The Empire of Habsburg Spain was, by 1618, a magnificent edifice in desperate need of wholesale structural repair. The king, Philip III, was indolent, leaving affairs of state to his favourite, the Duke of Lerma. Notoriously corrupt, Lerma bankrupted the economy through extravagance, debasement of the coinage, and expulsion of the industrious Moriscos (Muslim converts). He did, however, avoid military entanglements wherever possible, securing a truce (1609–21) in the long-running Dutch Wars. The imperial branch of the Habsburgs failed to clear even this modest bar. Rudolph II (1576–1612) populated his lair, the Hradschin castle in Prague, with exotic animals and alchemists. But he was also a patron of science and the arts. Emperor Ferdinand II (1619–37), a Catholic bigot, effectively precipitated the Protestant revolt that became the ruinous Thirty Years’ War. Habsburg Spain was inevitably drawn into the conflict, leading to the loss of its Dutch possessions and, eventually, Portugal.
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