The son differed from his father in everything but extravagance. We know him externally from the many portraits of him by Velázquez: in the Metropolitan Museum of Art at New York he is nineteen (1624), handsome, blond, already expanding; in the National Gallery at London he is blithe and confident at twenty-seven, stout and somber at fifty; in the Prado we can see him in five stages of glory and decay; he is also in Florence, Turin, Vienna, Cincinnati—he must have spent half his life in Velázquez’ studio. But those portraits show only his official features; he was not really so solemn and proud; we imagine him more justly by studying his children in Velázquez’ portraits; presumably he loved them beyond reason, as we do ours. In reality he was a kindly man, generous to artists, authors, and women; no semi-saint like his father, but enjoying food and sex, plays and pictures, the court and the hunt, and resolved to get the most out of life even in a dying Spain. Perhaps because he savored life so fully, poetry and drama, painting and sculpture flourished under him as never in Spain before or again. When his pleasures seemed too promiscuous he multiplied his prayers, and he relied on his good intentions to pave the road to heaven. He had thirty-two natural children, of whom he acknowledged eight.45Having little time left for government, he delegated his powers and tasks to one of the predominant personalities in the diplomacy of the seventeenth century.
The career of Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count of Olivares, ran remarkably parallel and counter to Richelieu’s. For twenty-one years (1621–42) the great Count played against the wily Cardinal a bloody game of wits and war for the hegemony of Europe. Velázquez has revealed Olivares to us without fear and without reproach, in all the pugnacity of power, his prim mustachios curling like some ferocious scimitar, his robes and bands and chains and keys of state proclaiming authority.46 His faults of imperial pride, quick irritability, and stern implacability alienated all but those who knew, too, his dedicated zeal and industry in serving Spain, his forthright honesty in a venal milieu, his contempt of worldly pleasures except as devices to bemuse the King, his frugal board and simple private life, his warm support of literature and art. He strove sincerely to abate abuses, to stop corruption, to recapture past peculations for the treasury, to moderate the cost of the royal establishment, to enjoin economy and modesty in dress and equipage, even to check the cruelty of the Inquisition. He took upon himself all the burdens of administration, policy, diplomacy, and war. He began his day’s labors before dawn and continued them when prostrate with fatigue. It was his curse that Richelieu, with equal devotion, was slowly, subtly, inexorably sapping the Hapsburg power in Austria and Spain. To meet that deadly challenge armies were needed in Catalonia, Portugal, France, Naples, Mantua, the Valtelline passes, and the Netherlands, and in the vast and bloody trough of the Thirty Years’ War. But armies needed money, and money required taxes. The alcabala, or sales tax, was raised to 14 per cent, choking trade; and the collectors embezzled two thirds of the taxes before the remnant reached the treasury. So, with patriotic resolution, Olivares bled Spain of her economic life to save her political power.
We must not follow all the moves of that sanguinary chess; they add nothing to our knowledge or estimation of mankind. It was a contest of strength, not of principles, each side shelving religion for military victory: Richelieu financing Protestant armies in Germany against Catholic Austria, Olivares sending 300,000 ducats yearly to the Duke of Rohan to prolong the Huguenot revolt in France.47 In the end Spain was crushed; her power on the seas was ended by the Dutch in the battle of the Downs (1639), and her power on land was ended by the French at Roussillon (1642) and Rocroi (1643). In Spain’s debility Portugal and Catalonia wrenched themselves free (1640); and for nineteen years the Catalán Republic, aided by France, waged war against Castile. At last the amiable King, who had trusted his minister through a hundred calamities, reluctantly dismissed him (1643). Olivares fled from hostile Madrid to voluntary exile in distant Toro; and there, two years later, he died insane.
Philip now for a time took personal charge. He reduced his own expenditures and devoted himself conscientiously to government. But the causes of Spain’s decline were beyond his understanding or control. War continued, taxes were not lowered; production and population fell. At the Peace of Westphalia (1648) Spain was helpless, and had to concede independence to the United Provinces after nearly a century of wasted war. The Peace of the Pyrenees (1659) gave official sanction to French ascendancy in Europe. Amid these disasters Philip’s loyal and patient wife, Isabel of Bourbon, died (1644); and two years later she was followed by her sole surviving son, Don Baltasar Carlos, whom Velázquez had pictured so alluringly. The King was left with only one legitimate child, María Teresa, whom he gave in marriage to Louis XIV. Longing for an heir, Philip, aged forty-four, married (1649) his fourteen-year-old niece, Mariana of Austria, who had been betrothed to Baltasar. She rewarded him with two sons: Philip Prosper, who died at the age of four, and the future Carlos Segundo, Charles II. The tired King, racked with gallstones, weakened with hemorrhages, and harassed by magic-mongering monks, resigned himself to death (1665), comforted with the thought of an heir and spared the knowledge that his half-idiot son would bequeath all Spain to France.