Possibly one of the biggest base-breakers in the history of historiography, describing Philip II is a pharaonic work. Thousands of books about him have been written through the centuries from all possible perspectives and agendas, to the point one could say that, like Nietzsche, there is a Philip for every author who tries to write about him. To make things worse, Philip himself was a man so concerned with not cultivating any public image and memory of himself, especially by the standards of his own time, that he left no official biography or even letters. Some have called him the original culprit of the Spanish Black Legend, not so much by what he did but by what he did not do: in a time in which his many enemies had started churning out hot propaganda about the supposedly disproportionate savagery of the Spanish Empire, Philip's stance was a staunch Head-in-the-Sand Management, whether because he believed the sword to be mightier than the pen or just because he did not care very much about what people thought... as long as they were Catholic.
For traditional Anglophone, Francophone and Protestant media, Philip might be the original Big Bad of history: the "Demon of the South", a megalomaniac emperor, former husband to the infamous Bloody Mary, who sought to spread his reign of terror to the entire world to bind it to the mind-numbing authority of the Catholic Church and the always unexpected Spanish Inquisition. Certainly, by our pop culture standards, Philip is one of those historical figures who genuinely resembles a fictional villain, in this case of the Dark Messiah variety: chronicles profile him as a deadly serene man, always dressed in stern black and adept of religious mysticisms to the point of supposedly building his palace over a hellgate, who went to war basically against the entire world, investing the resources of his global empire and his fearsome armies in the uncompromising mission of stamping out any opposition to his religion. It is indeed set on stone that Philip, as an unyielding Catholic, would not suffer a Christian world not subjected to the authority of the Pope (whether the Pope himself wanted or not!), and some have attributed him a true Messiah complex, a belief not unlike that of his father Charles of being the champion of God against all sorts of heretics and Muslims. Under his reign, the so-called Iberian Union would simultaneously and boneheadedly take on the Dutch, the British, the French, the Ottomans and roughly everybody who fit the quota.
A recent current of thought has been much more benevolent with him, considering Philip a beacon of the opposite to all which the Black Legend claims. The Spanish Golden age began under the patronage of Philip, with masses of genius writers, artists, architects, engineers, thinkers and men of science, like Gianello della Torre and the School of Salamanca, flowing into the landscape of The Renaissance. He also kickstarted the first true wave of commercial globalization, extending trade routes around the world that connected the old Europe and the new America to each other and to realms as remote as China and Japan, while at the same time managing to hold together a diverse, composite monarchy where he didn't even wield absolute power. He could even be ironically considered a defender of the indigenous in his own right, writing royal orders to pursue crimes against his many American subjects, officializing their languages so they didn't have to learn Spanish, sending scholars to record as much native culture and knowledge as they could, and ultimately ruling against conquistar by the sake of conquistar (almost ironic, given that one of his courtiers was Martín Cortés, the mestizo son of Hernán Cortés and La Malinche). Much of The Enlightenment, globality and modernity grew from the ground he helped to cultivate, without counting the number of pioneering systems of administration that were innovated in Philip's reign, to the point some have even called him the first modern king.
Regardless of how he is viewed, it cannot be denied Philip was, for good and bad, a man who could not stand idle. A tireless, hard-working bureaucrat of a densely intellectual nature, he spent most of his time doing paperwork reportedly equivalent to the job of five or six men, obssessed with micromanaging every small corner of his imperial machine through a keen messaging system - a trait that would keep it afloat at the cost of becoming its very feet of clay, as Philip's obssession to have his orders followed to the letter often led him to entrust his exploits to yes-men and disregard the massive pool of military and political talent he had access to. He represents well the perpetual state of the early Spanish Empire by the sheer number of wars he failed not to wage: his zealous refusal to lose any country to The Protestant Reformation dragged him to a whack-a-mole of international conflicts that bankrupted the Iberian Union thrice, only refloating every time thanks to its vast natural resources and control of centers of finances, which eventually caused a comparable inflation. As said above, it's difficult to judge whether Philip and his reign deserve scorn for having wasted their humongous advantages in such silly ways, or credit for having reached so far with such a flawed approach.
