Philip III took over the throne at 20, succeeding his father on September 13, 1598. He also ruled as Philip II, the king of Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia, and was the duke of Milan.
However, from the beginning, the true power of the kingdom was in the hands of Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, marqués de Denia, later known as the Duke of Lerma, Philip III’s favorite, who ruled Spain for the following 2 decades.
Philip III had met Lerma in his early teens. Lerma soon became a close friend of Philip III. However, Lerma was disliked by Philip II and the tutors of Philip III. In 1595, Lerma was thus dispatched to Valencia as a viceroy, but he returned after 2 years, citing ill health.
Within hours of the new king’s ascension to the throne in 1598, Lerma was made a royal counselor by him. He soon became a full-fledged “valido,” or royal favorite. In 1612, Philip III ordered the councils to obey Lerma as if he were the king.
Philip III's reign was riddled with problems. He had inherited a huge amount of debt from Philip II. The 1590s also witnessed famines due to a series of bad harvests. Similarly, the first 2 years of his reign saw the country being destroyed by bubonic plague that wiped out a significant portion of the Spanish population in the 16th century. Although tax reforms were suggested to the king and his ministers, political interests hindered any change.
The situation worsened by the rise of numerous “proconsuls” under Philip III's rule. These proconsuls were Spanish representatives stationed overseas, who began exercising independent control and declared their own policies in the absence of a strong leader at the center.
During his reign, the Netherlands witnessed a resurgence of Spanish power on the north of the rivers Meuse and Rhine, thus increasing the military pressure on the rebel provinces. This new war strategy, however, began to deplete Spanish resources. The Southern Netherlands, which was still under Spanish control, and the Dutch Republic of the north, ruled by Calvinist Protestants, were both financially drained. Following the financial crisis, Spain was incapable of continuing the war. Philip III thus began peace negotiations. After James I of England came to power, the war ended and so did the English support to the Dutch, culminating in the 1604 ‘Treaty of London.’
In 1609, ‘The Twelve Years' Truce’ was signed with the Dutch. This enabled the Southern Netherlands to recover from their poor financial state. The independence of the Dutch Republic was thus established, following which many European powers began to build diplomatic ties with the Dutch.
Philip III’s government faced revolts in Italy, too, where it experienced the rivalry of the duchy of Savoy and the Republic of Venice.
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One of Philip's most significant changes in domestic policies was the decree issued in 1609 for the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain, which was done at the same time when the peace treaty was signed with the Netherlands. The Moriscos were the descendants of Muslims who had converted to Christianity during the Reconquista. However, they had retained their culture traits, which included several Islamic practices.
The previous king, Philip II, had begun the elimination of the Moriscos in the south, but that had resulted in a revolt, which had ended in 1570. Philip II had tried to convert and assimilate the Moriscos, but his policy failed miserably.
The idea of a complete ouster of the Moriscos from Spain was proposed by Juan de Ribera, the Archbishop and Viceroy of Valencia, who had a huge influence over Philip III. Philip III drove the Moriscos out of Spain between 1609 and 1614. As part of his efforts to do so, the armada (or the navy) and a 30,000-stong army were deployed to transport them to Tunis or Morocco.
This, however, drained the economies of Valencia, Aragon, and Murcia. Cheap labor and rent acquired from these areas declined considerably. The agricultural output was also affected.
Philip III's personal costs, too, rose significantly at a time when the country was facing severe economic issues. He then made an attempt to issue new currency, including the copper vélon coinage in 1603–1604, 1617, and 1621. However, this caused further instability.
Philip III's kingdom had become bankrupt in 1607. The kingdom tried to control the damage by converting the asiento tax system (high-interest loans owed to tax farmers) into juros bonds (longer term bonds, paying a significantly lower interest). This was beneficial in the short run but later led to a financial crisis.
The Lerma administration had begun to fall by 1612. The monopoly of Lerma's Sandoval family had created many enemies. Lerma's personal expenditure, too, was being noticed. Philip III, however, continued to support him and helped him become a cardinal under Pope Paul V, in March 1618.
Lerma’s son, Cristóbal de Sandoval, Duke of Uceda, eventually joined hands with allies and revolted. The Duke of Uceda overthrew Lerma in 1618 and succeeded him soon after. However, Philip III signed a decree renouncing the powers of the “valido.” By then, almost all of Philip III's income was assigned to creditors, bankers, and lenders. His lavish lifestyle was also blamed for this crisis.
Toward the end of Philip III's reign, Spain entered the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). This resulted in a Spanish victory in the Holy Roman Empire. Philip III supported the Holy Roman emperor Ferdinand II and the Catholic German princes.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Philip III got married to his cousin, Margaret of Austria, on April 18, 1599, a year after ascending to the throne. Margaret was the sister of the future emperor Ferdinand II and had significant influence over the king.
They had eight children, one of whom succeeded him as Philip IV. His daughter, Anne of Austria, later became the consort of Louis XIII of France.
Philip III breathed his last on March 31, 1621, in Madrid. The memoirs of French ambassador Bassompierre state that Philip III was killed by the heat of a brasero (a pan of hot charcoal), as the person who was supposed to take it away was not available. However, this seems to be more of an exaggeration than a real account.