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on 14 October 2014
In my History A Level course of many years ago Philip II of Spain did not enjoy a good press. From the perspective of the very angloc-centric view of history that was served to us, he was presented as the opportunistic husband of 'Bloody Mary' and the obvious the villain of the Armada, from whom we were rescued by 'Good Queen Bess'. Beyond Britain the arrival and efficient use of the printing press in the Protestant Northern Europe of his time, ensured that his reputation fared no better elsewhere, including ironically even in Spain itself. What makes history so interesting is that time moves on and with it comes an ability to take a longer view. Henry Kamen needs little introduction as on of the great scholars of Spanish History. Kamen along with some other anglophone historians are especially respected in Spain, particularly because the complexities the history of the Peninsular are still unravelling post Franco. This has lead some Spanish opinion to conclude that an objective view of that history is best made by outsiders.

Kamen's study is not a whitewash, taking careful time to present a rounded view of his subject. The rigid scheming Catholic villain recedes to allow a more human picture to emerge from painstaking research he has taken. What emerges is the picture of a man who by the standards of his age was deeply committed to performing his duties as king without compromising a deep devotion to the Catholic faith that underlay all he did.

Of course not everyone will want to agree with Kamen's 'revisionist' approach, but for me it was a real joy to see a rethink of this enigmatic monarch thoroughly researched and properly argued.
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on 22 May 2013
This certainly is a weighty and worthy tome. As the writer himself asserts, a thoroughly researched and new biography is long overdue of this somewhat dark and evasive historical figure.
In many respects, Philip II is the stuff of easy legends to be created around his self-confessed aloofness and distant character. (He refused to allow any biography to be written, certainly in his lifetime.) There is no doubt that he was cold and harsh as a monarch, but perhaps that was bred into him by the enormous role he and Spain played in one of the most formative times in European history.
Henry Kamen's book is well-written and very readable, however, the author falls into his own trap when, as he writes in the preface that he did not want to write a political biography but one that exposes the 'thoughts, motives and preferences of the man...'. Unfortunately Kamen does get rather bogged down in the politics of Spain in relation to Flanders and other political situations.
Overall, this is a scholarly and highly readable book that makes Philip an accessible man to learn about and help the reader to gain an insight into his reputation for being a harsh, seemingly cruel monarch.
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on 9 November 2015
I am giving to this book four stars, because I liked it and author obvious has done enormous research, but honestly it's more between three and four stars - there were some issues, which made this book less enjoyable than I expected it to be.

Main pros: I highly appreciate the factual side of it - I learned a lot about Philip, spanish politics, religion and conflicts in 16th century Europe. And since I knew very little about spanish history, this biography really helped me to understand spanish point of view of certain historical events, the very thing, which I expected to gain and received. Well done.

But I really wanted much more analysis into this. And that's where problems start - this book simply tells Philip's (and his reign's) story without giving decent examination of reasons, which stood behind king's decisions or actions (or those of other persons), and consequences, which they faced. There could be more exploration of Philip's personality too - I missed it.
I also felt that there were some holes in Kamen's argumentation/interpretation - in many cases his conclusions and statements appeared to contradict the facts presented, or even his own opinions. Besides narrative's (or should I say author's?) tone concerning Philip's actions and decisions occasionally grew a little bit too much apologetic for my taste - it was kind of irritating.

Another issue with this work - I think that some important topics were worth more exploration than author did: Philip's impact on english government during Mary Tudor's reign, his marriage with Mary Tudor in general, his conflict with papacy (I can't remember if Kamen even mentioned the fact that Philip was excommunicated from Church), his relationships with his heir, later Philip III. I also had like to know about his plans concerning invasion in England (I mean, what they planned to do if Invincible Armada would won?), but for some reason the only thing what Kamen has to say about subject is "neither the king nor anyone else was quite sure what it was meant to achieve. No concrete plans were ever drawn up, either military or political, on what was to be done should the invasion succeed." Well, I don't know, but I doubt that they had no plans whatsoever.

Overall, it is good factual biography and it encouraged me to read further about Philip. Next try "Imprudent king" by Geoffrey Parker.
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on 8 October 2005
Whilst this may not dwell to a macabre degree on incest, schizophrenia and murder, it is an impressive portrait of a king whose life bestrode the 16th Century. If you want a work of highly controversial speculation, look elsewhere. If you want to find out more about a troubled and private king, and his relationship with the rest of Europe, then read it. Although Kamen tends towards defending Philip on most occasions, this is not without careful thought on the part of the author, and he uses his impressive research to exonerate Philip from some of the more notorious charges levelled against him (murdering his wife and son, for example). A little over-positive in places, perhaps, but a thoroughly worthwhile and readable addition to the huge bibliography available about the most powerful and controversial man of his age.
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on 20 June 2015
It is better now to read Geoffrey Parker's book - "A New Life of Philip II" (2014). This is more balanced, and takes account of a vast amount of recently-discovered material.
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on 13 September 2014
An incredibly readable book! Philip II's travels through Europe as prince-regent (yo el rey principe, he signed himself after his elevation as King of Naples on the eve of his marriage to Mary I of England). Philip the ladies' man. Philip the king, of course. Also interesting on Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England. It has been claimed by another biographer that this book is a hagiography; this is definitely not true. It does show though that Philip was human, and a rather average person.
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on 25 October 2015
This book is well written, but lacking in detail in some areas, you get an overall sense of Philip II, but it leaves more questions than it answers, and you need to read more than this book if you want to have a better idea of the man.
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on 2 February 2016
A wonderful book. Henry Kamen gives the king a human face and demolishes the Protestant view of this truly great monarch.
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on 21 November 2001
Kamen goes on too much about the mechanics of things that occur and too little about what this shows us about the type of person Phillip was. It serves well as a detailed account of Phillip's military actions but doesn't provide much of an original insight into his life and into how his reign shaped the future of Spain. IT was a bit dull and not very engaging.
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on 4 December 1997
Kamen touches on all aspects of Philips life with great intuity. He exposes a man that was emotionally scarred more than once in his life, a man that worked incessently for the good of his country and of his religion. As well as being a pious and hard working man he was also a lover of fun, a side rarely seen in a personage of such stature. This book is a wonderful read and cannot fail to leave the reader wondering about Philip II of Spain, a monarch that until now has been over shadowed by his father Emperor Charles. On top of this Kamwen examines many of the aspects that affected the political events of the age.
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