Six more years of captivity passed ere he was brought to his trial. Every nerve was strained by the Spanish inquisitors to secure his destruction. Pope Gregory XIII. was now upon the Pontifical throne. Three more years were employed in the investigation and in coming to a decision. Before the tribunal of the Pope and the cardinals the archbishop stood alone, without a friend, without any assisting council. With bare head, and wan, and wasted with nearly eighteen years of imprisonment and woe, Carranza kneeled before his brother-man, called a Pope, to receive his doom. His views were declared heretical. He was suspended from his episcopal functions for five years, during which time he was to be imprisoned in the Convent of Orvieto. He was then required to do penance in seven of the principal churches of Rome.

As the poor old man, unnerved by protracted misery, listened to this sentence, tears streamed down his cheeks. Bowing meekly in submission, he returned to his cell, and in sixteen days died of a broken heart.

So fiercely was this persecution pushed throughout all Spain that nearly every trace of the Protestant religion was eradicated from the kingdom. Spain lapsed into a state of semi-barbarism. No freedom of conscience was allowed; education was discouraged; civil as well as ecclesiastical despotism trampled upon all human rights, and Spain became one of the most debased, impoverished, and wretched nations in Europe.

Elizabeth of France, or Isabella, the corresponding name by which she was called by the Spaniards, who had been married by proxy to Philip, crossed the Pyrenees, to join her royal husband. An escort of French nobles accompanied the royal bride, a child of fourteen years. The renowned Duke of Infantado, one of the proudest of the Spanish grandees, met the queen, with pomp of retinue and etiquette of which it is difficult to form a conception in these more rational modern clays. The duke was attended by fifty pages dressed picturesquely in the gayest colors of satin and brocade. The nobles in his train were followed by twenty-five hundred gentlemen mounted on splendid steeds. The caparisons of their horses were embroidered with gold and gems. The duke received the bride at Roncesvalles, and conducted her to Guadalajara. At the entrance of the town a forest had been planted stocked with deer, through which the young queen rode. She was mounted on a milk-white horse, and was clad in ermine. The duke rode upon one side of her, the Cardinal of Burgos on the other.

After repairing to the church where the Te Deum was chanted, the princess was conducted to the ducal castle. Here Philip was awaiting his bride. They had never before met. Isabella, whose artlessness, self possession, and gayety won all hearts, gazed so intently upon her destined lord that Philip asked her playfully "if she were looking to see if he had any gray hairs in his head." She was slightly disconcerted, for by the side of the king stood his son, Don Carlos, who was of the same age with Isabella, and for whom she had been originally intended. It is said that Isabella looked upon her youthful lover with great tenderness, while her charms inspired Don Carlos with passionate attachment. This theme, the loves of Carlos and Isabella, has furnished the Spanish romancers with materials for many an exciting tale.

Isabella was very beautiful, tall, graceful, with luxuriant tresses shading a very fair complexion, and with dark eyes soft and languishing. "So attractive was she," writes a Spanish chronicler, "that no cavalier durst look on her long, for fear of losing his heart, which, in that jealous court, must have proved the loss of his life." Don Carlos could not repress feelings of resentment in being thus robbed by his father of so beautiful a bride. The nuptials were celebrated with all the customary pomp of music and feasting and dancing. The next morning the royal pair, with their suite, left for Toledo. Here the young queen was received with all the splendor with which the Spanish court could invest the occasion. Triumphal arches spanned the streets. Wreaths of flowers garlanded verandahs and balconies. Gorgeous processions paraded the streets. Beautiful maidens, in picturesque attire, passed through the mazes and performed the astonishing evolutions of gipsy dances. Three thousand Spanish infantry engaged in a mock encounter with a body of Moorish cavalry, whose uniforms and caparisons were picturesquely trimmed in arabesque fashions; and last, though not least, in these nuptial festivities, there was an auto stele. Toledo was one of the principal stations of the Inquisition. This revolting scene of fanaticism and cruelty, more revolting than the gladiatorial butcheries of pagan Rome, is represented as one of the most imposing, both in the number of the victims and the quality of the spectators, which Toledo had ever witnessed.

Sorrow, in this world, ever treads closely upon the foot-steps of festivity. In the midst of these public rejoicings, of music, dancing, feasting, and burning victims alive at the stake, Isabella, as we must now call her, was seized by the small-pox. Great was the consternation. Even though her life might be spared, it was feared that the loathsome disease might destroy all her beauty. Fortunately the young queen escaped without a scar.