Being more of a bureaucrat and a scholar, Philip was not a soldier-king like his father Charles, but never had much necessity of it either, being at the head of a Spanish army probably at its very historical peak, a "jungle of Spanish lances" of multiple origins captained by old veterans like Fernando Álvarez de Toledo and Álvaro de Bazán, younger promises like John of Austria and Alexander Farnese, and talents born in the wild like Julián Romero, Juan del Águila and Jerónimo de Ayanz. He also enjoyed a network of spies laid across the entire Europe, helped by the many nationalities of his subjects and the dense commercial exchanges of the monarchy, that was almost too good for what he could actually do with it. Ironically, in contrast to his father's more typically Germanic attitude that War Is Glorious, Philip himself was disgusted at war and considered it a Necessarily Evil solution to secure the universal rule of Catholicism. The first time he stepped on a battlefield, after the Battle of St. Quentin, he could not detract his mind from all the blood and corpses, apparently muttering, "Is it even possible that my father liked this?"
This is not to say Charles completely fell of a Broken Pedestal in his mind. Although Philip's thoughts on the matter are characteristically obscure, there is a consensus in that he always believed himself to be an unworthy successor to his father, perhaps not realizing or accepting that he simply had a completely different set of skills and circumstances. To a point, he was right — he lacked Charles' initiative, pluralism and ability to be a political snakecharmer, as Philip was too much of a centralist and an introvert, and unlike Charles, he was not the kind of ruler willing to make concessions. While Charles ultimately gave up on his own dreams of universalism, Philip was convinced he could succeed where Charles had failed and never really let it go.
What Philip certainly loved was knowledge, both earthly and otherworldly. A massively cultured man, not only in arts and sciences but also in mysticism and the occult, he celebrated his victory at St. Quentin by building the palace-monastery-library-whatever of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, erected with the surely modest ambition to show that Spain was the biggest and baddest cultural power in the world. El Escorial was not only the largest Renaissance building ever, it also housed the biggest private library in all of Europe at its timenote (including forbidden books and texts captured from the Turks and the Aztecs), and served as a laboratory, garden, hospital and everything needed, being designed after Solomon's Temple with all sorts of esoteric symbology. Folklore claims that its placement was chosen to seal a pesky mouth to Hell, whose hounds tormented the construction until it was finished. Philip collected holy relics and patronized several religious mystics, but also went to engage himself in the stuff by researching in necromancy and Alchemy, which he considered another way to explore the mysteries of God's work (many volumes in his library would have not passed the Inquisition's filter and only did because he was the king after all). He researched how to produce gold and elixir of life in order to help his reign a bit, although the fact that we are writing about him in past and in English should inform he failed.
As accustomed for the House of Habsburg, Philip's entire life was a game for the control of Europe and the entire world from the very beginning. He was still a young heir apparent, widower of the Infanta María of Portugal and father to a Royally Screwed Up son that would die young and crazy, when Charles V married him to Mary Tudor as part of a move to attract England to their cause. This gave Philip a stint as a nominal King of England that he found a supreme sacrifice given that he did not reciprocate the mad love of the substantially older and unsexy queen. The plan went nowhere, as Mary died without producing a heir and Philip failed at convincing her sister Elizabeth to become her replacement, after which England would only add to the list of enemies of Spain - and for extra irony, they would employ an English navy he had worked himself to improve and develop back when he was their king. Elizabeth herself owed much of her ascension to the throne to Philip before going separate ways, and legend has that she always kept a picture of him in her chambers.
Becoming King of Spain in 1556 with Charles' abdication, Philip compensated slightly for the loss of England by putting a temporal end to the threat of France, sealing the Italian Wars with a military victory and a peace treaty that included a marriage between Philip and the teenaged princess of France, Elisabeth of Valois. In spite of the age difference, and unlike the previous case, this turned out to be a Perfectly Arranged Marriage, with Philip falling in love with his French bride to the point that, according to his biographers, her premature death nine years later would be the first, only and last time the stoic Philip cried in his life. She gave birth to his first daughters Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela, who, once passed the initial disappointment of the lack of a male heir, became his close confidents and secretaries. In fact, Philip intended to make Isabella Queen of France during the French religious turmoil, which would have given the House of Habsburg virtual control of continental Europe, but the usual politics impeded it. He later married his distant niece Anna of Austria, who finally produced four sons.
