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A timely new approach
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.