In 1556 Charles V abdicated as Holy Roman Emperor, dividing his possessions between his brother Ferdinand and his son Philip, Ferdinand received the traditional lands passed down by the Hapsburg family and gained the role of Holy Roman emperor whilst Philip received the huge and prosperous Spanish empire, – one in which ‘the sun never set’, the largest on Earth, With Ferdinand ruler of the Hapsburg lands, Austria, Bohemia and Hungary, and the role of Holy Roman Emperor, Philip was relieved of a proportion of the large scale responsibilities passed down by Charles V, However Philip gained an incredible amount of wealth, power and land.

He inherited the flourishing Netherlands and the illustrious ‘new world’, the Americas – hence appeared to have attained a vast and incredible empire. However with that he also gained the debt still unresolved from Charles V, wars, unsettled feuds and an empire almost too huge to govern successfully. How great was the legacy Charles V left to Philip? With the legacy Philip gained came the responsibility for the economy of an empire spanning from the Netherlands, to the Castilian colonies to the Americas and Philippines. To add further burden, the debt Philip inherited from his father came to a colossal 36 million ducats.

This didn’t affect him immediately but was certainly to cause a great strain. Phillips possession of the new world would help with these debts, however it would mean money coming in could not be used to improve Spanish economy and the state of Phillips Monarchia – creating a still unhappy empire. Along with the debts Phillip also had to face the inflation that occurred between 1500 and 1550. This meant his people were already unhappy and struggling before he came into power as wages remained the same and on top of that population had risen which put a strain on the food resources.

Philip had to stretch the economy further still, contributing to the costs of war still unresolved from Charles’ reign, as well as this the tension with the Turkish was growing, fear spread throughout Europe as the myth of “Turkish invincibility” became a popular story. With this Philip had to inject more of an increasingly diminishing economy into the Ottoman-Hapsburg conflict. Although Philip had a very large empire, including the prosperous new world, the absence of a united Spanish kingdom brought great pressure on Philip and ruling his country and possessions was a somewhat impossible task.

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Three regions were brought together to form Spain – Castile, Navarre and Aragon, However each f these were completely separate kingdoms holding their own traditions, institutions and laws, they had their own Cortes which would decide taxes. Within Aragon alone there were three separate Cortes, Spain was a ‘dynastic union rather than a unified country’ supporting the economy with Spanish taxes was difficult and complicated and consequently impossible to rule over as a whole. Castile was one of the richest Spanish kingdoms and a key player of the monarchy and therefore most of it was very independent from rest of the empire.

The other provinces in the Monarchia like the Netherlands and Italy did not regard themselves as a part of the Spanish empire though acknowledged to be ruled by Phillip. All in all Phillips Monarchia was extremely divided making it a liability especially with threats of war and a struggling economy. With in these geographical and political problems lay the underlining internal crises – Religion. Philip was a very religious man and with his connections to the Holy Roman Emperor, he felt a duty to protect Catholicism -so gaining his title of the ‘Most Catholic King’.

Protestantism was a surfacing problem; more and more princes began breaking away from the church, regaining the power the pope had so much control over. Spain however was predominantly Catholic, Philips title ‘Most Catholic King’ was taken very seriously however Protestantism would no disappear and was still to be a growing threat. Another problem Phillip II would have to deal with is the state of religion in Spain in general. Though Spain didn’t have a major problem with Protestantism at the time, the Spanish Catholic Church was a mess and in major need of reform.

Many priests lived in poverty, some parishes even didn’t have, many Spaniards claimed to be catholic though knew nothing of the religion – the region was in effect godless. Phillip invested a huge amount of time, effort and money to ensure that Catholicism was restored in Spain. Within Spain however there still lived the Moriscos (Muslims who has been forced to convert to Christianity) yet they were not trusted by the ‘old Christian’ Spanish and a Muslim invasion was feared – the Moriscos were banished from Granada. Although this was part of Philips catholic crusade, it had serious negative economic effects particularly in the Granada region.

Bearing this in mind it is still important to recognize that even with its problems his legacy was hugely impressive. Phillip gained one of the biggest and wealthiest empires there had ever been, and that came with considerable wealth and power. Castile was flourishing at the time of Phillips accession because of a century of economic growth and as its independent ownership of the Indies, something that could benefit Phillip wholly. His possession of the Netherlands and the new world would be profiting in a similar way as they too would bring in wealth and access to strategic lands.

However stripping these countries of their own economic prosperity would always be a risk, and could easily backfire. Charles V left an impressive legacy an incredible and vast empire which included the inspiring discoveries of ‘new’ lands. He provided Philip an access to a range of different countries which could provide different riches and wealth. However with this diversity came the difficulty of rule, the inheritance was remarkable one, a notable and imposing empire which was to have effect on much on the world. However, the troubles that came along with the greatness were numerous and problematic to say the least.

Phillip faced difficulty from the very start, financial problems were some of the most posing, this is reflected in the collapse of the economy which resulted in Spain’s bankruptcy, yet the security of a large empire would allow Philip to recover. Difficulties and problems with such a great legacy were something which was inevitable, and now with such an empire it would be Philips chance to prove him self in dealing with these problems. Charles V did not just leave a lot of land, power and wealth, but a challenge which at times would seem almost impossible.


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