2.4 Decline of Spain under Philip II
King Philip was blind to the new forces of religion and politics. He had certain fixed ideas and principles by which he wrongly estimated the inherent strength of Protestantism and democratic nationalism, which were strong throughout Europe. These policies of his proved him a reactionary for he failed to mold his thoughts, beliefs and ideas with the then emerging modern forces. For Philip, religious bigotry was most important. He could never subordinate religion and give value to politics. Philip could not concentrate on many things together at the same time though he was involved in several projects. Due to this many of his projects failed.
2.4a The Effects of the Policies of Philip
The policies adopted by Philip hastened the decline of Spain. Both his domestic and foreign policies largely resulted in diminishing Spanish prestige. The machinery of the inquisition set up by Philip to arrest the growth of liberal ideas made Spain one of the most backward countries of the continent. The Moors were highly skilled in agriculture and industrial knowledge. But Philip made a serious blunder when he exterminated a large number of Moors. This resulted in the industrial and agricultural backwardness of the country. Philip’s constant exploitation of the already limited resources of the country due to his foreign wars drove the people to the verge of extreme poverty. The absolutism of Philip also made the people idle for they felt no responsibility for the nation. The poor became poorer whereas the wealthy nobles lived happily without being concerned about the state affairs.
A rude blow was dealt to the commercial prosperity of Spain when Netherlands became free from Spanish domination. This domination had provided Spain with a rich source of income. Now it was deprived of this.
Philip’s policy towards England not only brought Spain national humiliation but also disaster. The defeat of the Spanish Armada dealt a severe blow to the Spanish naval power. The glamour that was attached to Spain in the 17th century not only in Europe but also elsewhere was now lost. Her international prestige was lowered.
2.4b Spanish Nationals were neglected
While the Spanish King paid much attention to foreign
conquests and territorial aggrandizement, he cared little for the
well being of the Spaniards. The people lost interest in life and
slowly became dullard and inactive. It was a tragedy that the people
who constituted the foundation of the country had demoralized the
people by their imperial schemes.
2.4c Philip’s Policy of Imperialism
The most important factor that was responsible for the decline of Spain was the imperial policy of Philip and that of the previous rulers. The problem of maintaining the vast and scattered territories of Spain involved the country in a number of external wars. Spain earned the hostility of France by taking Italy into its possession. This not only led to wars with the French Kings but also compelled it to defend its rights as a Mediterranean power in constant conflict with the Turks and the Algerians. The Thirty Years’ War also engaged the attention of Spain as it had done that of Austria. Spain was already preoccupied with internal conflicts, yet it undertook the conquest and occupation of the two American continents. All these sapped the vitality of the Spanish nation and depleted its strength and treasury.
2.4d Religious Issues
Philip’s fanatical Catholicism caused a lot of harm to Spain. In his zeal to re-establish Catholicism, he subordinated politics to religion. This policy of Philip landed him in trouble abroad. He went to war with some countries to impose on them the supremacy of Catholicism. But he met with defeat and disgrace. At home, Philip’s tyrannies alienated him from the goodwill of the Jews and the Moors who were respectively the bankers and the manufacturers of great repute. Under Philip, Spain suffered great industrial and commercial losses.
2.4e Inefficient Financial System
Spain’s unsound system of taxation finally brought about its downfall. The taxation system ruined the agriculture and the industry of the country. The Spanish Government extracted as much gold and silver as possible from the colonies but cared little for their economic well being. If properly maintained, these colonies would have been a regular source of income for Spain. But the Spanish Kings not only destroyed the economy of these colonies, but also uprooted the natives. Complicated and harassing regulations of the Spanish Government also prevented the growth of a viable and healthy agricultural and industrial population in the colonies. It has been said that Spain fell because it could not concentrate on any single project and did not know on which horse to place its money: the Mediterranean, Africa, Europe or the New World. The Decline of Spain affected many other countries of Europe besides Spain.