.. e the Milanese governor, Crdoba, sent his troops to Monteferrat in March 1628. Olivares did not publicly endorse this move but he probably gave private encouragement to Crdoba. In doing so Olivares found he had provoked a French war against Spain in Italy. Elliott states that the Mantuan war was the biggest blunder in Olivares’ foreign policy.
It had major repercussions throughout Europe stirring up the old fears of Spanish aggression. Furthermore, having committed Spain to war with France over Mantua, he failed to keep the French Duke off the throne. Cordoba never managed to break the siege of Moteferrat, partly due to his tardiness; he did not begin the siege until five months after the Duke’s death. France made an attack on Savoy in February, and by March Duke Charles Emmanuel surrendered. Exactly one-year later France made a second invasion, taking the fortress of Pinerlo. Since Spinola died in September of the same year, Olivares knew that he had to negotiate with France.
The Treaty of Cherasco in June 1631 recognised Nevers as the Duke of Mantua, and granted France Pinerolo – a useful foothold in Italy. From this point it was clear that France and Spain would soon be at war again, and, as a consequence, the chance of any peace in Europe was lost. The war had cost 10 million ducats and gained nothing; it just put Richelieu in a much stronger position since one of the gates into France was more secure. Since Richelieu was planning the emancipation of France from Hapsburg encirclement, there was heavy expenditure in Italy and further subsidies to the Emperor, whose territorial gains were being made worthless by the Swedes – a ‘hired’ force acting in France’s interests. The financial crisis mounted in 1628, when there was a deficit of two million ducats in the year’s provisions. However the most visible economic downturn came in September when Piet Heyn captured the New Spain treasure fleet; the first time that a treasure fleet had fallen into foreign hands.
With the huge sum gained from this capture, the Dutch dropped any plans for peace and immediately embarked on an offensive. Frederick Henry, the Stadholder, whose army outmatched the Spanish Flanders army by two to one, made successful attacks both on Wesel in August (1629) and Bois-le-Duc in September. These attacks came at a time when Spain was concentrating on the Mantuan war, and due to the diversion of her resources, it seems that making a favourable peace with the Dutch was now out of the question. Therefore a new force headed by the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand was sent to settle the area and force a more favourable peace with the Dutch, following the death of the Archduchess Isabella in December 1633. For Olivares this was diplomacy by more forceful means.
The Cortes had voted 4 million ducats for the campaign and by September 1634 the Swedes were defeated at Nordlingen. Following this confidence boost, Olivares threw away the great opportunity to settle a favourable peace with the Dutch, and instead, he proposed to make further attacks. By doing so, he pushed the French into direct and open conflict in 1635. Olivares could not afford to push Spain into a war of attrition against France, simply because she did not have the resources. In 1635 France spent roughly 13-14 million ducats on the war effort while Olivares could barely raise 7.25 million.
Therefore a quick and decisive defeat of Richelieu’s forces was required. Olivares’ squandered peace with the Dutch in 1634, was very similar to the failure to make a very favourable peace with the French in 1637. To relieve the French pressure on Franche-Comt, Ferdinand, the Cardinal Infante, made a diversionary attack on France. This attack had much more effectiveness than originally planned, and a short deterrence attack turned into a full-scale invasion as France’s resistance deteriorated. By August 15, Corbie was taken and Paris was within Spain’s grasp.
When Richelieu offered a favourable peace settlement, Olivares was in no mindset to consider it. However the backing from the Empire, under Count Gallas, did not arrive in time, and Ferdinand simply did not have enough manpower to drive home an effective defeat. By November Corbie was re-captured. ‘The Count-Duke, on hearing the news, wanted only to lie down and die.’ However all hope of peace was not lost, and in March 1637 Richelieu was willing to discuss conditions for peace. It is probable that this was not due to any Spanish influence, but because Richelieu was facing conspiracy and popular unrest.
However the great distrust that emanated from both sides prevented any agreement, if anything they just wanted to disrupt each other’s alliances. Richelieu wanted a treaty maintaining the status quo, while Olivares had great ambitions for the following year, making it very difficult to commit to anything. Again one can witness Olivares’ overconfidence backfiring on him. Although Spain managed to thwart a French invasion into Catalonia; her military concentration was elsewhere and Frederick Henry inflicted a severe defeat by taking Breda in October 1637. Defeat would possibly have been avoidable if Olivares could have attained peace with at least one of his enemies, thus allowing him to concentrate on one target.
