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Journal of Interdisciplinary History 33.1 (2002) 123-124

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Kingship and Favoritism in the Spain of Philip III, 1598-1621

Kingship and Favoritism in the Spain of Philip III, 1598-1621. By Antonio Feros (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000) 292 pp. $69.95

Philip III and his reign have not fared well in the historiography of early modern Spain. Historians have been particularly unenthusiastic about Philip's favorite, or privado, Francisco Gómez de Sandoval y Rojas, First Duke of Lerma, believing that Philip, indolent and indifferent to governing, relied excessively on Lerma, who abused a weak monarch's trust by pursuing a vigorous program of self-aggrandizement. Lerma, it is commonly held, accumulated titles, land, and wealth at the expense of effective governance of Spain and its vast empire. In Kingship and Favoritism, Feros persuasively challenges this long-accepted image of Philip III, the Duke of Lerma, and their policies or lack of policies, providing the first detailed examination of Lerma's methods of wielding power at the Spanish court. Surveying contemporary commentary on royal favorites in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, Feros demonstrates that the concept of such favorites was not firmly fixed and that opinions about them varied, and that Lerma's historical importance lies at least partly in shaping the role and image of the privado, both in Spain and throughout Europe.

Feros further challenges the common notion that a privado necessarily lessened a king's power. For example, by employing a favorite [End Page 123] who often worked through ad hoc committees, Philip III could circumvent traditional standing administrative bodies that might obstruct or oppose his will, and thereby wield more absolute power. Thus, Lerma was instrumental in helping to create a system of government that strengthened the monarchy. Far from being indifferent to politics, Feros asserts, Philip and Lerma were well aware of Spain's problems and needs, developed and followed consistent strategies to address them, and did not shirk the demands of governance. For example, their policy of peace with the Low Countries, England, and France was intended to avoid costly international wars. Realizing, however, that making peace with "heretics" would invite criticism, Philip and Lerma anticipated such criticism by expelling the Moriscos from Spain and redoubling efforts to repel Muslim Turk incursions along the Spanish coast. By tracing such links between large-scale policy and specific actions, Feros reconstructs Philip's and Lerma's pursuit of deliberate strategies for domestic and international affairs, strategies seldom acknowledged by scholars, and makes a strong case for rehabilitating the reputations of Philip III and of his chief advisor and confidant.

Despite his efforts to foster a positive perception of the privado, Feros argues, Lerma was ultimately unable to disentangle himself from corrupt associates, whose self-serving and venal actions implicated Lerma and discredited both himself and the entire reign of Philip III. Paying special attention to the rivalry between Lerma's faction and that of his son, the Duke of Uceda, Feros provides a much-needed and careful account of the factional conflicts at Philip III's court. He argues that the Duke of Lerma deserves much greater credit, particularly for trying to legitimize the role of the privado in the early seventeenth century and establishing a model (or in some cases, an anti-model) for such later royal favorites as the Count-Duke of Olivares, who served Philip IV. On the other hand, subsequent kings (including Louis XIV) found in Lerma's fate (he was dismissed in disgrace in 1618) and in the posthumous perception of Philip III as a weak monarch good reasons not to delegate power to a favorite.

Readers of this journal will be especially interested in Feros' conclusions with wider European significance. His careful and exhaustive methodology—he makes use of administrative documents, diplomatic correspondence, chronicles, theater, political treatises, sermons, and records of artistic sponsorship—and his analysis of political discourse and patronage networks are most striking. Above all, through wide-ranging research and thorough knowledge of the European context, Feros...


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