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Gaspar de Guzmán, conde de Olivares
He was born in Rome, where his father was Spanish ambassador at the time. His compound title is explained by the fact that he inherited the title of count of Olivares , but was created Duke of San Lucar by King Philip IV of Spain. He begged the king to allow him to preserve his inherited title in combination with the new honour--according to a practice almost unique in Spanish history. Therefore he was commonly spoken of as "El condeduque". During the life of King Philip III he was appointed to a post in the household of the heir apparent, Philip, by the interest of his maternal uncle Don Baltasar de Zúñiga , who was the head of the prince's establishment. Olivares made a point of acquiring the most complete influence over the young prince. When Philip IV ascended the throne in 1621, at the age of sixteen, he showed his confidence in Olivares by ordering that all papers requiring the royal signature should first be sent to the count-duke. Olivares could now boast to his uncle Don Baltasar de Zúñiga that he was "all". He became what is known in Spain as a valido--something more than a prime minister, the favourite and alter ego of the king.
For twenty-two years Olivares directed Spain's foreign policy. It was a period of constant war, and finally of disaster abroad and of rebellion at home. The Spaniards, who were too thoroughly monarchical to blame the king, held his favourite responsible for the misfortunes of the country. The count-duke became, and for long remained, in the opinion of his countrymen, the accepted model of a grasping and incapable favourite, though this opinion changed over the centuries. It would be unjust to blame Olivares alone for the decadence of Spain, which was due to internal causes of long standing. The gross errors of his policy--the renewal of the war with Holland in 1621, the persistence of Spain in taking part in the Thirty Years' War, the lesser wars undertaken in northern Italy, and the entire neglect of all effort to promote the unification of the different states forming the peninsular kingdom--were shared by him with the king, the Church and the commercial classes.
When he had fallen from power he wrote an apology, in which he maintained that he had always wished to see more attention paid to internal government, and above all to the complete unification of Portugal with Spain. But if this was not an afterthought, he must, on his own showing, stand accused of having carried out during long years a policy which he knew to be disastrous to his country, rather than risk the loss of the king's favour and of his place. Olivares did not share the king's taste for art and literature, but he formed a vast collection of state papers, ancient and contemporary, which he endeavoured to protect from destruction by entailing them as an heirloom. He also formed a splendid aviary which, under the name of the "hencoop," was a favourite subject of ridicule with his enemies. Towards the end of his period of favour he caused great offence by legitimizing a supposed bastard son of very doubtful paternity and worthless personal character, and by arranging a rich marriage for him.
The fall of Olivares was immediately due to the revolts of Portugal and Catalonia in 1640. The king parted with him reluctantly, and only under the pressure of a strong court intrigue headed by Queen Isabella. It was noted with anxiety by his enemies that he was succeeded in the king's confidence by his nephew the count of Haro. There remains, however, a letter from the king, in which Philip tells his old favourite, with frivolous ferocity, that it might be necessary to sacrifice his life in order to avert unpopularity from the royal house. Olivares was driven from office in 1643. He retired by the king's order to Toro. Here he endeavoured to satisfy his passion for activity, partly by sharing in the municipal government of the town and the regulation of its commons, woods and pastures, and partly by the composition of the apology he published under the title of El Nicandro, which was perhaps written by an agent, but was undeniably inspired by the fallen minister. The Nicandro was denounced to the Inquisition, and it is not impossible that Olivares might have ended in the prisons of the Holy Office, or on the scaffold, if he had not died beforehand.
See the Estudios del reinado de Felipe IV. of Don Antonio Canovas (Madrid, 1889); and Don F Silvela's introduction, much less favourable to Olivares, to his edition of the Cartas de Sor Maria de Agreda y del rey Felipe IV. (Madrid, 1885-1886).
- "God wants us to make peace; for He is depriving us...of all the means of war."
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