King Philip II of Spain ruled over the Spanish empire from 1556 to 1598, a 42-year reign that almost entirely overlapped that of Queen Elizabeth I of England who sat in power from 1558 to 1603.
This period was one of great political turbulence across Europe with three great powers of the time, England, France and Spain constantly competing with each other for dominance on the world stage.
This state of affairs led to continuous political manoeuvring, with the intense antagonism between Elizabeth’s English Protestant Church and Philp’s Church of Rome adding fuel to the volatility of the situation.
Philip married Elizabeth’s half sister Mary in 1554 but she died only 4 years later. Philip had become King of Spain in the meantime and was then anxious to marry Elizabeth, believing that this union would promote strong relations between Spain and England. This, in turn, would decrease the possibility of France becoming a direct military threat to Spain. As a devout Catholic he was also interested in bringing Elizabeth back into fold of the Catholic Church and away from the heretical Protestantism of England.
However to his great irritation, Elizabeth refused his proposal of marriage and this led to a slide in relations between England and Spain, a situation exacerbated by Pope Pius V in 1570, when he declared Elizabeth to be illegitimate.
The actions of Francis Drake, an English sea captain who had conducted several successful naval forays against Spain across the previous decade, also worsened the state of affairs. The Spanish regarded him as a pirate and Philip had previously placed a bounty of 20,000 ducats on his head – a sizeable fortune at the time.
In 1588 Philip launched a massive invasion fleet against England – the Spanish Armada – but was defeated in a series of naval battles that gave England a momentous victory.
Elizabeth never married and became widely and respectfully known as “The Virgin Queen”, before dying in 1603. Philip married twice more, to Elisabeth of Valois, and Anna of Austria, before dying of cancer in 1598.
Image: A 1588 portrait of Elizabeth I – a painting that commemorated the English victory over the Spanish Armada, the naval battle depicted in the left background, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.