Spain was the superpower of the Early Modern Period, ruled by the house of Habsburg. During the reign of Philip II1 the Dutch revolt took place. The Dutch people had been heavily taxed for some time, and there was concern among the people about the harsh persecution of heresy in the Netherlands.

When the revolt started, the Duke of Alva, the leader of the "hawks" in Philip's Council of State and a great General, was sent to crush it mercilessly (much to the dismay of the "doves", led by the Prince of Eboli2). However, Philip's views on heresy were one of his defining characteristics:

"I would rather lose all my lands and a hundred lives if I had them because I do not propose to be a ruler over heretics"

Philip II, 1566.

The Governor-General of the Netherlands, Margaret of Parma, was not best pleased by the Duke of Alva. Ruthless in his treatment of the Dutch and rude and obnoxious in his treatment of herself, she was quickly alienated. Margaret resigned as Governor-General in 1567 and Alva appointed himself Governor-General of the Netherlands, a post Philip had never wished him to have.

As well as his piety, another characteristic of Philip was his paranoia at the power of others within his administration. His father, Charles V, had told him to rely on no-one but himself and never let one man gain too much influence. Shaken by recent events in the Netherlands and Alva's rise, Philip was quick to swing his support to the Prince of Eboli's faction. Alva was sacked in 1573.

Philip's problems were not over. In 1576 his illegitimate brother, Don John of Austria, became Governor-General of the Netherlands. Don John was ambitious and desired a Kingdom of his own, and Philip feared his popularity and image (Don John had won a huge victory at the Battle of Lepanto against the Ottoman Turks in 1571). Philip decided to send a spy to keep an eye on him.

When the Prince of Eboli died in 1573, Antonio Pérez became the leader of the "dove" faction in the Council of State. One of his proteges was Juan de Escobedo, convieniently secretary to Don John. Escobedo began to report back to Pérez on Don John's affairs, but Pérez was not honest in his reporting of this correspondence to Philip. He manipulated it for his own interests and against those of Don John - when Escobedo became suspicious of what was going on, he confessed all to Don John and became a double agent.

Don John sent Escobedo to Madrid on the pretext of getting more money, but also to find out what was going on. He arrived in 1578, and promptly accused Pérez of selling state secrets to Italian bankers, having an affair with the Princess of Eboli3 and modifying his correspondence. Having the ear of the King, Pérez was able to convince Philip that Escobedo was a threat to national security, and he was assassinated in the streets of Madrid.

There followed a huge scandal. Although we don't know why there was no inquiry, it is probable that had one taken place it would have implicated Philip II himself, and hence he blocked it. It was only when Philip read Don John's personal papers upon his death that he became aware of the truth - Pérez was a charlatan and Escobedo was innocent.

Now unable to turn to either faction (Alva having disgraced the hawks, Pérez the doves), Philip called for Cardinal Granvelle (an old advisor of his father's) to come and help him. On the eve of Granvelle's arrival in Madrid, Pérez was arrested along with the Princess. He admits to murder, but in 1590 escapes and flees to Aragon, where he later incites the Revolt of Aragon.

The Pérez affair illustrates all too plainly the problems of faction in government. Something as damaging as the Revolt of Aragon stemmed from the two rival camps in Philip's Council of State - camps he encouraged to keep his statesmen squabbling among themselves rather than clamouring for power - and their policy on the Dutch revolt. All of thus was ultimately a result of the size of Philip's monarquia - it was far too large for him to govern effectively, and the power he placed in the hands of people like Pérez was frequently abused.

1. At which point the monarquia covered Spain, the Netherlands, parts of Italy and territories in the New World.

2. The Eboli faction favoured limited force, concilliation with the Dutch and a personal visit by Philip to the territory - as such a journey would be long and arduous, not to mention unusual for Philip, it was thought this could help make considerable headway.

3. Who, despite having only one eye, was by all accounts described as beautiful.