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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

And the pirates of the Barbary Coast


[Sidenote: Philip III and Spanish relations with England, the Low Countries, and the Empire.]

Philip III (1598-1621) was the first of three sovereigns, each of whom was weaker than his predecessor. The fifteenth-century practice of government by favorites was restored. Philip III turned over the political management of his kingdom to the Duke of Lerma, while he himself indulged in wasteful extravagances, punctuated by an equal excess in religious devotions. He had inherited wars with England and the Protestant Netherlands, but the first of these was brought to an end in 1604, shortly after the accession of James I of England. The war in the Low Countries was characterized by the same features which had marked its progress in the previous reign. Philip II had endeavored to solve the problem by making an independent kingdom of that region, under his daughter and her husband as the rulers, with a proviso for a reversion to Spain in case of a failure of the line. This measure was practically without effect, for Spanish troops and Spanish moneys continued to be the basis for the wars against the Dutch, or Protestant, element. Before the end of Philip III's reign the decision for a reversion to Spanish authority had already been made and accepted. There were two factors in the Dutch wars of the period worthy of mention. For one thing the Dutch became more bold on the seas, and began a remarkable career of maritime conquest which was to last well over half a century. As affecting Spain this new activity manifested itself mainly in piratical attacks on Spanish ships, or in descents upon Spanish coasts, but a number of Philip's Portuguese colonies were picked up by the Dutch. The Dutch wars also produced a man who was both a great soldier (a not uncommon type in that day of Spanish military importance) and a great statesman, who sensed the evil course which Spain was following in her European relations and argued against it, all to no avail. This man was Ambrosio Sp?nola. Sp?nola won victory upon victory from the Dutch, but was often obliged to rely on his personal estate for the funds with which to carry on the campaigns; so when the Dutch asked for a truce he favored the idea, and on this occasion his views were allowed to prevail. A twelve-year truce was agreed upon in 1609, one condition of which was the recognition of the independence of the Protestant states. In 1618 the great conflict which has become known as the Thirty Years' War broke out in Germany, having its beginnings in a dispute between the Hapsburg emperor, Ferdinand, and the Protestant elector of the Palatinate. Spain entered the war on the side of Ferdinand, largely because of family reasons, but also in support of Catholicism. Sp?nola was sent into the Palatinate with a Spanish army, where he swept everything before him. Thus casually did Spain enter a war which was to be a thirty-nine years' conflict for her (1620-1659) and productive of her own undoing.

[Sidenote: Relations with France, the Italian states, Turkey, and the pirates of the Barbary Coast.]

Affairs with France were characterized by a bit of good fortune which postponed the evil day for Spain. Henry IV had reorganized the French kingdom until it reached a state of preparation which would have enabled it to take the offensive, a policy which Henry had in mind. The assassination of the French king, in 1610, prevented an outbreak of war between France and Spain at a time when the latter was almost certain to be defeated. Marie de Medici became regent in France, and chose to keep the peace. Italy was a constant source of trouble in this reign, due to the conflict of interests between the kings of Spain and the popes and princes of the Italian peninsula. There was a succession of petty wars or of the prospects of war, which meant that affairs were always in a disturbed condition. The Turks continued to be a peril to Europe, and their co-religionists and subjects in northern Africa were the terror of the seas. Spain rendered service to Europe by repulsing the attempts of the former to get a foothold in Italy, but could do nothing to check piratical ventures. The pirates of the Barbary Coast plied their trade both in the Mediterranean and along Spain's Atlantic coasts to their limits in the Bay of Biscay, while English and Dutch ships were active in the same pursuits.


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