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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Personal Habits of Philip II.
By William Hickling Prescott (1796–1859)
 
From the ‘History of Philip II.’

PHILIP, unlike most of his predecessors, rarely took his seat in the council of State. It was his maxim that his ministers would more freely discuss measures in the absence of their master than when he was there to overawe them. The course he adopted was for a consulta, or a committee of two or three members, to wait on him in his cabinet, and report to him the proceedings of the council. He more commonly, especially in the later years of his reign, preferred to receive a full report of the discussion, written so as to leave an ample margin for his own commentaries. These were eminently characteristic of the man, and were so minute as usually to cover several sheets of paper. Philip had a reserved and unsocial temper. He preferred to work alone in the seclusion of his closet rather than in the presence of others. This may explain the reason, in part, why he seemed so much to prefer writing to talking. Even with his private secretaries, who were always near at hand, he chose to communicate by writing; and they had as large a mass of his autograph notes in their possession as if the correspondence had been carried on from different parts of the kingdom. His thoughts too—at any rate his words—came slowly; and by writing he gained time for the utterance of them.  1
  Philip has been accused of indolence. As far as the body was concerned, such an accusation was well founded. Even when young he had no fondness, as we have seen, for the robust and chivalrous sports of the age. He never, like his father, conducted military expeditions in person. He thought it wiser to follow the example of his great-grandfather, Ferdinand the Catholic, who stayed at home and sent his generals to command his armies. As little did he like to travel,—forming too in this respect a great contrast to the Emperor. He had been on the throne before he made a visit to his great southern capital, Seville. It was a matter of complaint in cortes that he thus withdrew himself from the eyes of his subjects. The only sport he cared for—not by any means to excess—was shooting with his gun or his crossbow such game as he could find in his own grounds at the Wood of Segovia, or Aranjuez, or some other of his pleasant country-seats, none of them at a great distance from Madrid. On a visit to such places, he would take with him as large a heap of papers as if he were a poor clerk earning his bread; and after the fatigues of the chase, he would retire to his cabinet and refresh himself with his dispatches.  2
  It would indeed be a great mistake to charge him with sluggishness of mind. He was content to toil for hours, and long into the night, at his solitary labors. No expression of weariness or of impatience was known to escape him. A characteristic anecdote is told of him in regard to this. Having written a dispatch, late at night, to be sent on the following morning, he handed it to his secretary to throw some sand over it. This functionary, who happened to be dozing, suddenly roused himself, and snatching up the inkstand, emptied it on the paper. The King, coolly remarking that “it would have been better to use the sand,” set himself down, without any complaint, to rewrite the whole of the letter. A prince so much addicted to the pen, we may well believe, must have left a large amount of autograph materials behind him. Few monarchs, in point of fact, have done so much in this way to illustrate the history of their reigns. Fortunate would it have been for the historian who was to profit by it, if the royal composition had been somewhat less diffuse, and the handwriting somewhat more legible.  3
  Philip was an economist of time, and regulated the distribution of it with great precision. In the morning he gave audience to foreign ambassadors. He afterwards heard mass. After mass came dinner, in his father’s fashion. But dinner was not an affair with Philip of so much moment as it was with Charles. He was exceedingly temperate both in eating and drinking; and not unfrequently had his physician at his side to warn him against any provocative of the gout,—the hereditary disease which at a very early period had begun to affect his health. After a light repast he gave audience to such of his subjects as desired to present their memorials. He received the petitioners graciously, and listened to all they had to say with patience,—for that was his virtue. But his countenance was exceedingly grave,—which in truth was its natural expression; and there was a reserve in his deportment which made the boldest feel ill at ease in his presence. On such occasions he would say, “Compose yourself;”—a recommendation that had not always the tranquillizing effect intended. Once when a papal nuncio forgot, in his confusion, the address he had prepared, the King coolly remarked: “If you will bring it in writing, I will read it myself, and expedite your business.” It was natural that men of even the highest rank should be overawed in the presence of a monarch who held the destinies of so many millions in his hands, and who surrounded himself with a veil of mystery which the most cunning politician could not penetrate.  4
  The reserve, so noticeable in his youth, increased with age. He became more difficult of access. His public audiences were much less frequent. In the summer he would escape from them altogether, by taking refuge in some one of his country places. His favorite retreat was his palace monastery of the Escurial,—then slowly rising under his patronage, and affording him an occupation congenial with his taste. He seems, however, to have sought the country not so much from the love of its beauties as for the retreat it afforded him from the town. When in the latter he rarely showed himself to the public eye, going abroad chiefly in a close carriage, and driving late so as to return to the city after dark.  5
  Thus he lived in solitude even in the heart of his capital, knowing much less of men from his own observation than from the reports that were made to him. In availing himself of these sources of information he was indefatigable. He caused a statistical survey of Spain to be prepared for his own use. It was a work of immense labor, embracing a vast amount of curious details, such as were rarely brought together in those days. He kept his spies at the principal European courts, who furnished him with intelligence; and he was as well acquainted with what was passing in England and in France as if he had resided on the spot. We have seen how well he knew the smallest details of the proceedings in the Netherlands, sometimes even better than Margaret herself. He employed similar means to procure information that might be of service in making appointments to ecclesiastical and civil offices.  6
