Simancas: February 1603

Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1899.

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'Simancas: February 1603', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 719-729. British History Online [accessed 23 April 2024]

February 1603

1 Feb.
Estado, 840.
733. Report of the Council of State to Philip III. on the English succession.
At a meeting of the Council held on the 5th December last, to consider some documents from Father Creswell with regard to the English succession, which your Majesty had referred to them, count de Olivares said that the introduction of the Infanta and the Archduke involved so many manifestly grave difficulties that it would be better to promote the cause of one of the native claimants, who was a Catholic and might be pitted against the king of Scotland. This would be the easiest way, and if the Catholic claimant were established under the protection of your Majesty, he would be bound and pledged to your interests, which would gain for us the object aimed at ; namely that the country should return to the church. It may be concluded that the Pope would aid to this end, and that the king of France would put up with it.
Your Majesty thereupon ordered the Council to take into full consideration in all its aspects the suggestion of count de Olivares, and after due discussion to report to your Majesty.
The Council, in addition to the above-mentioned documents, and others sent by your Majesty, had before it letters and advices received by Father Creswell from the persons through whom he corresponds with the English Catholics, begging him to urge your Majesty to arrive at a decision in the matter, and either to make due preparations for aiding them in the event of the Queen's death, which may happen at any hour, or to relieve them from their pledge to take up the cause of the Infanta or other nominee of your Majesty. In this case they would be enabled, before it was too late, to adopt the course most advantageous for them ; but if they wait until they are confronted with an actual vacancy, it is indubitable that the king of Scotland, having a strong party amongst the heretics, and the support of the king of France, the rebels, etc., will succeed in his object. The help of your Majesty, upon which the Catholics have founded all their hopes, will thus have only brought about their final ruin, to the irreparable injury of your Majesty and your dominions. On the other hand, they say, if your Majesty actively helps them, as they consider you ought to do—both as Catholic defender of the faith and for your own sake, as well as in recompense for their unswerving devotion to your Majesty through intolerable troubles for so many years—they will carry out their pledges with their last breath. If, however, your Majesty cannot continue to protect them, they will consider it a great favour if you will undeceive them at once, so that, whilst circumstances render it possible, they may do the best they can for themselves. They will in any case retain the same good-will and affection as hitherto towards your Majesty's service, although they will not be able to do so much as if they succeeded in their main object, which is to reduce the country to submission to the apostolic see, and to dependence upon your Majesty's greatness. The Council had before it also despatches of the ambassador Don Baltasar de Zuñiga to your Majesty, in which the suggestion of the king of France is set forth to the effect that your Majesty and he (Henry IV.) should agree to nominate a neutral Catholic king (of England) ; but that if your Majesty attempted to nominate the Infanta or any other person wholly dependent upon you, he (Henry IV.) would assist the king of Scotland with all his strength.
The afore-mentioned documents were discussed with the care and fulness demanded by the importance of the subject, and it was decided that the following report should be sent to your Majesty:—
The Catholics of England through Father Persons represented to your Majesty in the year 1600 that as your Majesty would not take England for yourself, they proposed for the succession, in the first place the Infanta Isabel, as the late king (Philip II.) had desired.
In the second place they proposed the duke of Savoy, who, being a widower, might marry Arabella (Stuart) or the daughter of the earl of Derby, the latter match being preferable as the lady was a Catholic and had a larger following.
In the third place they suggested the duke of Parma, or his brother, Cardinal Farnese.
In the fourth place they proposed the son of the earl of Worcester, a Catholic of very good parts, who, although he had no rights to the crown, might marry the daughter of the earl of Derby. As, however, this candidature might encounter the opposition of the other nobles they (the Catholics) were more inclined to favour the first proposals, and especially that of the Infanta, as they thought that the aid from Flanders and Spain would be the most available. Your Majesty was thereupon pleased to approve of the nomination of her Highness.
With regard to your Majesty's own succession to the English throne, the Council need say nothing, as your Majesty approved of the arguments and reasons submitted by the Council for the abandonment of your claims.