Not much after marrying Anna, Philip discovered just like his late father that, far from leading an united Europe against the Ottoman Empire, he would have to go to war against Europe and the Ottomans in order to upheld his inflexible Catholic principles. The Habsburg Netherlands revolted against him with the start of The Eighty Years' War, fueled by a mutual political mistrust and outraged by his attempts to control the traditionally plutocratic Low Countries, and this eventually expanded to a conflict against the entire Protestant world with the swashbuckling intrusion of the Anglo-Spanish War and Philip's own hasty decision to intervene too deeply in the French Wars of Religion. The Mediterranean sea did not stay exactly calm either while all of this raged, although it could be said that, even with the lesser resources he could dedicate, Philip did have some success there: after drowning a savage Moorish rebellion within Spain, his victory at the Battle of Lepanto and some well placed truces mitigated the Ottoman threat for around forty years. The timely death of King of Portugal Sebastian I against the Moors also allowed Philip, being half-Portuguese himself, to inherit the Portuguese Empire and assimilate it.
By the end of his reign, troubles just multiplicated, as courtly intrigues with his own secretary Antonio López del Hierro and his possible lover Ana de Mendoza y de Silva, Princess of Éboli, caused much inner turmoil when López, guilty of slandering Philip's half-brother John, took refuge in the Kingdom of Aragon, where not even Philip could maneuver freely. The princess was arrested, but López managed to escape to the Protestant countries and contributed heavily to their propaganda against Spain. Philip and the European branches of his empire were truly overworked at this point, and this still discounts an absolutely insane overseas plan that never came to fruition, the Empresa de China, where Spanish and Portuguese sectors in the Pacific planned to ally with Toyotomi Hideyoshi and initiate a Chinese rebellion against the Ming Dynasty in order to take over China, hoping to some day control all of Asia and corner the Muslims from the back. The bad course of the wars in Europe (and Philip's own rare common sense) impeded it, not to mention that the plan itself was a bit too unlikely to go neat even in the best case, but the image of a Habsburg-aligned China extending tentacles across Southeast Asia and India would have given a whole new meaning to the Spanish title of Hugh Thomas's monography of Philip, El Señor del Mundo.
A famously contemplative, even melancholic character, who had endured stoically not only political mishaps, but also various health problems throughout his life, Philip managed to die at the age of 71, reportedly depressed that he failed to live up to his hype - although, loyal to himself, he still micromanaged the preparation of his own funeral. Always the philosophic man, he allowed for his sons to see him in his deathbed, surrounded with his beloved holy relics yet emaciated and unable to control his own sphincter, so they could see "what became of the kingdoms and lordships of this world". He was unhappily succeeded by his son Philip III, almost his opposite in personality and ambition, who at lest put an end to some of his wars. Ultimately, Philip left behind a global state that was still the empire on which the sun never set, but now exhausted and exsanguinated in its monumental effort to wage war against all the other nearby powers, for the sake of a religious doctrine that, in hindsight, was never really worthy the effort.
A lot of his legacy still lives in Spain. He was the first monarch to make Madrid the Spanish capital, and part of his buidings are still standing, such as El Escorial, although it is not used a royal palace anymore, and his network of roads, which was superseded by modern high ways. The Philippines in Asia was also named in his honor. Ironically, Philip himself would also sow the seeds of the dynasty that would replace the Habsburg in Spain, the French House of Bourbon, as when the Protestant pretender Henry IV of France realized he could not take the throne with the Iberian Union among his enemies, he made the shocking turn of just converting to Catholicism ("Paris is well worth a mass") and let the whole conflict die off, becoming the first Bourbon king.
Tropes associated to him in fiction
- Big Bad: Almost every appearance by him in film or TV (including Spanish productions, out of Pop-Cultural Osmosis) has him as the main villain, usually as an evil warmonger who leads The Empire. Some have even claimed that Verdi's Don Carlo, where Philip is the villain, was a partial inspiration for the plot of Star Wars.
- Control Freak: Some portrayals acknowledge that Philip caused the failure of the Spanish Armada by whimsically placing the inept but obedient Duke of Medina Sidonia in command. This is fundamentally true, even if is still not the entire story.
