PHILIP V OF SPAIN: The King Who Reigned Twice

Henry Arthur Francis Kamen, Author PHILIP V OF SPAIN: The King Who Reigned Twice $29.95 (277p) ISBN 978-0-300-08718-5

Sometimes imagining himself a frog, and repeatedly believing himself to be dead, Philip V, the first Bourbon on the throne of Spain, has been a risible figure for many historians. For others, Philip, who ruled from 1700 to 1746, was a despicable absolutist who too briefly abdicated the throne in 1724, or a weak man easily dominated by his Italian-born second wife, Elizabeth Farnese. But Kamen, a historian of the early modern era with the Higher Council for Scientific Research in Barcelona, has made his career destroying established scholarship. In The Spanish Inquisition (1998), he undercut the "Black Legend" of Spanish brutality and intolerance, placing the holy tribunal in a more realistic historical context. Here, he argues that Philip in fact helped ensure the economic, political and cultural revival of his adopted country, that he was entirely uninterested in absolutist power and that the salacious accusations regarding his sexual appetite are without foundation. Although he postures this scholarly work as a personal biography of Philip V and not a historical review of the king's reign, Kamen's rehabilitation is sometimes excessive: for instance, his claim that, under Philip, "Spain awoke to adequate food supplies" is undermined by his own admission that royal policies aggravated the problem of poverty. Moreover, the author admits that the cultural advancements (with a Parisian influence) that the king encouraged had little effect beyond the court and that Philip's manic depression quite clearly had a crippling effect on his capacity to govern. Still, this remains a humane work, as well as a provocative one, notably in its treatment of Elizabeth, whose apparently authoritarian behavior was, Kamen suggests, simply the result of a loyal decision to act decisively on behalf of her beloved but incapacitated husband. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/09/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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