There is no doubt that the nomination of the Infanta would have been the most advantageous, and the Council reported to this effect to your Majesty, after its deliberations of the 11th July, 1600 ; always on condition that we had the resources at our disposal necessary to carry the enterprise to a successful issue ; and in the hope that then existed that the Infanta would have children, and that the Archduke would undertake the matter with the necessary energy. The Council also dwelt upon the advisability, in the event of their Highnesses obtaining the English crown, of the States of Flanders again becoming incorporated in the Spanish realm. Up to the present time, however, there is no sign of their Highnesses having descendants, and the Archduke has not actively taken up the proposal, which he looks upon as impossible of execution. The Catholics, therefore, do not now look upon the selection of their Highnesses so favourably as formerly ; and they consider the recognised lack of issue to the new English monarchs as a very grave objection, as they are of opinion that sooner or later their former and present perils will again recur in such case. They will, however, overlook this point if your Majesty wishes the nomination of the Infanta to be carried forward.
The Council cannot refrain from agreeing with the view that a change of attitude will be desirable. The present state of your Majesty and your realm is such that there appears to be no means of facing, much less surmounting, the difficulties, or rather impossibilities, which present themselves to the establishment of their Highnesses on the throne of England, in opposition to the king of France and the whole heretic strength of Germany and the north, which will certainly strain every nerve to prevent it.
The Council is therefore of opinion that some more suitable person should be selected, in order to carry out the object of raising a Catholic to the throne, who would depend upon your Majesty.
Such a King would be entirely bound to your Majesty if he owed his elevation to your Majesty's patronage and support, and you transferred to him your own rights to the crown, which are stronger than those of any other claimant, the king of Scotland being excluded as a heretic.
The candidature of the duke of Savoy offers similar difficulties to that of the Infanta ; and if, therefore, one of the foreign claimants has to be selected, it would appear that the duke of Parma would be most suitable, having regard to the aid which the Pope might be expected to give him. The objection to him is that he might, when he saw himself king of England, raise his claim to the crown of Portugal, (fn. 1) but count de Miranda believes that this point could be arranged in a way that would banish any misgiving. But there are other great objections to this candidature, such as the doubt as to whether the Pope would care to face so large an expenditure, and also that the king of France is not so well disposed towards your Majesty as to be ready to please you by accepting a person so closely allied to you as the duke of Parma. This is proved by the fact that notwithstanding the marriage of his (Henry IV.) sister into the House of Lorraine, (fn. 2) he is favouring the succession of a heretic son of the marquis of Brandenburg against Cardinal Lorraine ; and it is obvious that all the sectarian Princes will exert their utmost influence against the duke of Parma, to a greater extent even than against the Infanta, as the Duke is allied to the Pope, whom they hate more than any other Christian Prince. To this must be added the fact that the Duke is married ; besides which the English, both Catholics and heretics, would prefer a native to a foreign King. These and other reasons lead us to exclude the candidatures of the duke of Parma and Cardinal Farnese.
On no account will it be advisable for your Majesty to abandon the cause of the Catholics, which you have upheld for so many years at such heavy cost to your royal patrimony and to the Spanish nation. The perseverance of the English Catholics in the faith has deserved the help which has fittingly come from one so devout as your Majesty. The Council is therefore of opinion that they should be informed that, as your Majesty's main object is, and always has been, to bring England to submit to the apostolic see, and regain its ancient standing and prosperity, your Majesty does not regard your own interests or those of your kin ; and although at the request of the English Catholics your Majesty had at first approved of the nomination of the Infanta, you are willing, if they think it better for the end in view, for them to propose a person from amongst themselves. If they will do this and inform your Majesty thereof, the person chosen being a Catholic and possessing the necessary parts, your Majesty will cede your rights to him on fair terms of reciprocity, and will aid him with all your forces to obtain and hold the crown of England against all pretenders. For this purpose your Majesty will at once begin to make preparations ; and in due time will exert your influence with his Holiness to induce him to aid so holy a cause. Your Majesty enjoins them (the English Catholics) first to pray to God for help and guidance, and then to proceed to adopt a resolution, whicli you trust will be such as befits their zeal.
In the meanwhile your Majesty awaits their decision with great interest.