- The Empire: Depictions often emphasize the dimensions of Philip's empire. They get it right; even if Charles gave the Holy Roman Empire to his own brother, Philip still received the biggest and best piece of his father's cake by inheriting the Hispanic branch, which entailed Spain, the Italian realms, the African strongholds and the American viceroyalties, all of them highly productive territories without the perpetual political hellscape of the Holy Roman aristocracy. He also received the Netherlands, which, even if in the long run turned out to be an equally complicated affair and a bad match for Philip, were an appetizing center of European trade. And then, Philip reclaimed also the Portuguese Empire, acquiring their lands in Brazil, Africa, India and the Pacific, basically weaving lines with his name around the whole globe. Had the Empresa de China actually turned out any kind of success for Spain and Portugal, their king would have become the closest to a Planet Baron.
- The Evil Prince: If Philip and Charles V are featured in the same work, chances are that Charles will be positively portrayed as a good, wise king, while Philip will be an evil aspirant waiting for him to take the reins to wreak havoc. This shouldn't come as a surprise considering who tends to write the story — Charles never warred significantly against England and was generally tolerant towards the Netherlands' desire to manage themselves (not to mention he was a Netherlander himself).
- Flanderization: He is easily one of the most complex, layered kings in European history, for good or bad, yet he is yet to receive a mainstream characterization that goes far beyond "sinister, bitter Catholic king who wants to rule the world." Interestingly, depictions do put a lot of weight in his religious motivations even whenever they weren't central to the topic in real life. This is particularly relevant in the Eighty Years War, which tends to be painted as a Catholics vs. Protestants kind of conflict, when in real life religion was a minor factor behind the political and economical unrest (Netherlanders were predominantly Catholic at the time, yet many of those still sided against him).
- The Fundamentalist: He was a fanaticaly devout Catholic, and believed his Charles V should have done much more to curb the rise of Protestanism.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Portrayals tend to paint him as a power-hungry despot, who leads a reign of terror on his own people and may openly desire to conquer the entire world. The real Philip was decidedly not a laissez-faire kind of ruler, but few of his subjects considered him a tyrant and his rule was not especially dystopic or personalist compared to other monarchies of the time (one could make an argument that it was much less, even at its worst). Similarly, Philip was absolutely a fan of what we would call today political interventionism, but by all appearances held little desire to actually conquer and assimilate lands he didn't feel were his already, whether in Europe and the rest of the world, even although there were cultural and political think tanks calling for him to do so (he only accepted begrudgingly the Empresa de China, and was quick to replace it with a program of good relations with the Ming as soon as it proved untenable).
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Both Ministry of Time and Carlos, rey emperador play up his feeling of inferiority towards his father, although in opposite ways each. In both works, Álvarez de Toledo is portrayed as sort of a mentorly, Parental Substitute figure to him, either explicitly or implicitly.
- Philip, still Prince of Asturias at the time, appears in the fanfic Handmaid as he's brought to England by his father to discuss a possibly marriage treaty between him and Henry VIII's daughter by Anne Boleyn, Cecily. Since Anne is serving as Henry and Katherine's handmaid-a union recognized as valid by the Catholic Church-there is no question of Cecily's legitimacy. Philip, however, looked down on Cecily for her commoner heritage, and Cecily, having inherited some of the Boleyn temperament, would not take the insult lying down, leading to a rather fractious introduction. They seem to get along much better as adults, as by the time of the epilogue they have three children.
- He's the villain of Fire Over England, played by Raymond Massey.
- The Sea Hawk also has him as the baddie, played by Montagu Love. In a memetic scene, he states his intentions to conquer as far as India and China, and ultimately turn the entire world into Spain.
- He appears as a villain, and an appropriately evil one, in Elizabeth and its sequel. He's played first by George Yiasoumi and later by Jordi Mollà, who for a chance gets to play a Spaniard and not a Latino (although ironically, both things were one and the same by the age the film is set).
- He is naturally featured in Spain, the first globalization.
- Peter Jeffrey plays him in Elizabeth R, where he is, again, the Big Bad.
- He's played by Willem Nijholt in William of Orange.
- A no less flanderized portrayal of him appears in The Ministry of Time, though impressively played by Carlos Hipólito. A younger version of him is played by Jorge Clemente.
- He appears in Carlos, rey emperador, a spinoff to Isabel, where he's played by Pablo Arbués and later by Álvaro Cervantes.
- Cuarto Milenio dedicated some reportages to his esoteric interests and the founding of El Escorial.