  In his eagerness for information, his ear was ever open to accusations against his ministers; which, as they were sure to be locked up in his own bosom, were not slow in coming to him. This filled his mind with suspicions. He waited till time had proved their truth, treating the object of them with particular favor till the hour of vengeance had arrived. The reader will not have forgotten the terrible saying of Philip’s own historian, “His dagger followed close upon his smile.”  7
  Even to the ministers in whom Philip appeared most to confide, he often gave but half his confidence. Instead of frankly furnishing them with a full statement of facts, he sometimes made so imperfect a disclosure that when his measures came to be taken, his counselors were surprised to find of how much they had been kept in ignorance. When he communicated to them any foreign dispatches, he would not scruple to alter the original, striking out some passages and inserting others, so as best to serve his purpose. The copy, in this garbled form, was given to the council. Such was the case with a letter of Don John of Austria, containing an account of the troubles of Genoa, the original of which, with its numerous alterations in the royal handwriting, still exists in the archives of Simancas.  8
  But though Philip’s suspicious nature prevented him from entirely trusting his ministers,—though with chilling reserve he kept at a distance even those who approached him nearest,—he was kind, even liberal, to his servants, was not capricious in his humors, and seldom if ever gave way to those sallies of passion so common in princes clothed with absolute power. He was patient to the last degree, and rarely changed his ministers without good cause. Ruy Gomez was not the only courtier who continued in the royal service to the end of his days.  9
  Philip was of a careful, or to say truth, of a frugal disposition, which he may well have inherited from his father; though this did not, as with his father in later life, degenerate into parsimony. The beginning of his reign, indeed, was distinguished by some acts of uncommon liberality. One of these occurred at the close of Alva’s campaigns in Italy, when the King presented that commander with a hundred and fifty thousand ducats, greatly to the discontent of the Emperor. This was contrary to his usual policy. As he grew older, and the expenses of government pressed more heavily on him, he became more economical. Yet those who served him had no reason, like the Emperor’s servants, to complain of their master’s meanness. It was observed, however, that he was slow to recompense those who served him until they had proved themselves worthy of it. Still it was a man’s own fault, says a contemporary, if he was not well paid for his services in the end.  10
  In one particular he indulged in a most lavish expenditure. This was his household. It was formed on the Burgundian model,—the most stately and magnificent in Europe. Its peculiarity consisted in the number and quality of the members who composed it. The principal officers were nobles of the highest rank, who frequently held posts of great consideration in the State. Thus the Duke of Alva was chief major-domo; the Prince of Eboli was first gentleman of the bedchamber; the Duke of Feria was Captain of the Spanish Guard. There was the grand equerry, the grand huntsman, the chief muleteer, and a host of officers, some of whom were designated by menial titles, though nobles and cavaliers of family. There were forty pages, sons of the most illustrious houses in Castile. The whole household amounted to no less than fifteen hundred persons. The King’s guard consisted of three hundred men; one-third of whom were Spaniards, one-third Flemings, and the remainder Germans.  11
  The Queen had also her establishment on the same scale. She had twenty-six ladies-in-waiting, and among other functionaries, no less than four physicians to watch over her health.  12
  The annual cost of the royal establishment amounted to full two hundred thousand florins. The cortes earnestly remonstrated against this useless prodigality, beseeching the King to place his household on the modest scale to which the monarchs of Castile had been accustomed. And it seems singular that one usually so averse to extravagance and pomp should have so recklessly indulged in them here. It was one of those inconsistencies which we sometimes meet with in private life, when a man habitually careful of his expenses indulges himself in some whim which taste, or as in this case, early habits, have made him regard as indispensable. The Emperor had been careful to form the household of his son, when very young, on the Burgundian model; and Philip, thus early trained, probably regarded it as essential to the royal dignity….  13
  It was a capital defect in Philip’s administration that his love of power and his distrust of others made him desire to do everything himself,—even those things which could be done much better by his ministers. As he was slow in making up his own opinions, and seldom acted without first ascertaining those of his council, we may well understand the mischievous consequences of such delay. Loud were the complaints of private suitors, who saw month after month pass away without an answer to their petitions. The State suffered no less, as the wheels of government seemed actually to stand still under the accumulated pressure of the public business. Even when a decision did come, it often came too late to be of service; for the circumstances which led to it had wholly changed. Of this the reader has seen more than one example in the Netherlands. The favorite saying of Philip, that “time and he were a match for any other two,” was a sad mistake. The time he demanded was his ruin. It was in vain that Granvelle, who at a later day came to Castile to assume the direction of affairs, endeavored in his courtly language to convince the King of his error; telling him that no man could bear up under such a load of business, which sooner or later must destroy his health, perhaps his life.  14
 
 
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