There seems to be no abiding peace for any one in this world. Even where providence appears to lavish its best gifts, the imperfection of human nature invariably introduces the elements of bitterness and woe. Isabella had brought many ladies from France with her as friends and the embellishments of her court. The Spanish ladies were jealous of them, and quarrelled with them. After scenes of contention and strife which poisoned all joys in the palace, Isabella was compelled to send her countrywomen back again to France. If brilliant state could make one happy, Isabella had no cause to complain. Her jewelry was priceless, her wardrobe rich in the extreme. No expense was spared in furnishing her with gorgeous robes, and she seldom wore the same dress twice. She dined in state, thirty ladies being usually in attendance upon her. While some served her at the table, the rest stood around in the apartment.

From Toledo the royal pair proceeded to Madrid, where Philip had prepared and furnished for his bride one of his most magnificent palaces.

The richly carved and gilded ceilings of this palace, situated in a clime then deemed delicious, the tapestried walls, the paintings and statuary which embellished the saloons and galleries, the noble park stocked with deer, all combined to render this royal mansion as attractive as earthly taste and opulence could create. But Philip found but little joy in this princely abode. The care of his wide-spread realms pressed upon him. Bitter complaints were continually reaching his ears from the Netherlands. To his sister, the regent, he wrote:

"I have never had any other object in view than the good of my subjects. In all that I have done I have trod in the footsteps of my father, under whom the people of the Netherlands must admit that they lived contented and happy. As to the Inquisition, whatever people may say of it, I have never attempted any thing new. With regard to the edicts, I have been always resolved to live and die in the Catholic faith. I could not be content to have my subjects do otherwise. Yet I see not how this can be compassed without punishing the transgressors. God knows how willingly I would avoid shedding a drop of Christian blood—above all, that of my people of the Netherlands; and I should esteem it one of the happiest circumstances of my reign to be spared the necessity."

In accordance with these views of supreme devotion to the Church, the king stated, in a subsequent dispatch, "I would rather lose a hundred thousand lives, if I had so many, than allow a single change in matters of religion." As our theme is Spanish history, we can not turn aside to the interesting and painful events transpiring in the Netherlands. Don Carlos, as he advanced to manhood, developed a character of violence, lawlessness, extravagance, and profligacy for which it is difficult to account, except upon the supposition of insanity. And yet, with these repulsive eccentricities, he inspired those who approached him with very strong feelings of personal attachment. His father distrusted him, disliked him, and studiously excluded him from all share in the business of state.

Many foreign courts coveted an alliance with the heir of the Spanish monarchy. Catherine de Medicis of France wished to secure his hand for a younger sister of Isabella. The Emperor and Empress of Germany endeavored to promote his union with their daughter Anne. But Philip, for some unexplained reasons, did not favor these proposals. The father became so alienated from his hot-tempered and violent son that he refused to hold any intercourse with him. Under these circumstances Carlos resolved to escape from Spain, probably to take refuge in Vienna, where he hoped to find a royal greeting and a bride. He was destitute of funds. A confidential agent was sent to obtain loans. While these negotiations were in progress, Christmas of 1567 came. It was customary for the royal family upon that occasion, on what was called the Day of the Innocents, to take the sacrament in public. For any one of the family to neglect this would have been a very great scandal. In preparation for this Carlos went to confess and receive absolution. At the confessional he stated that it was his full intention to kill a man with whom he had had a quarrel. Upon being closely questioned, he said that the man was his father, the king. The priest refused to grant absolution. Another was applied to. In his embarrassment he called a council of divines. There was great consternation. Absolution was refused, and a messenger was sent to acquaint the king with the whole matter.

In the mean time the prince had obtained by loan a hundred and fifty thousand ducats, and was making arrangements to have horses in readiness for his flight. His conduct for some time had been more that of a maniac than of a sane man. He had felt insecure in his father's palace at Madrid. He slept with a sword and dagger by his side, and a loaded musket within reach. A peculiar bolt fastened his door. No one doubted the determination of the desperate man. The king was informed of all this.

About midnight, preceded by a guard of four or five lords, with twelve privates, the king cautiously approached the door of his son's chamber. An artisan had deranged the machinery of the bolt so that it would not work. The king was carefully protected by armor over his clothes and on his head. The guard crept softly to the bed and secured the weapons. Carlos started up, demanded who was there, and leaped from the bed, endeavoring to grasp his arms. His father, who had prudently deferred approaching until the weapons were secured, then came forward and ordered his son to return to bed and remain quiet.

"What does your Majesty want of me?" inquired Don Carlos.

"You will soon learn," the father sternly replied. He then ordered the nobles who were present to hold him closely as a prisoner, not to allow him to leave the room, and to guard him with care, under penalty of being held as traitors.

