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Philip II 1527-1598) reigned as the King of Spain from the abdication his father, Charles V, in 1556 until his death in 1598. Under Philip II's rule, Spain experienced tremendous economic decline as its empire became too much for the nation to support. When Philip II took power, Spain was a wealthy nation with a growing imperial empire. Multiple and seemingly constant wars, in addition to several domestic revolts, took a great toll on Spain's economy, and try as he might, Philip II was unable to manage the economy of an imperial power successfully. According to historylearningsite.co.uk's "Phillip II — the Man," Pope Pius V wrote in a letter to Philip II:

Your majesty spends so long considering your undertakings that when the moment to perform them comes the occasion has passed and the money has been spent.

Because Philip II was so thoroughly convinced that his actions were always right, failures never seemed to deter his strong belief that, as the King of Spain, he could do whatever he deemed appropriate. He was not afraid to have political enemies assassinated to secure his position and status within the kingdom. Philip II was Catholic and believed in the divine right of kings, a belief that gave him the motivation and confidence to do whatever he personally believed would benefit his country. In numerous conflicts in Europe at the time he became viewed as a leading defender of Catholicism who persecuted Protestants both domestically and abroad — something exemplified in one of his worst defeats: his Spanish Armada's attempt to conquer England and return it to Roman Catholicism.

Carlyle's reference to Philip II's reign in Spain offers a clear example to readers who might question his belief that the role of the government plays little role in the success and genius of its people:

It is the noble People that makes the noble Government; rather than conversely. On the whole, Institutions are much; but they are not all. The freest and highest spirits of the world have often been found under strange outward circumstances.

Philip II inherited an exceedingly wealthy nation that was arguably one of, if not the, most powerful nation in the world. Yet he managed over the course of his 42-year reign to greatly harm the both the prestige and economy of the nation. Regardless of this, the country still produced great minds and successful individuals, supporting Carlyle's argument that it is the person, not the institution that governs them, that is responsible for mankind's genius. This further supports Carlyle's argument that people should stop focusing so much on the machinery and forms of government outside of them to improve society, but should instead focus on improving themselves as individuals.


"Philip II. (Spain)." The Encyclopedia Britannica. 11th ed. 1910-1911. Print.

"Phillip II — the Man. History Learning Site. Web. 22 Mar. 2010.

"The Economic Problems of Spain." History Learning Site. Web. 22 Mar. 2010.

"The Spanish Armada." Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603). Web. 22 Mar. 2010.

Last modified 24 March 2010