The death of Henry VIII in 1547 marked the beginning of a period of extraordinary religious shifts. Henry was succeeded by his only son, the ten-year-old Edward VI (r. 1547-1553), borne by his third wife, Jane Seymour. Led by the young king’s uncle, the duke of Somerset, as lord protector, Edward’s government pushed on into Protestant ways.
The Great Powers in Conflict
Critics have often accused European royalty of ruinous expenditures on palaces, retinues, pensions, mistresses, and high living in general, and yet such expenditures were usually a relatively small part of government outlays. War was really the major cause of disastrous financial difficulties for modern governments. Henry VIII’s six wives, his court, his frequent royal journeys did not beggar England; the wars of Charles V and Philip II did beggar Spain.
Henry of Navarre was now by law Henry IV (r. 15891610), the first king of the house of Bourbon. In the decisive battle of Ivry in March 1590, he defeated the Catholics, who had set up the aged cardinal of Bourbon as “King Charles X.” But Henry’s efforts to besiege Paris were repeatedly frustrated by Spanish troops sent down from Flanders by Philip II.
The long-established French monarchy began to move toward more efficient absolutism after the Hundred Years’ War, particularly under Louis XI. In this development, France had certain advantages. None of its provinces showed quite the intense regionalism that could be found in Catalonia or among the Spanish Basques.
Spanish supremacy, though short-lived, was real enough. The Spanish “style” was set in this Golden Age, which has left the West magnificent paintings, architecture, and decoration, and one of the few really universal books, Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).
This Spanish style is not at all like those of France and Italy, even though they are often tied with Spain as “Latin.” Many historians see the Spanish spirit as among the most serious, most darkly passionate, in the West—a striving spirit, carrying to an extreme the chivalric concept of honor.
The Iberian peninsula is mountainous, and its central tableland is subject to droughts, but its agricultural potential is considerable and it has mineral resources, notably iron. Spain was the first major European state to secure lands overseas and to develop a navy and merchant marine to integrate the vast resources of the New World with a base in the Old World. Yet all this wealth slipped through Spain’s fingers in a few generations. An important factor here was the immense cost of the wars of Charles V and Philip II.