The Council is of opinion that by this means the end desired may be the more easily and surely attained, whilst the king of France will have reason to be satisfied, and to refrain from helping the king of Scotland, as it cannot suit him for Scotland and England to be united. With this object the Council considers that the building and fitting out of high ships should be continued with all speed, and also that the efforts already recommended to be made in Flanders should proceed. Even if they be unnecessary for this particular purpose, they are so urgently demanded by circumstances there that their omission will expose everything to the utmost peril.
The knot of the succession question will thus be cut, and by one expenditure your Majesty will provide against two eventualities of the highest importance, without the risk of the expenditure being wasted, as might be the case if the English matter only were in view, seeing that the Queen may live a short or a long time. It will be necessary, therefore, for your Majesty to order that not an hour be lost in devising some means of meeting present and future demands, so that want of foresight and money shall not stand in the way of carrying through what is desired, to the advantage of God and your Majesty and the benefit of Christendom at large.
When your Majesty has decided what will be best, the Infanta and the Archduke should be informed thereof, through the ambassador, Don Baltasar de Zuñiga ; together with the reasons which have moved your Majesty, the principal of which is that their Highnesses themselves considered your Majesty's plans in their favour to be impracticable.
The above was agreed to by counts de Chinchon, Miranda, and Alba, F. Gaspar de Cordoba, the Constable, and the marquis de Poza. Count de Miranda added that under the present circumstances great difficulties occurred, no matter what resolution was adopted ; and, in order that we should not pledge ourselves to undertakings which we could not carry through, we ought first to examine what resources exist or can be obtained, and then proceed accordingly. If nothing else can be done we might devise some expedient by which, without helping the king of Scotland, we might avoid offending him, for reasons which were submitted to your Majesty on a former occasion.
F. Gaspar de Cordoba said that, in his opinion, the matter of the English succession might be proceeded with, even in the present condition of the treasury, if his Majesty entrusted the entire management of the affairs to three or four persons. By this means the reinforcements for Ireland, the building of high ships, and the collection of money for the undertaking, were now being facilitated ; whereas so long as they went through the ordinary channel they were looked upon as impossible.
The marquis de Poza added that if we could not manage to place a Catholic monarch on the English throne it wo aid be better to have any heretic there rather than the king of Scotland, who is so pertinacious and badly intentioned in his heresy ; because of the power which the united kingdoms would possess if held by so evil a person.
Count de Olivares said that in this and all similar affairs his opinion was, and always had been, that the greatness and maintenance of your Majesty's empire did not depend upon the further extension of your dominions, but upon there being no other power capable of obstructing your saintly intentions. With this view he (Count de Olivares), when he was in Rome and the matter of France was under discussion, begged the late King (Philip II.) to put aside his claims and those of the Infanta, and to advocate the cause of a native King, preferably one of the House of Bourbon, to be chosen by the Guises, as being most likely to serve their party. (fn. 3) His Majesty's neglect to adopt this advice had resulted in the events we now witness, notwithstanding all the expense we have incurred. With this example before him, he (Olivares) thanks God that your Majesty regards the English affair in the way which may be presumed by the proposal you have submitted to the Council. Before he declared his opinion as to the best course your Majesty can adopt, he would, however, proceed to state what he thinks you should avoid.
The ancient and deeply rooted enmity of the French and English nations, and other causes, making the king of France an impossible competitor for the English crown, he may be left out of consideration ; and the worst solution of the question for us may be regarded as the succession of the king of Scotland. He is not only personally to be distrusted, but the union of two kingdoms, and above all the increment of England in her present position, and with the naval forces she possesses, would be a standing danger to your Majesty in a vital point, namely, the navigation to both Indies. To this must be added the hatred which always existed between the crowns of Spain and Scotland, and the old friendship of the latter with France, even before there was any difference of religion, which has accentuated the ill-feeling. The king of Scotland, moreover, has been badly reared amongst heretics, and, apart from his heresy, has exhibited in all his actions a false and shifty inclination. There is, indeed, a strong belief that he consented to the killing of his mother, and at least he manifested no sorrow nor resentment at it. Whilst feigning a desire to be a Catholic, he raises difficulties in the performance of mass in the house of the French ambassador. On the other hand, not a single good quality appears to counterbalance the evil known of him.
