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King Philip IV

Portrait of Philip IV painted by Velázquez

Philip IV (r. 1621-1665) was one of the few monarchs (along with Christian IV of Denmark and Maximilian I of Bavaria) to reign during virtually the whole of the Thirty Years’ War. He came to power in 1621, just as Spain’s truce with the Dutch Republic was expiring, and died in 1665, when the Spanish war against Portuguese independence was winding down. Because ost of the wars ended badly, Philip’s reign marks what historians often considering the beginning of Spain’s decline. Artistically, however, Philip oversaw a golden age of Spanish painters, writers, and playwrights.

Like other monarchs of the period, Philip concerned himself first and foremost with religion. He not only attended to all the outward ceremonies of Catholic practice, but measured all of his decisions against religious standards. “In all great matters, I have held it better and more proper to leave aside reasons of state than to dissimulate one jot in point of religion.”1 Although historians could certainly find cases proving this claim to be exaggerated, it was sincerely intended. In the latter half of his reign, when everything seemed to be going wrong, Philip turned to the mystic nun Sor María de Ágreda for advice, exchanging hundreds of letters with her.

Philip IV’s misfortune in war extended to his personal life as well. He lost his wife, Elisabeth, in 1644, and their only surviving son, Balthasar Carlos, two years later at a crucial point in the negotiations at Westphalia. Desperately needing to produce an heir, and wanting to strengthen his relations with the Austrian branch of the Habsburgs, he married his niece Maria Anna in 1649. (She had been intended for Balthasar Carlos prior to his death.) They did eventually have a son, the future Charles II, who survived to adulthood. However, Charles was sickly and died without issue before age 40, leading to the disastrous War of Spanish Succession. Imagine having the fate of your subjects depend heavily on whether you can produce offspring!

Misfortune aside, Philip was a conscientious monarch who tried to make the best of a bad situation. He allowed the Count of Olivares to manage affairs of state until the disasters of the early 1640’s (the rebellions in Catalonia and Portugal) convinced him to sack Olivares in 1643. Philip was, therefore, more active as a ruler during the Congress of Westphalia than he had been earlier in his reign. He fought to maintain some form of overlordship, however nominal, over the Dutch Republic, but eventually gave in when they proved intransigent.


1 Robert Stradling, Philip IV and the Government of
Spain, 1621–1665
, p.269.


Philip IV and the Government of Spain, 1621-1665 (2008) by Robert Stradling