Philip IV Biography

Military Leader, King (1605–1665)
Philip IV was the king of Spain and Portugal during the decline of Spain as a great world power in the 1600s.


Philip IV of Spain (also known as Philip III of Portugal) was the king of Spain and Portugal during the decline of Spain as a great world power in the 1600s. He succeeded his father, Philip III, in 1621 and left the throne to his son, Charles II. He is remembered for his failed struggle to revive Spain's prominence during the Thirty Years War and for his patronage of the arts.

Early Life

Born on April 8, 1605, in Valladolid, Spain, Philip IV was the eldest son of King Philip III and his first wife, Margaret of Austria. Following a tradition of arranged marriages for political alliance, Philip was married by proxy to 13-year-old Elisabeth, daughter of Henry IV of France and Henry IV's second wife, Marie de' Medici, in 1615. Theirs wasn't a close relationship, though historical evidence shows that Philip was a good father to the seven children he and Elisabeth (who took the Spanish name Isabel) had over their 29-year marriage.

During the reign of Philip III, the royal Spanish court was dominated by the Sandoval family and its patriarch the Francisco Gómez, the Duke of Lerma, who served as the king's chief minister. In 1615, a rival noble coalition headed by Baltasar de Zúñiga emerged with designs on dominating Spanish policy. De Zúñiga introduced the future Philip IV to his nephew, Gaspar de Guzmán, the Count-Duke of Olivares. In time, the relationship between the two became very close. When Philip IV became king in 1621, the Spanish Empire was sliding into decline. Olivares was made his chief adviser and was determined to bring Spain back into prominence.

Reconsidered by Historians

Until recently, historians characterized Philip IV as a pawn of the noblemen, especially Olivares, and held him responsible for Spain's decline. However, more recent scholarship portrays him as intellectually capable and actively engaged in policy. Both Philip and Olivares wanted to revive Spain's international hegemony and reform Spain from within. However, their relationship was rocky much of the time due to their different personalities. Philip was unsure of himself, while Olivares exuded confidence. Philip was pious and obsessive about proper decorum. Olivares was more pragmatic, making sure goals were accomplished no matter the method.

When Philip IV took power, Spain was a massive empire that spanned the world. However, the financial system within its European territories was in trouble. With Olivares' help, Philip instituted a system to circumvent the empire's bureaucracy. While this proved successful, it also generated strong resentment from local authorities. Spain's credit became stifled by its foreign creditors, and attempts to rely on indigenous bankers proved to be a disaster. All of Philip's domestic policies became increasingly impacted by the Thirty Years War and the increased tensions with France.

Transitional Period

By 1643, the tension between Philip IV and the Count de Olivares had met its limit. Philip finally dismissed Olivares and replaced him with Don Luis Méndez de Haro, who would remain the king's chief adviser until Haro 's death in 1661. In October 1644, tragedy struck when Philip's wife, Isabel, died. Their only son, Balthasar, died two years later. That same year, Philip married Maria Anna, daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III. She was known by the Spanish version of her name, Mariana. Like his first marriage, this union was conceived in politics, specifically Philip's desire to strengthen Spain's relationship with the Hapsburg Empire.

One of the major preoccupations of both Philip IV and his father was the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). During the first several years of Philip's reign, the war went well for Spain, but by 1630 relations with France became strained, and war between the two countries broke out in 1635. From 1640 onward, large-scale revolts across Spain's territories, some supported by the French, put a strain on already stretched resources. By 1646, Philip instructed Luis Méndez de Haro to seek a peace. The Peace of Westphalia ended the war with the Netherlands and Germany, but the war with France dragged on until 1659, when it ended with the Treaty of the Pyrenees and the marriage of Philip's daughter Maria Theresa to the young King Louis XIV.

Difficulties in Final Years

During this difficult period, Philip seemed to have a crisis of faith. He believed that all his decisions were being judged by God and were being affected accordingly. Though he relied on Haro for advice on affairs of state, Philip also sought the counsel of Sister Maria de Ágreda, a mystic known for her religious writings. Letters between them that span over 20 years indicate that Philip believed Maria could intervene with God on his behalf and provide advice on what God wanted him to do.

In his final years, Philip IV believed he had failed as a monarch. He fell into a deep depression and died, leaving a 4-year-old son, Charles II, as heir to the throne. Modern historians point out that the decline of Spain was caused by many forces beyond the control of a single ruler. Philip's will made his wife, Mariana, regent on behalf of his young son, with instructions to heed the advice of a small committee of advisers who would run the country until Charles came of age.

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