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The Courtier and the King: Ruy Gomez de Silva, Philip II, and the Court of Spain.

Born to a modest noble family in Portugal, Ruy Gomez arrived in Spain in the entourage of Charles I's Portuguese bride. Assigned to the household of Prince Philip (b. 1528), he enjoyed the prince's affection and trust for the rest of his life. As Philip's principal Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Gomez had extraordinary access to the prince but little serious political influence until he accompanied Philip to northern Europe during the prince's marriage to Mary Tudor and played an important role in persuading Charles I that Philip was mature enough to reign. Gomez reached the pinnacle of his influence during the period of Charles's abdication and Philip's accession (1555-57). Philip even helped to arrange Gomez's marriage to Ann de Mendoza y de la Cerda, daughter and sole heiress of a distinguished noble family. They would have ten children, six of whom lived to adulthood and benefitted from their father's skills as a courtier. Philip also bestowed Italian lands on Gomez that made him the Prince of Eboli, the title by which he is traditionally known to history.

Eboli's courtly skills allowed him to navigate the treacherous waters of court politics and to hold his own against the enmity of the powerful duke of Alba. Although past historians have often couched the Alba-Eboli rivalry in terms of ideological differences or clan factionalism, Boyden makes an effective case that it was largely a dash born of social distance and personalities. Alba represented the old aristocracy; Eboli represented the acquisition of status through royal favor. Alba could not accept the social equality of Eboli and precipitated their antagonism. Eboli tended to be a conciliator, because he understood how the levers of power worked in peacetime. Alba was born to the military caste of the high nobility, and his skills were best suited to wartime.

In the mid-1560s, as the situation in the Netherlands and France drifted toward open warfare, Philip came to rely more heavily on courtiers skilled in war and diplomacy. Eboli's fortunes faded, though he remained within the small circle of the king's trusted advisers. The deteriorating mental condition of Prince Carlos, whose household Eboli supervised, seems to have diminished his political influence as well. Perhaps in compensation, Eboli carefully amassed property from 1562 on, enhancing his status as a landed nobleman, and arranged prestigious marriages for several of his children. Eboli reached the pinnacle of his social aspirations even as his political fortunes waned. In 1572 Philip raised the lordship of Pastrana, one of Eboli's estates, to the status of a hereditary duchy. This effectively converted Eboli into the hereditary duke of Pastrana, in the highest ranks of the Spanish aristocracy. Eboli died in 1573, still enjoying the affection and trust of the king whose patronage had catapulted him from relatively modest beginnings to extraordinary prestige and status.

Boyden's chronicle of Eboli's impressive rise is meticulously researched and documented. He has thoroughly mined the wide range of printed sources dealing with Philip II's court, augmenting them with archival work, but not straying far from the tradition of political analysis that contemporary documents represent. Boyden has also mastered the modern scholarship on Eboli, Alba, and Philip's court. Although he often differs from the interpretations of other scholars, his critiques are reasoned, fair, balanced, and ultimately persuasive. He also fully credits the insights of scholars with whom he agrees. In short, this is a political biography in the best tradition of that genre. It will undoubtedly become the standard for the life of Ruy Gomez, an inspirational tale of loyalty rewarded.

CARLA RAHN PHILLIPS University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
COPYRIGHT 1997 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Phillips, Carla Rahn
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1997
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