"Your Majesty," exclaimed Carlos, "had better kill me than keep me a prisoner. It will be a great scandal to the kingdom. If you do not kill me I will make way with myself."

"You will do no such thing," the king replied, "for that would be the act of a madman."

"Your Majesty," rejoined Carlos, "treats me so ill that you force me to this extremity. I am not mad, but you drive me to despair."

The poor young man, then twenty-three years of age, wept passionately, his sobs rendering his words scarcely audible. The unfeeling father searched the room and took all his papers, appointed six lords to guard him, two of the six to serve in rotation each night. His meat was cut before it was brought into his chamber, and he was allowed no knife lest he should injure himself or others. A guard of twelve armed men was stationed in all the passages leading to the tower of the castle in which the prince was confined. The windows were so strongly barricaded that he could not look out from them. He was cut off from all communication with his friends, and was deprived of all books except a few devotional treatises.

The two nobles who in turn remained in his room by day and by night were ordered not to talk to him upon any affairs of government, to make no allusion whatever to his imprisonment, or any reply to his remarks upon the subject; to bring no message to him, and to bear none from him to the world without. No one was allowed to enter his apartment besides his guard, excepting his physician, his barbero, and body-servant. The king's young wife, the beautiful Isabella, was effectually prevented, not-withstanding several attempts, from visiting the captive prince. It was very evident that the obdurate king intended that his son should never emerge alive from that prison.

This living burial of a young prince, the heir to the Spanish monarchy, created a profound sensation throughout Spain and Europe. There were not a few found who entirely discredited the story of an attempt upon the king's life. Several foreign courts interposed in behalf of the prince. The feeling in Spain was so strong that though it was considered very unsafe to make any allusion to the subject, the king could not be blind to the excitement, and was haunted with the apprehension that there would be a popular outbreak for his rescue. Obviously not much reliance can be placed in the accounts which the king caused to be given of the conduct of Don Carlos during his imprisonment. No one could doubt that it would be a great relief to the king to have him die. In the course of a few months he did die. There are two stories upon this subject. It is impossible to ascertain with certainty which is true. The reader must judge which is most probable.

It is said that the prince was thrown into a state of frenzy, and vainly endeavored to dash out his brains against the walls of his prison-house; that his health rapidly failed under the effect of mental excitement, combined with want of air and exercise; that daily, as the fever burned more furiously in his veins, he became more emaciate; that in order to hasten his death he would deluge the floor with water, and walk for hours with naked feet on the cold stone pavement; that he would cause a warming-pan to be filled with ice and snow, and placed in his bed; that he would gulp down incredible quantities of ice-water; that sometimes for days he would take no food whatever, and then, with his stomach debilitated by fasting, he would eat gluttonously, drinking three gallons or more of iced water; that thus he brought on in the course of a few months vomiting, dysentery, death; that in his last moments he repented, confessed, and died in the true faith.

Another account, certainly as reliable in its authenticity as the above, is that the king submitted the case to a secret tribunal; that it was decided, upon the evidence which the king presented, that Don Carlos was guilty of treason, the penalty of which was death; that the king had power to mitigate or dispense with the penalty; that the king declared that he ought not to allow his private feelings to interfere with the course of the law, but that the health of the prince was in so critical a state that his own excesses would soon bring him to the tomb; that the guards of Don Carlos were instructed that they would serve the king by doing nothing to hinder the speedy death of Carlos; that his physician was informed that it was very desirable that the death of the prince should appear to result from natural causes; that medicine was administered to the unsuspecting patient, in which there were powders which slowly accomplished the end desired.

Such are the two accounts. Certainly the character of Philip does not dissuade us from accepting the last. It is certain that many of the best informed of writers, and, among others, the noble Prince of Orange, boldly denounced Philip as the murderer of his son. At seven o'clock in the evening of the day in which the prince died his body was borne to its burial on the shoulders of several grandees. There was quite a gathering in the courtyard of the palace on the occasion. The king stood at an open window looking down upon the scene, but did not accompany the remains to their burial. The young queen wept bitterly over the death of Carlos. His remains were soon after removed to the gloomy vaults of the Escurial. The king ordered that no funeral honors should be paid to his memory, and that no mourning should be worn. Such was the life, and such the death of a prince of twenty-three years, who was born the heir of one of the mightiest of earthly monarchies. Terrible as was his fate, his character was such, if any reliance can be placed upon the testimony of his contemporaries, that if he had lived and reigned, his tyranny, brutality, and profligacy would have plunged thousands of hearts into despair.