Archduchess Margaret of Austria, Archduke Charles II of Inner Austria, Duke of Lerma, Emperor Charles V, Emperor Maximilian II, King Carlos I of Spain, King Felipe III of Spain, King of Portugal
Felipe III (April 14, 1578 – March 31, 1621) was King of Spain. As Felipe II, he was also King of Portugal, Naples, Sicily and Sardinia and Duke of Milan from 1598 until his death in 1621.
A member of the House of Habsburg, Felipe III was born in Madrid to King Felipe II of Spain and his fourth wife and niece Archduchess Anna of Austria the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II and Infanta Maria of Spain, the daughter of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King Carlos I of Spain, and Infanta Isabella of Portugal.
Although also known in Spain as Felipe the Pious, Felipe’s political reputation abroad has been largely negative. Historians C. V. Wedgwood, R. Stradling and J. H. Elliott have described him, respectively, as an “undistinguished and insignificant man,” a “miserable monarch,” and a “pallid, anonymous creature, whose only virtue appeared to reside in a total absence of vice.”
In particular, Felipe’s reliance on his corrupt chief minister, the Duke of Lerma, drew much criticism at the time and afterwards. For many, the decline of Spain can be dated to the economic difficulties that set in during the early years of his reign. Nonetheless, as the ruler of the Spanish Empire at its height and as the king who achieved a temporary peace with the Dutch (1609–1621) and brought Spain into the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) through an (initially) extremely successful campaign, Philip’s reign remains a critical period in Spanish history.
After Felipe III’s older half-brother Don Carlos died insane, their father Felipe II had concluded that one of the causes of Carlos’ condition had been the influence of the warring factions at the Spanish court. He believed that Carlos’ education and upbringing had been badly affected by this, resulting in his lunacy and disobedience, and accordingly he set out to pay much greater attention to arrangements for his later sons.
King Felipe II appointed Juan de Zúñiga, then Infante Diego’s governor, to continue this role for Felipe, and chose García de Loaysa as his tutor. They were joined by Cristóbal de Moura, a close supporter of Felipe II. In combination, Felipe II believed, they would provide a consistent, stable upbringing for Infante Felipe, and ensure that he would avoid the same fate as Carlos.
Felipe III’s education was to follow the model for royal princes laid down by Father Juan de Mariana, focusing on the imposition of restraints and encouragement to form the personality of the individual at an early age, aiming to deliver a king who was neither tyrannical nor excessively under the influence of his courtiers.
King Felipe III appears to have been generally liked by his contemporaries: ‘dynamic, good-natured and earnest,’ suitably pious, having a ‘lively body and a peaceful disposition,’ albeit with a relatively weak constitution. The comparison with the memory of the disobedient and ultimately insane Carlos was usually a positive one, although some commented that King Felipe III appeared less intelligent and politically competent than his late brother.
Indeed, although King Felipe III was educated in Latin, French, Portuguese and astronomy, and appears to have been a competent linguist, recent historians suspect that much of his tutors’ focus on Felipe III’s undeniably pleasant, pious and respectful disposition was to avoid reporting that, languages aside, he was not in fact particularly intelligent or academically gifted. Nonetheless, Felipe III does not appear to have been naive—his correspondence to his daughters shows a distinctive cautious streak in his advice on dealing with court intrigue.
Philip married his cousin, Archduchess Margaret of Austria, on April 18, 1599, a year after becoming king. Archduchess Margaret the daughter of Archduke Charles II of Inner Austria and Maria Anna of Bavaria and thus the paternal granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. Her elder brother was the Archduke Ferdinand, who succeeded as Emperor Ferdinand II in 1619. Two of her sisters, Anna and Constance, through their subsequent marriages to King Sigismund III Vasa, became Queens of Poland.
Queen Margaret would be one of three women at Felipe III’s court who would apply considerable influence over the King. Margaret was considered by contemporaries to be extremely pious—in some cases, excessively pious, and too influenced by the Church—’astute and very skillful’ in her political dealings, although ‘melancholic’ and unhappy over the influence of the Duke of Lerma over her husband at court. Margaret continued to fight an ongoing battle with Lerma for influence up until her death in 1611. King Felipe III had an ‘affectionate, close relationship’ with Margaret, and paid her additional attention after she bore him a son in 1605.
Margaret, alongside Felipe’s grandmother/aunt, Empress Maria—the Austrian representative to the Spanish court—and Margaret of the Cross, Maria’s daughter—formed a powerful, uncompromising Catholic and pro-Austrian voice within Felipe’s life. They were successful, for example, in convincing Felipe to provide financial support to Ferdinand from 1600 onwards.
King Felipe III died in Madrid on March 31, 1621, and was succeeded by his son, Felipe IV, who rapidly completed the process of removing the last elements of the Sandoval family regime from court. The story told in the memoirs of the French ambassador Bassompierre, that he was killed by the heat of a brasero (a pan of hot charcoal), because the proper official to take it away was not at hand, is a humorous exaggeration of the formal etiquette of the court.
King Felipe III has generally left a poor legacy with historians. Three major historians of the period have described an ‘undistinguished and insignificant man’, a ‘miserable monarch’, whose ‘only virtue appeared to reside in a total absence of vice’. More generally, Philip has largely retained the reputation of ‘a weak, dim-witted monarch who preferred hunting and traveling to governing’.