Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, duke of Alba, is best known in the English speaking world for his role early in the Dutch Revolt, where his harsh rule played a part in the development of the 'Black Legend' of Spanish cruelty. As this multi-author work proves Alba was a much more complex figure than that. He was a important member of the courts of Charles V and Philip II (although not always an entirely trusted one, spending several periods in voluntary exile on his estates when he felt he had been slighted, while Charles V advised his son to be careful of Alba's ambition). He held high command in Italy, where he brought a difficult war against the Pope to a fairly satisfactory conclusion, leading the Spanish conquest of Portugal, fought against the Protestant powers in the Holy Roman Empire. He was considered as one of the best military leaders of his period and was also an important (if not always successful diplomat), and a major patron of the arts.
This book is split into three sections. The first part is thematic, looking at Alba the diplomat, the soldier, the patron of arts, his religious views and his art. The second part in geographical, looking at his actions in the Holy Roman Empire, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. Part three looks at his later reputation: how he was seen in Spain; in the Low Countries (both the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands); and in his first published biography.
There quickly developed two very different versions of Alba. In Spain he was remembered as a loyal, capable, dedicated servant of the crown, and an example that should be followed by the aristocracy during Spain's long decline. In the Dutch Republic he was the cruel tyrant, remembered for executing local leaders or devastating towns, and used as a one of the great villains of Dutch history. Here the development and validity of both traditions are examined,
Here we get a more rounded view of Alba, who emerges as a valuable, ambitious and sometimes temperamental supporter of the Spanish Habsburgs, not always in favour at court, but called back in times of crisis. At the heart of most of his political actions was a belief that people owed loyalty to their legitimate monarch, and shouldn't expect to bargain with them. This includes the many charters of privileges that had been granted to communities in the Low Countries, which Alba seems to have believed got in the way of good government. There is also a feeling that Abla was somewhat unfortunate - his time in the Netherlands came late in his career, and was only meant to have been a short-term appointment. He was to wield the 'stick', and quickly be followed by Philip II in person, who would offer the 'carrot' in the form of a general pardon. When Philip decided not to come after all, Alba was left to continue with the stick. Again, in Portugal, he found himself stuck between the need for a military campaign and Philip's desire to avoid the appearance of a conquest.
This is a very high quality collection of work, giving us a up-to-date view of this complex and powerful figure, and with him a look at Spain at the height of her power.
1 - Alba: Statesman and Diploment, Henry Kamen
2 - Alba Cunctator?, René Quatrefages
3 - The Duke of Alba in the Court of Charles V and Philip II, José Martinez Millán
4 - The Duke of Alba: Governor of the Netherlands in Time of War, Gustaaf Janssens
5 - Alba and Religion, Werner Thomas
6 - The Manifestation of His Magnificence: The Third Duke of Alba and the Arts, Rosemarie Mulcahy
7 - The Third Duke of Alba: Collector and Patron of the Arts, Almudena Pérez de Tudela
8 - Government and Administration of the House of Alba in the Sixteenth Century, José Manuel Calderón Ortega
9 - The Duke of Alba in the Holy Roman Empire, Friedrich Edelmayer
10 - Il Capo dei Capi: The Duke of Alba in Italy, M.J. Rodriguez-Salgado
11 - The Duke of Alba and the Low Countries, 1520-73, Raymond Fagel
12 - Alba in Portugal: Conquest and Government, 1580-82, Rafael Valladares
13 - Alba's Reputation in the Early Modern Low Countries, Judith Pollmann and Monica Stensland
14 - Salamander of War, Venerable Old Nobleman: The Literary Construction of the Duke of Alba in the Spanish Golden Age, Yolanda Rodriguez Pérez
15 - Alba' First Biographer: Juan Antonio de Vera y Figueroa, Count of La Roca, 1583-1658, Maurits Ebbe
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