Patrick Williams

European Son

The Escorial: Art and Power in the Renaissance

By

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Few major historical figures have been so despised as Philip II of Spain. In his own day his greatest opponents became revered national icons – Elizabeth of England, Henry IV of France and William of Orange – and the early historians of their countries damned Philip for daring to oppose them. Posterity was even less generous: in the nineteenth century, the Protestant liberal historian J L Motley created a school of history by describing Philip as ‘deficient in manly energy, a pedant, bigot, cold, mediocre, grossly licentious’. The crowning indignity came from within Spain itself when Philip was afflicted with the admiration of General Franco, who claimed him as one of his inspirational icons and created his sepulchre in the shadow of Philip’s great monastery-palace, the Escorial. Philip and his unique building were thereby damned as proto-Catholic, deeply reactionary and symbols of all that was worst in Spanish history, including intolerance and brutality.

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