Spain was a major power under Philip II in four ways: religiously, politically, economically, and commercially.
Religiously, Spain was a staunch Catholic nation. The Inquisition was notorious and infamous. Spain wielded her religious powers over the pope, the Spanish Netherlands, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and even England. Spain fought several religious wars on the continent because Philip II’s goal was to spread Catholicism everywhere. Missions were established in the New World. Under Philip II’s reign, Catholicism was the dominant religion in Europe despite the Calvinist and Lutheran rebellions.
Politically, Spain dominated the era. Philip II raised an enormous army and conquered parts of Italy and Portugal, although he never utilized Portugal to any advantage. Spain’s strong bureaucracy provided stability throughout its territories. Philip II’s fleet sailed the seas and took over civilizations in the New World. The Hapsburg name and dynastic marriages gave Philip II strong political ties to France, the Holy Roman Empire, and even England. No monarch could act without first thinking of what would anger Philip II. Only Elizabeth I of England really dared to oppose him, but even she contemplated marriage with him for a time.
Economically, Spain had opulent wealth. Gold and silver flowed in from the New World. Taxes collected from the rich Castile region filled Philip II’s coffers. However, most of the money did not stay in Spain. Most went to pay for his army and navy while the rest was spent on imports. If Philip II had curbed his spending, Spain would have been more powerful during his reign and would not have lost prestige so quickly after his death.
Commercially, Spain owned the seas. The Mediterranean was Spain’s after the Battle of Leponto. The Atlantic was Spain’s because of the great armada that traveled back and forth to the colonies. Her trade was extensive but unfavorably balanced.
Spain was a major power, but not as powerful as it could have been. It was ravaged by wars, had no industry, and no agricultural base. After Philip II’s death, the nation declined rapidly, and France became the leading nation. The Spanish sun rose and set with Philip II’s life.
– Hannah S. Bowers