Imprudent King A New Life of Philip II Geoffrey Parker

Publication date:
23 Oct 2014
Yale University Press
456 pages: 235 x 156 x 40mm
32 col. illus. & 14 figs.


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A vast archive of documents, unread since the sixteenth century, revises the portrait of Spain’s best-known king

Philip II is not only the most famous king in Spanish history, but one of the most famous monarchs in English history: the man who married Mary Tudor and later launched the Spanish Armada against her sister Elizabeth I. This compelling biography of the most powerful European monarch of his day begins with his conception (1526) and ends with his ascent to Paradise (1603), two occurrences surprisingly well documented by contemporaries. Eminent historian Geoffrey Parker draws on four decades of research on Philip as well as a recent, extraordinary archival discovery—a trove of 3,000 documents in the vaults of the Hispanic Society of America in New York City, unread since crossing Philip’s own desk more than four centuries ago. Many of them change significantly what we know about the king.
The book examines Philip’s long apprenticeship; his three principal interests (work, play, and religion); and the major political, military, and personal challenges he faced during his long reign. Parker offers fresh insights into the causes of Philip’s leadership failures: was his empire simply too big to manage, or would a monarch with different talents and temperament have fared better?

Geoffrey Parker is Andreas Dorpalen Professor of European History and an Associate of the Mershon Center at The Ohio State University. He has published widely on the social, political and military history of early modern Europe, and in 2012 the Royal Dutch Academy recognized these achievements by awarding him its biennial Heineken Foundation Prize for History, open to scholars in any field, and any period, from any country.

Parker has written or co-written thirty-nine books, including The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 (Cambridge University Press, 1988), winner of the 'best book prize' from both the American Military Institute and the Society for the History of Technology; The Grand Strategy of Philip II (Yale University Press, 1998), which won the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize from the Society of Military History; and Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (Yale University Press, 2013), which won the Society of Military History’s Distinguished Book Prize and also one of the three medals awarded in 2014 by the British Academy for ‘a landmark academic achievement… which has transformed understanding of a particular subject’.

Before moving to Ohio State in 1997, Parker taught at Cambridge and St Andrews universities in Britain, at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and at Illinois and Yale Universities in the United States, teaching courses on the Reformation, European history and military history at both undergraduate and graduate levels. He has directed or co-directed over thirty Doctoral Dissertations to completion, as well as several undergraduate theses. In 2006 he won an OSU Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award.

He lives in Columbus, Ohio, and has four children. In 1987 he was diagnosed as having Multiple Sclerosis. His latest book is Imprudent King: A New Life of Philip II(Yale University Press, 2014).

'There is no Anglophone historian who knows more about Philip II than Geoffrey Parker. In this soaring biography, which draws on a cache of recently discovered documents as well as the enormous back catalogue of archival deposits, he paints a compelling, even-handed portrait of the most powerful man in 16th-century Europe. Parker informs us that Philip's handwriting is hard to read. It is no easier to decipher his legacy. It seems that he didn't kill his son Don Carlos (whatever the Verdi opera tries to tell you) but he was not averse to removing other obstacles. He continues to fascinate -- if you are in the market for a nuanced study bolstered by a lifetime of study, Parker is your man and this is, for me, the historical biography of the year.' – Jonathan Wright, The Herald (Scotland)

'The first global empire, a master historian, and a wealth of new archival documents provide the essential elements for this terrific biography of Philip II as both stateman and man. Parker has brought Philip to life and, with him, the challenges of ruling an early modern empire'. – Stuart Schwartz, author of All Can Be Saved: Religious Tolerance and Salvation in the Iberian Atlantic World