The Duke of Lerma is the last major unknown statesman in modern European history. In this pioneering biography, Patrick Williams brings him dramatically to life and challenges many of the assumptions that historians have made about him and about Spanish history at a time of profound crisis. By placing Lerma firmly at the head of the 'procession of favourites' that marked the European seventeenth century he invites a re-evaluation of the phenomenon of government by favourites in this seminal period of European history. Francisco Gómez de Sandoval, Duke of Lerma (1553-1625), served Philip III of Spain as his favourite and first minister for twenty years (1598-1618). His power dazzled contemporaries; indeed, one petitioner reportedly told Philip III that he had come to see him 'because I could not get an appointment with the Duke of Lerma'. Within a decade of assuming office Lerma had raised his family from humiliating poverty into being by far the richest in Spain and had himself become the greatest patron of the arts in Europe in his generation. His use of power provoked intense debate in Spain about the nature of corruption in government. Intriguingly, Lerma remained deeply ambivalent about the power that he wielded with such assured brilliance, for throughout his adult life he was determined to follow a family tradition and retire from court into religious life to secure the salvation of his soul, finally achieving his ambition in 1617 when he secured a cardinalate. The great favourite ended his life as a prince of the Church.