He (Olivares) is of opinion that the proposal made in Rome, although ostensibly originated by another, really comes from a disciple of Cardinal Mondovi, whose prevailing idea was (God knows with what object) the conversion of the king of Scotland in the same way as the present king of France was converted. He (Mondovi) made great efforts to this end with the same Carthusian bishop with whom they are now dealing and whom the Count (Olivares) knew well as a good, but simple and credulous man. He must now be too old for it, and this doubtless is the reason why the duke of Savoy's ambassador has been employed as the intermediary, as Mondovi always made use of him in all his plans. He (Olivares) is the more suspicious of this intrigue as it was not brought forward here, but in Rome, where they try to conceal it from the Pope—a very poor sign of conversion.
The aid requested by the king of Scotland is in the form of cash. His offers in return are, first his conversion, which cannot be expected from a person so badly brought up as he has been ; and secondly, the surrender of his son as security. With regard to the latter, it is not natural that anyone should wish his son to be of a different religion to that which he himself professes, and the consequence would be that he (James VI.) would after all refuse to deliver his son, on the pretext that the country would not permit it. It might happen, indeed, that the country would really not allow it, notwithstanding the King, to judge from its behaviour on other occasions.
But withal, he (Olivares) would not entirely shut the door against him (James VI.) whilst taking every precaution to leave us a free hand. This negotiation (i.e., in Rome) should not any longer be concealed from the representatives of the English Catholics, because if they learn it from any other quarter they may lose confidence and take an evil course, such as entering into negotiation with him (James) ; because if your Majesty decided that the business should be taken in hand sincerely, the first step would be to make arrangements with the English Catholics., and see that their interests were well secured.
In the second place, he (Olivares) is of opinion that it is unadvisable to claim the English crown for the Infanta and her husband. This solution is surrounded with difficulties which should be avoided, particularly as success is very doubtful, and the risk out of all proportion to the advantage to be gained, as the latter may be attained by the other course proposed.
The first difficulty is the pronounced opposition of France, with whom your Majesty's other enemies would unite to divert you, and they would be joined by all those who envy and hate your greatness for reasons of religion or state. We should thus be confronted, not by declared enemies alone, but by many of those who pose as friends.
The universal desire of all men to have a King of their own nation, ruling them alone, and living amongst them, will present a great obstacle to the Infanta's candidature, since the first two desiderata will be lacking in her case, and the third will be difficult to fulfil entirely.
This candidature is also weakened by the lukewarmness of the Archduke towards it—or rather his opposition to it—which has rendered him unpopular with the English, whose dislike of him he reciprocates. This is an important point, especially as the English seem to be forewarned by the late King's (Philip II.) attitude towards them, and afterwards towards Portugal.
From this it might be deduced that your Majesty should take the whole affair upon your own shoulders as if for yourself. But apart from the lack of money for so many undertakings, we have not enough soldiers, or capable men to command them ; and above all there is no time to provide and prepare with the necessary punctuality for affairs in all parts, and to satisfy people of various nations who are demanding aid. The opposition to be encountered in this business would call for the employment of resources, forces, and attention entirely free from other claims ; whereas experience shows how difficult it is for us to attend in time to the present numerous demands upon us.
The objections (to the Infanta's candidature) are increased by the fact that their Highnesses have no issue, which prevents them from taking the necessary interest and trouble in the matter, and causes the English to look upon them with less esteem, as they would only be a temporary solution. The English, who wish for a resident monarch, will consider this candidature to be a death-blow to their hopes, and as a means for bringing the country into the hands of Spain, which will cause them to join the enemies of your Majesty's greatness, and there will be as much opposition from them to the Archduke as if your Majesty claimed the crown for yourself.
The difficulties in the way of the duke of Savoy's candidature are very great, because France would be more strongly against him than against the Archduke. In addition to personal hatred, increased by fresh suspicion, the king of France will probably believe that the Duke would hand over Piedmont and Savoy to your Majesty. This candidature, moreover, would cost your Majesty as much money as that of the Archduke, and other objections might be raised to it. It would also encourage your Majesty's rivals to attack and harass you—perhaps successfully—if they saw you burdened with so great an undertaking in addition to those you have already in hand.
