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Meant to buy time, King Phillip III’s Twelve Years’ Truce ultimately ended with the Thirty Years’ War.

By Harold E. Raugh, Jr.

The second half of the 16th century saw numerous nations rising to challenge Spain’s hegemony over most of Europe and the New World. In 1566, a revolt broke out in the Spanish Netherlands that threatened to have a domino effect in other Spanish-controlled provinces. Disputes over economic and religious issues between Spain and England increased until in 1585 war broke out, with Spain subsequently sending three large armadas in an unsuccessful attempt to invade and conquer that island nation. Those continuing massive military expenditures brought financial ruin to Spain. The policy adopted to help the country stabilize its position was unique at the time and is the subject of Paul C. Allen’s fascinating study, Philip III and the Pax Hispanica, 1598-1621: The Failure of Grand Strategy (Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2000, $40).

The Treaty of Vervins, which ended hostilities with France in 1598, ushered in the first phase of the Pax Hispanica–the “Spanish Peace.” When Spanish King Philip II died a few months later and his 20-year-old son succeeded him as Philip III, the kingdom’s long-term strategy was undergoing careful reconsideration. Philip III decided that Spain should negotiate similar peace treaties with its other adversaries–a radical course of action at the time, since the concept of peace was viewed very differently 400 years ago than it is today. According to Paul Allen, “Many ministers of state believed that peace could actually be a destructive force in a world in which conflict was endemic.”

The king persevered, however, and the result was the Anglo-Spanish Treaty of London in 1604. Five years later, Spain concluded a truce with its rebellious Dutch subjects. The peace strategy was unprecedented at the time, but Allen makes it clear that the Spaniards’ ulterior motive was to “lull their opponents into a false sense of security, while simultaneously allowing [the Spanish monarchy] to rejuvenate and stockpile its military resources.”

After regaining its economic and military strength during the “Twelve Years’ Truce” that had begun in 1609, Spain resumed hostilities against the Netherlands in 1621. Spain’s peace policy proved not to have been entirely successful, however, as its adversaries had not been totally lulled into complacency and disarmament. The ensuing conflict contributed to the descent of Europe into the scourge of the Thirty Years’ War.

Allen’s book is not about bugles, bullets or battles, but is a scholarly study of the evolution of Spanish strategy, foreign policy and decision-making processes during the crucial 1598­1609 period. Allen, an adjunct instructor at Weber State University in Utah, researched his comprehensive study with contemporary Spanish, English, French and Dutch primary source materials, including government and court circulars, minutes and memoranda; personal and official correspondence; and myriad other manuscripts. His interpretations and insights result in a worthwhile and viable revisionist history that depicts the resumption of war after 1621 not as a failure of Spain’s peace policy, but as “a conscious decision to pursue a consistent strategy.” This highly recommended study ably fills a void and helps illuminate the diplomatic history of early modern Europe.