King Philip II of Spain
King Philip II of Spain ruled over the Kingdom of Spain from 1556-1598. When he inherited the throne, Spain’s territory included the Netherlands, parts of France, Portugal, Italy, and the newly claimed Spanish Americas. He oversaw the most prosperous time for the Spanish Empire. However, this mostly came from brutalizing indigenous populations and plundering in the New World.
Due to several costly wars and defeats, the Spanish Empire also started to decline toward the end of Philip’s reign. His rule can best be characterized as the rise and fall of the Spanish Empire.
Three major events led to the rise of King Philip's Spanish Empire. The first one is the defeat of the Ottomans at Lepanto in 1571 by the Spanish Armada. The Ottoman Empire attempted to expand into Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. The Spanish Armada set sail, met the Ottoman fleet off the coast of Greece, and defeated them. This prevented Ottoman expansion into Europe and allowed Spain to keep all of its territory.
The second reason for the rise of King Philip was the resources being brought back from the Americas in the 1570s. The Spanish Empire claimed vast portions of land in what is now South and Central America in the early 1500s. By the 1570s, they were bringing back millions worth of gold and silver to Spain every year. This new-found wealth fueled wars for expansion of the Spanish empire.
Lastly, King Philip seized Portugal shortly after their king died. In 1580, Portugal's King Henry passed away leaving no heir, or successor. King Philip took this opportunity to seize Portugal for Spain. Spain controlled Portugal, its main rival on the Iberian Peninsula, for 60 years.
The 1570s was an important time for King Philip and the Spanish Empire. As stated, many events helped lead to King Philip’s increase in power, but also it was the beginning of the end. In 1579, seven Dutch provinces declared independence from Spain. The war between Spain and the Dutch provinces lasted until 1648.
Another reason for the decline of King Philip and the Spanish empire was the famous defeat of the Spanish Armada. At this time, the Spanish Armada was considered by most to be the most powerful naval fleet in the world. It was called the “Grande y Felicísima Armada ('Great and Most Fortunate Navy').
In 1588, the Spanish Armada was sailing towards England to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I and stop English interference in the Spanish Netherlands. However, the fleet was hit by a major storm before heading into battle with the English navy. English ships attacked the weakened Armada and were faster and more maneuverable than the larger Spanish galleons. Many ships were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland and more than a third of the initial 130 ships failed to return home to Spain.
The last reason for the decline of the Spanish Empire under King Philp II was due to bankruptcy as they ran out of money. The Spanish were engaged in various wars and expansions throughout the reign of King Philip II. In 1596, Spain was forced to declare bankruptcy for the fourth time.