The Count (de Olivares) is of opinion that the best course, in the interests of God, your Majesty, the English nation, and even of their Highnesses, would be to influence the English Catholics to select an Englishman of their own faith, possessing, if possible, some claims to the crown, who would be strengthened by your Majesty's renunciation of your rights in his favour, and whom your Majesty would help as much as you could. In the interests of the success of the affair, the person chosen should not be very shy of the heretics, and should grant them toleration. If the said King were a true Catholic, depending upon your Majesty's support for future aid in consolidating his position, and defending himself against the Scots, he might easily re-establish the religion entirely in the country, seeing how readily in the past the latter has changed its faith for that of its Princes. This will be the more confidently anticipated by those who witnessed the conversion of 1553.
Success in this direction will be probable if timely preparations are made in all quarters, so that they (the English) may fix upon a Catholic person whom the heretics will accept, and who can overcome the difficulty of making his equals take him for a superior. The Catholic party is understood to be very large, and would be larger but for fear of the Queen, and it may be supposed that most of the heretics are politicians (fn. 4) who would soon be reconciled. A common ground of agreement between them might be found in their hatred of the Scottish domination, and the wish of the nobility, especially, to obtain a resident and native King. The greatest aid to success, and to the consolidation of the person selected, will be, however, the liberal promises he should make both to Catholics and heretics, almost without distinction, particularly to some other claimants and their principal supporters, who should be given estates, incomes, offices, grants, privileges, and exemptions, almost, indeed, sharing the Crown amongst them. By this means their dislike to submitting themselves to an equal may be mitigated, and each one personally interested in upholding the King. In order that they may put up with his being a Catholic, it will be very important that it should be known that the Catholics of England enjoy the open support of your Majesty, who could do much ; whereas if the king of France intervened at all it would be much more feebly and in support of a weaker candidate, the king of Scotland. But when once he (the king of France) is safe from your Majesty, the Infanta, and the duke of Savoy, he will not waste his money or forces, in promoting a thing so greatly against his own interests as a union of England and Scotland, nor will he declare himself against a Catholic candidature in favour of a heretic. He will, moreover, not care to risk making an enemy of the candidate selected by the Catholics, or pledging his prestige in so doubtful an enterprise.
In order to justify the exclusion of the king of Scotland from the English succession and satisfy his opponents, Catholics and heretics, on the point, in addition to your Majesty's renunciation in favour of the other candidate, it may be pointed out that there is a law of Parliament which would exclude the Archduke and the duke of Savoy, as well as the king of Scotland, by which any person born out of the kingdom is rendered ineligible to succeed to the throne. Besides this there is the crime of his (i.e., James') presumed consent to his mother's death.
The Catholics consider him illegitimate, because there was no dispensation given for the marriage of his father and mother, who were closely related ; (fn. 5) the son (James?) is also by many considered illegitimate, for reasons which would be difficult to sustain in a court of justice. This contention about the dispensation could only be used by a Catholic, as also could that which depends upon the King's heresy. Both of these points are so important in upsetting the king of Scotland's claim, that he (Olivares) looks upon them as the principal instrument for inducing heretics and politicians to admit that, for the advantage of everyone, it will be advisable to accept a Catholic, who will afford full toleration to them.
When once the fear is banished that, for the reasons set forth, a heretic may be chosen, it may happen that there are different Catholic candidates. This would be their ruin, because the king of Scotland would slip in between them. But in addition to the precautions that may be taken to avoid such a danger, the fact of your Majesty's leaving the selection freely to the Catholics will have a very good effect ; because as your Majesty will not have expressed yourself against any candidate you will be free to give great additional weight to the one you prefer, by the cession to him of your claims and the promise of help. The other will then clearly see that he has everything to lose, and will probably submit at once with proper recompense. He (Olivares) therefore does not greatly fear these objections, the worst aspect of the case being the present absence of preparation and the perplexity in which the matter now is.
The cost to your Majesty would be incomparably less, and the anxiety in the preparations in proportion. There would be less need for the employment of your forces, and less risk of loss of prestige ; the motive on the one hand being this greed for new dominions, even for the Infanta, and on the other magnanimity.
