Spain in Decline
The seventeenth century was a period of unremitting political, military, economic, and social decline. Neither Philip III (r. 1598-1621) nor Philip IV (r. 1621-65) was competent to give the kind of clear direction that Philip II had provided. Responsibility passed to aristocratic advisers. Gaspar de Guzman, count-duke of Olivares, attempted and failed to establish the centralized administration that his famous contemporary, Cardinal Richelieu, had introduced in France. In reaction to Guzman's bureaucratic absolutism, Catalonia revolted and was virtually annexed by France. Portugal, with English aid, reasserted its independence in 1640, and an attempt was made to separate Andalusia from Spain. In 1648, at the Peace of Westphalia, Spain assented to the emperor's accommodation with the German Protestants, and in 1654 it recognized the independence of the northern Netherlands.
During the long regency for Charles II (1665-1700), the last of the Spanish Habsburgs, validos milked Spain's treasury, and Spain's government operated principally as a dispenser of patronage. Plague, famine, floods, drought, and renewed war with France wasted the country. The Peace of the Pyrenees (1659) ended fifty years of warfare with France, whose king, Louis XIV, found the temptation to exploit weakened Spain too great. As part of the peace settlement, the Spanish infanta Maria Teresa, had become the wife of Louis XIV. Using Spain's failure to pay her dowry as a pretext, Louis instigated the War of Devolution (1667- 68) to acquire the Spanish Netherlands in lieu of the dowery. Most of the European powers were ultimately involved in the wars that Louis fought in the Netherlands.
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