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

Antonio Feros, Kingship and Favoritism in the Spain of Philip III, 1598-1621 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xvi + 12 pls. + 299 pp. $69.95. ISBN: 0-521-56113-2.

Along with recent studies by Magdalena Sanchez and Paul Allen, Antonio Feros's new book offers a revisionist study of the kingship of Philip III of Spain. While Sanchez explored the role of women at court and Allen examined Philip's foreign policy, Feros takes a new look at old problems in seventeenth-century Spanish history -- the role of the privado, or favorite, and the understanding and exercise of power at court. In sharp contrast to earlier studies, Feros argues that the presence of royal favorites between 1560 and 1640 represented not a decline in royal power, but an increase in the king's capacity for independent action [4]. Far from being a power-hungry sycophant, Feros portrays the often vilified Duke of Lerma as a political innovator who formulated new justifications for the role of the royal favorite and constructed new structures for the administration of Spanish government in order to enhance royal authority.

Feros sees the Duke of Lerma nor as the first privado, but as apart of a tradition of royal friends and personal advisors to the king. According to Feros, the relationship between Philip II and his favorite, Cristobal de Moura, was not so different than that of Philip III and Lerma. What differed was the public perception of the king's authority and Spanish discourse on kingship and royal authority. During the sixteenth century, Spanish kings were almost superhumans, born with wisdom and an innate understanding of the needs of their kingdoms. Thus, Moura's public role was severely restricted, and only in rare circumstances did he act on behalf of the king. No matter what Moura's role was in the decision-making process, the decisions themselves always emanated from the king himself. In contrast, Lerma positioned himself between Philip III and his kingdom, continually placing himself in the foreground and justifying his actions by maintaining that the king's private friend and favorite was, and rightly should be, the king's public representative.

Beyond political discourse, Lerma masterfully employed new iconography to legitimate his role as privado. When he had his portrait painted by Peter Paul Rubens, he became the first non-royal person outside of Italy to be portrayed on horseback (104-5). When fire destroyed portions of the royal palace, El Pardo, in 1607, the ceilings were painted with the story of Joseph from Genesis. The analogy was less than subtle. Just as a powerful Pharoah had chosen the wise Joseph to help him rule, so too Lerma would provide wisdom and foresight to an already strong Philip (137).

Part of the role of the privado was to allow the king to rise above court politics and political controversy. In this regard, Lerma proved to be less successful. Feros sees this and Lerma's other weaknesses not simply as a failure of the man or the office, but related to Spain's inability to reconcile two conflicting notions of government: the justification of the favorite as de facto prime minister and the theory that power and authority were centered solely in the king and it was thus his duty to rule alone (2G5). It is at this point that Feros addresses the most serious problem facing historians of the period. Lerma, whom Feros finds to be so successful in so many ways, failed in his most important goal: the creation of a proud legacy for Philip. Philip has come down through history not as a powerful monarch, but as lazy and ineffective. Lerma was, in some ways, a victim of his own success. Even during the seventeenth century, Spaniards understood royal authority as a zero-sum gain and believed that Lerma 's authority came at the expense of his sovereign.

Feros has composed an elegantly written and thoroughly researched monograph. He has skillfully bridged the gap that until recently detached political studies of sixteenth-century Spain from those of the seventeenth century. This book does not answer all the questions about Philip III and the favorites who dominated Spanish government during the first half of the seventeenth century, but it does present a more complex picture of the men, their government, and their understanding of politics than ever before.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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