If it be possible to reconcile the Catholics with those who are not Catholics, or with the Queen's ministers (which in his, Olivares', opinion, should be the object aimed at, as the arrangement will be for after her death), they, being sure that they will not be injured, would at once endeavour to bring about peace with your Majesty ; and as a consequence of this it might be possible to make some arrangement for the recovery of the ports held by the Queen in the islands (Zeeland, &c).
If your Majesty approves of this course the utmost celerity should be exercised in taking the preliminary steps, and considering the best time and manner of making the proposal to the Catholics, who are so anxiously pressing for a decision. This will be necessary, in order that the evil-minded may not be able to attribute our action to weakness but rather to generosity, and that we may, under necessary conditions, make the offers of aid when the time arrives. It will also be well to consider whether we should claim gratitude at once for your Majesty's renunciation and promised aid, as others do ; and whether it will be advisable to enter into a formal arrangement with the Pope on such conditions as will not frighten them (i.e., the English). Other subjects will also have to be discussed and settled, such as what answer should be given to them if they broach the subject of marriage, as they have done before ; how the proposal should be made to the Pope, so as to impress him with your Majesty's generosity (in making the renunciation) solely for the sake of religion ; if it would be advisable that the Pope should represent the matter to the king of France as a favour he had obtained, or was trying to obtain from your Majesty, so as to bridle the king of France and lull his suspicions as much as possible. It will have to be decided what had better be done about the king of France's present offer to co-operate in favour of some neutral candidate ; whether he is to be trusted or whether he only seeks to join us for the purpose of upsetting your Majesty's plans. All these and other points will have to be dealt with instantly, as the great danger arises from delay, in case of the death of the Queen before we are fully prepared. If this should happen we should not only be confronted with the evils already set forth, but the Catholics, who have placed their trust in your Majesty, will be handed over to the hangman and religion will receive its death-blow, whilst Flanders' affairs would suffer proportionately.
It is true that some of these matters are not pressing, and time and circumstances may change, but still it is in the highest degree important that the whole plan, in all its details, should be settled beforehand, even if in some respects it may subsequently become necessary to vary it.
To judge from what Don Baltasar de Zuñiga has written recently there will be no longer any need to ask the Archduke his opinion upon the matter ; and if your Majesty decides to adopt the coarse now recommended, you might even inform the Archduke that your Majesty was principally moved thereto by his views.
27 Feb.
Estado, 840.
734. Report of the Council of State to Philip III. respecting the (gold) chains and swords for Ireland.
When Don Juan del Aguila went to Ireland with your Majesty's expedition his paymaster was entrusted with a gold chain of the value of 2,000 ducats ; and ten swords, which Don Juan was to distribute amongst the Catholic leaders. As events did not allow of his doing this, the chain and swords were brought back to Coruña, and it has occurred to the Council, in view of the going of Don Martin de la Cerda to Ireland, to suggest to your Majesty that count de Caracena might be requested to deliver the chain and swords to Don Martin, so that they might be distributed as your Majesty ordered, instructions being also sent to Don Martin to be guided in their distribution by the recommendations of the earls O'Neil and O'Donnell.
Note.—A long correspondence on the above subject, and on the present whereabouts of the chain and swords, precedes the aforegoing report. The King approved of the recommendation, and the presents were handed to Don Martin de la Cerda in accordance therewith.


  • 1. The duke of Parma, son of Alexander Farnese and Maria, princess of Portugal, had unquestionably a better right than Philip to the Portuguese throne.
  • 2. Catharine de Bourbon had been married, sorely against her will, on the 29th January, 1599, to the due do Bar, heir presumptive to Charles III., duke of Lorraine.
  • 3. On the death of Cardinal de Bourbon, the so-called Charles X., Philip was inclined to press the claims of his daughter, the Infanta Isabel, to the crown of France, or at least to the duchy of Brittany, by right of her mother, Elizabeth de Valois, eldest daughter of Henry II. and Catherine de Medici.
  • 4. The word was used in the sixteenth century in the sense of "Opportunist."
  • 5. Mary's father, James V., and Darnley's mother, Margaret, countess of Lennox, were, of course, half-brother and sister.