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A Nation’s Fate Is Determined by Its Ruler

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Alex Maus 12/7/15

AP Euro Matina

“A Nation’s Fate is Determined By Its Ruler”

Throughout history, there are only a handful of leaders who embody what their nation is and will be for years to come. Two of these leaders are Philip II of Spain and Maria Theresa of Austria. For Philip, his reign as king includes both Spain’s Golden Age and the beginning of its decline. On the other hand, Maria Theresa’s ability to maintain her authority over the Holy Roman Empire after her father’s death preserves the empire through World War I. Because of Philip II’s failures economically and militarily, and Maria Theresa’s success in securing her nation inside and out, their reigns both validate the quote, “A nation’s fate is determined by its ruler.”

Although Philip II’s reign includes the beginning of Spain’s downfall, there are several positive aspects that come out of it. First off, when he comes to throne after his father, Charles V “retires”, it is a relatively gentle transition. Also, his father’s success at building an effective bureaucracy greatly assists Philip in his conquests. Philip II’s naval might in the Mediterranean, led by his son Don John of Austria prevents an enormous Ottoman fleet from invading Europe in the newest wave of Jihads. At the Battle of Lepanto, Spain’s fleet wins one of the biggest and most decisive Naval battles until the twentieth century World Wars. This victory maintains the religious landscape of Christianity as it is known today. Nonetheless, Philip’s naval dominance not only has a tremendous impact on his own country, but also on Europe as a whole.

The first of Philip’s several missteps are his failures in stunting the growth of Protestantism and retaining his power in the Netherlands. The Dutch begin to revolt against his foreign rule, taxation on their trade and industry, and his religious policies against Protestants (namely Calvinists). Philip is successful in suppressing it with his Council of Blood led by Cardinal Granvelle and the Duke of Alba. Unfortunately for Philip, the Calvinist population led by William the Silent are persistent in retaining their religious freedom. Aided by Elizabeth I of England, the Dutch declare their independence and with the Union of Utrecht, the northern portion of the Netherlands becomes its own nation. Consequently, Spain loses major Dutch ports such as Amsterdam, which are vital for trade. Although this is only a minor loss geographically for the Spanish, the Netherlands’ independence tarnishes both Spain’s prestige and their economy.

For most, Philip II’s legacy is defined by his failed attempt in reimposing Catholicism in England. As a result of religious and secular hostilities, he decides to build up a grand fleet to invade England. This becomes a clear option for Philip after the Pope excommunicates Elizabeth following the beheading of the devout Catholic, Mary Queen of Scots. As a result, Philip begins his construction of the largest and most expensive fleet in history to invade England. Although his “Armada” is prepared to set sail in 1587, the shores of Spain are shelled by privateers Francis Drake and John Hawkins (hired by Elizabeth I of England), delaying the invasion. Just a year later, the largest naval fleet in history sets sail in the attempted Crusade of England. However, the invincible Spanish Armada is defeated by a combination of a storm known as the “Protestant Wind” and the smaller but more efficient fleet of English ships. Also, England’s outside the box tactics prove to be effective in defeating the remaining Spanish ships. Nevertheless, the expensive fleet not only fail in reimposing Catholicism in England, but destroys Spain’s reputation as the world power.

Because of Philip’s ties to the Habsburgs who control the Holy Roman Empire, Spain is greatly affected by the outcome of the Thirty Years War. At the start, it looks like a clear victory for the Habsburgs after the Edict of Restitution. This edict declares all church lands that had converted to some sort of Protestantism be restored to Roman Catholicism (this edict is a direct connection to Philip’s Inquisition policy in Spain). However, due to the large population of Protestants, this attempt at reimposing Catholicism all throughout mainland Europe is hopeless. In spite of continued resistance from the French and Swedes, the Habsburgs continue this Inquisition policy. The Swedish army led by Gustavus Adolphus and the French army led by Cardinal Richelieu are able to defeat the Habsburg army. As a result, the Edict of Restitution is annulled by Habsburgs, greatly discounting the power of their rule. The war ends with the Treaty of Westphalia, which greatly weakens the Eastern portion of the Habsburg empire located

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