Philip of Spain is one of the most glossed over characters in Tudor biographies. He is usually referred to as the husband who abandoned Mary and often as a man who tried to arrange a marriage treaty with Elizabeth even as his wife was dying. So it was an interesting experience to read a biography which puts this very interesting character firmly at centre stage and to see what led to him turning from the King of England to the enemy which sent the Spanish Armada against the country he once lived in.
The author begins by contrasting the early lives of both Philip and Mary. Mary, declared illegitimate on the marriage of her father to Anne Boleyn, seperated from her mother and kept from court. Although skilled at languages, she was not educated to become a ruling queen and was seemingly unlikely to succeed to the throne. Philip, trained in the theory and practice of government and raised to rule. Philip's father, Charles, was Mary's uncle and her ardent supporter. He advised Mary to accept Henry's terms in order to be restored to favour and the succession. When Henry died and Edward became king, Mary became a symbol of resistance to Catholics. When she became Queen, Charles suggested she need a husband to assist her. The possibility of joining England and Spain in marriage was almost too good to be true. England could provide an alliance against France and help to defend Spain's possessions in the Netherlands.
Although Charles was considered as a possible husband for Mary, he was too old to be a likely suitor. Philip was understandably reluctant, being 27 to her 37, but he was a loyal and dutiful son and agreed to the match - although he was already widowed and had a son. The author explains how the marriage came about, after much negotiation - much of the treaty being distasteful to Philip and limiting his power. He was also dependent on Mary to keep her agreement to see he was crowned King of England and his unwilling agreement to the marriage had to be sweetened by his father, who awarded him the titles King of Naples and Duke of Milan to give him equal prestige with his wife. It is well known that Philip's men were not impressed when they saw Mary, suggesting, "she is no great beauty" and "older than they told us." There also seems to have been a lot of resentment between Philip's followers and his English household.
What is generally accepted though is that Mary adored her husband and relied on him. I was interested to read how much Philip achieved and how deeply he was involved in the government of the country. It certainly seems that he was a skilled negotiator and was a good and fair ruler, willing to listen and working hard. As Mary announced her pregnancy and withdrew from government affairs, Philip was essentially the ruler of the country - but still denied a coronation. As is also well known, Mary's pregnancy led to nothing, although it is the period before this that was really interesting to me. Had Mary had a child at that point, I feel sure her life would have turned out very differently. Sadly though, Philip left for the continent to help his father and for Charles to transfer the throne of Spain and the Netherlands to him. When he did return to England it was less to see Mary than to gain support for war against France. His visit led to another phantom pregnancy and it seems likely that Mary had a pituitary tumour. She was very ill and Philip was seemingly neglectful indifferent to her. There did seem to be a period when their marriage could have worked, even if she had loved him far more than he cared for her. When Mary died, there were suggestions he should marry Elizabeth and these are explained in detail in this book, as are the results of his fraught relationship with the new Queen of England.
This really is a very interesting and informative biography, with many illustrations. I enjoyed learning more about Philip, the uncrowned, and often resented, King of England. However, he was always King of Spain first and neither England, nor Mary, seemed able to compete for his affections. A highly recommended read.
on 21 October 2012
Not far into the book you realise that Harry Kelsey is not going to go into much depth which was a little disappointing.
Even so it it enjoyable enough and should be seen as an adequate introduction to Philip for his role as King of England; a consort who influenced England greatly during is wife's reign.
Most interesting is Kelsey's discussion of whether Mary created her own image of an ineffective female monarch in order to achieve her goals, but unfortunately this is only covered in one short paragraph. Analysis is rather lacking throughout.
Kelsey's writes well but fairs unfavourably to the likes of Richard Rex, who is, in my opinion, the best Tudor writer out there at the moment; his writing being readable and lively, opinionated and scholarly all in under 200 pages!
I fear that Kelsey has failed in his attempt to make Philip more memorable. Philip does deserve more and deserves more than Kelsey has given. A book along the lines of John Edwards 'Mary I - England's Catholic Queen'; in depth, scholarly, yet highly readable is overdue.
Rather bizarre is the very last sentence; (after Mary's death) "there arose a global conflict between England and Spain that lasted for the next four centuries and may not be ended." May not be ended? Oh please! A rather amateur, school boyish end to an otherwise enjoyable, but lightweight book.