this is how the Prudent King reacted to the horrors of the battle of San Quentin

Updated:01/10/2020 09: 37h


For a time Felipe II, like any proud son, wanted to be like his father. Act like him, dress like him, and of course fight like him. The Prudent King received a humanistic education that also included continued instruction in horsemanship and cavalry jousting. It was hoped that one day also Philip II, who was passionate about reading chivalric works such as “The Song of Mine Cid” The “Amadís de Gaula”, became a warrior king like Carlos V, present in important military actions such as the Jornada de Algiers (1541), the taking of Tunis (1535) or the battle of Mühlberg (1547), among an infinity of events.

Already in his young days, Felipe began to be aware that his abilities, which were many, were not related to the battlefields. The prince devoted his mornings to study and, with the cool of the afternoon, it was time for physical exercises for the young people. Body training was a social art, performed in public and prepared for the youth of the elite for court life and the military. In 1544, the prince took part in a tournament for the first time: he broke a spear against his opponent, fought with an ax until it was shattered, and finally unsheathed his sword.

Body training was a social art, performed in public and prepared the elite youth for court life and the military.

He was supposed to be a decent warrior until he traveled to Brussels in 1548. Among the acts to entertain Philip in Flanders, a joust was held that ended with the prince being thrown from his horse by Luis de RequesensIn the end, one of his best generals, although “because he was a low stake he put him to sleep and fell to the ground.” That episode caused Luis to be quickly removed from Felipe’s environment, although in 1552 he was provided as Captain General of the galleys Santiago as a demonstration that the heir to the throne did not hold great grudges.

The King’s nerves

After the abrupt abdication of Charles V In 1555, Philip II was suddenly faced with a thunderous welcome from all of his father’s assembled enemies. France, the Pope and the Ottoman Empire fell on different Spanish positions in an attack that put the imperial armies in check. It was then, around the battle of San Quentin against the French, when Felipe, who grew up admired by the deeds of his father, participated closely for the first (and last) time in a military campaign.

However, Felipe II and his English escort (it should not be forgotten that he was still King consort of England) were not present when the King’s cousin, Manuel Filiberto, supported by Lamoral Egmont and other Flemish officers, defeated the forces with which they the constable of France tried to break the Spanish siege on San Quintín. At least 5,000 French soldiers perished in a day where “there were so many blue and green flies emerging from their corpses, fertilized by the humidity and heat of the sun, that when they rose in the air they hid the sun.”

The Monarch arrived on the scene of the battle a few days later, and since he would never approach the front line again, it seems that the sight was not exactly to his liking. It was unlikely that walking in a sun hidden by flies would be to the King’s liking “Cleaner, cleaner for him than ever,” from someone with an overly sensitive stomach.

Felipe II presumed to be the best informed man in the world but, as he verified over the years, unfortunately he did not enjoy a stomach capable of supporting this flow of information, especially when the news was bad. While Charles V was prone to reacting to bad news with depressive or angry episodes, his son tended to be physically defeated when faced with critical situations or unpleasant scenes such as those on a battlefield. Headaches, insomnia, stomach problems… the list of symptoms caused by misdigested information was extensive and changed depending on the situation.

Cover of the new biography of Felipe II.
Cover of the new biography of Felipe II.

When in 1588 he was informed of the disaster of the Great and Happiest Armada who had sent to overthrow the Queen of England, Philip’s spirits fell like a stone. After reading an account of the disastrous return of the Medina-Sidonia fleet circling the rugged Scottish shores, the King wrote: “All this I have seen, although I think it would be better not to have seen it, depending on what hurts.

These great differences between the personalities of father and son had a profound impact on the structures of the empire and on the image projected by the kings. «Carlos V projects the image of a traveling, itinerant and warrior king. […] Instead, a completely different court king would appear. The image that Felipe II projects is that of a sedentary king, a meticulous bureaucrat, extremely responsible, who makes all the decisions and since he does not move from the capital where he is established, he uses positions and dignities already existing in the administration to be represented in the other parts of the Monarchy ”, points out Enrique Martínez Ruiz, who has just published the colossal biography “Felipe II: The man, the king, the myth” (The Sphere of the books).

The armor of Philip II

The King did not arrive in time to witness the battle of San Quentin, in whose name he would raise the Palace-Monastery of El Escorial, but yes to the subsequent siege that this French town suffered. The battle painter Ferrer-Dalmau collects in his latest work, The Victory of San Quentin, the stamp of the Monarch upon his arrival at the military camp dressed in the Armor of Blades, a piece that is preserved today in the Royal Armory of the Royal Palace of Madrid. As explained by the National Heritage website, this armor was forged in 1551 when Philip II was twenty-four years old by the master gunsmith Wolfgang Grosschedel of Landshut.

Armor of Philip II called the work of Aspas
Armor of Philip II called from the work of Aspas – Royal Heritage

«Following the paternal custom, the breastplate bears the image of the Immaculate Conception and the back that of Santa Bárbara, but its most distinctive feature is the drawing of its decorative bands: Burgundy crosses flanked by links of the Golden Fleece alternating with flints with sparks from this necklace, which is why it has been known since the sixteenth century as “the work of the blades.” These emblems of the House of Austria configure a decoration with a marked dynastic character alluding to the power and prestige of her family », explains the technical sheet of this unique piece.

On August 13, 1557, two days after the battle, Felipe II moved from Cambray to San Quintín, remaining in the siege of the city that lasted for several weeks. In Ferrer-Dalmau’s painting, the Monarch appears accompanied by Filiberto de Saboya, from Earl of Pembroke, Count Egmont and Guillermo from Orange.

In front of the mounted King, the captured French prisoners are presented and surrounded by soldiers of the stature of Julián Romero or Pedro Merino de Sedano, with the city of San Quintín in the background, besieged by artillery.

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