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Alba probably refers to the House of Alba, a famous family of the Spanish aristocracy. This house traces itself back to 1492. Carlyle is probably writing about the third Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, a famous general and a governor in the Spanish Netherlands known for his cruelty and sometimes called the “Iron Duke.” Philip II, a king also infamous for his cruelty, sent Alba to the Netherlands at the head of an enormous army and was given almost unlimited power. Philip ordered Alba to eliminate the Protestants in the area and ended up executing thousands of people, both Catholic and Protestant.
In “Signs of the Times,” Carlyle lists Alba along with Cortes, Pizarro, and Ximenes and juxtaposes these figures with Columbus and Las Casas. He writes that Columbus and Las Casas represent “virtue and heroism,” whereas Alba and the others represent “mere energy and spiritual talent.” Alba and the others probably arenÕt labeled as heroes because of their cruel deeds. Carlyle uses these figures to illustrate his point that “it is the noble People that makes the noble Government.” He argues that these “noble” people lived in Spain during the reign of the “ignoble” Philip II and the Spanish inquisition. He believes that Spain was the most powerful nation at the time because of people like Alba and Columbus, not because of its government. "
Fernando çlvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba" Wikipedia. 2009. March 23. 2010.
"House of Alba" Wikipedia.. 2009. March 23. 2010.
Kamen, Henry. The Duke of Alba. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
Last modified 24 March 2010