Due to the financial strain of war there was a desperate need to find new and more stable sources of revenue. Since the councils were becoming more obstructive, Olivares increasingly relied on the Juntas or sub-committees to aid his policymaking. In 1634 the Junta de Ejecacin effectively replaced the council of state as a policy making body. Within these Juntas Olivares placed able and loyal men who were responsible for implementing various new taxes. For example there was a new salt tax in 1631; in 1635 the juros was attacked. This was the annual interest that was paid off on loans.
For all the juros held by natives, half of the yield was confiscated, while for any foreign juros the entire yield was taken. This method was continually employed throughout the following years. In 1637 all legal or official documents had to be written on a stamped paper, which was taxed. In the same year 487,000 ducats of American silver was seized and in compensation juros were distributed. There was a great deal of office selling, and a return to feudal dues, where the nobles were expected to provide men and their arms. Early on, it seems that Olivares’ schemes worked very well in the short run.
In 1634, Hopton, the British ambassador, stated that the Spanish crown’s revenue had doubled over the past four years. However the practicality of Olivares’ policies was beginning to wane, since there was a limit as to how far one could keep draining the resources of the nobility. Though he was very effective at squeezing money out of Castile, there was fast coming a time when it would be squeezed dry. Many of his measures, such as the mass office selling, were only successful in the short-term. Therefore a steadier source of income was required. For Olivares, the only conceivable way of doing this was by making a more concerted effort to make the Union of Arms work.
Following various successes in France and Germany, the war was rapidly degenerating again with the loss of Breda 1637 and Breisach in December 1638. The loss of Breisach meant that the Spanish road was severed and the only way to get reinforcements in to the Spanish Netherlands was by sea. In October 1639, Tromp, the Dutch admiral, defeated the fleet of Don Antonio de Oquendo, at the Battle of the Downs. This took out Spain’s naval capability in one blow. Furthermore control of Brazil was lost to the Dutch after a joint Portuguese and Spanish effort failed in 1638. From all these events Olivares felt that all of his gargantuan efforts were doomed to failure.
His contempt for the nobility was clear. He felt there was a distinct lack of leadership from any of the nobles, despite his efforts to train men in the Imperial College of Madrid. It was this lack of leadership that pushed Olivares to look for peace in 1640. However this was to be difficult since Richelieu was unlikely to make any reasonable agreement, while France was in a stronger position than Spain. However the war effort simply could not go on, since Castile was drained of men and resources, as well as the economic situation being grave. Due to the seizing of silver, the trade between Seville and America had collapsed, as merchants had lost confidence.
This last source of income was now crushed and the principle foundations of Spain were slipping away. To make the Union work, the kingdoms of Portugal and Catalonia would have to pull their weight a great deal more, due to their increasing reluctance to grant economic and military assistance to the king. However, Olivares would need to alter the constitutions of both the kingdoms; this would be especially hard within Catalonia. It seems that Portugal held the best scope for manoeuvre, and in 1634 Princess Margaret of Savoy became governess of Portugal. Through Margaret, Olivares hoped both to quench the lamentations of Royal neglect and achieve greater control over Portugal, by infiltrating the government with Castilians disguised as advisers. Unfortunately for Olivares, the Portuguese immediately saw through the ‘advisor’ scheme, leading to constant argument within the government.
The populace had never favoured the union with Castile, and although the taxes were going towards the defence of her possessions in Brazil, it did nothing to reconcile the population. In 1637 the aristocracy still felt isolated from the Crown, and minor riots broke out. Although these came to little, they were an ominous indication of the potential for revolt. When France declared war upon Spain in 1635, Catalonia was in a strong bargaining position, since her eastern border was with France, thus opening the possibility of co-operation with France. Olivares decided to challenge the Catalans head on by using their boarder in the war against France, bringing Catalonia in to the war whether she liked it or not. Therefore he hoped to force Catalonia in the Union by more covert means, because all prior attempts for direct action had failed.
However Olivares’ plan backfired, seemingly because he failed to recognise the deep hatred of Madrid, the viceroy and all royalty among the Catalan people. Following the failure of a six-month siege against the French at Salses, Olivares was furious and ordered the royal ministers of the principality to ignore the Catalan constitution since defence of the realm outweighed it. This confirmed to many Catalans, the suspicions of Olivares’ ultimate motives – the Castilianisation of Catalonia. Hence the people became more and more reluctant to stop the French. The fundamental agitators for revolt were the Catalan clergy, lead by Pau Claris, who appealed to the peasants to hold fast to Catalonia’s historic liberties.
In February, Olivares planned to meet with the Cortes of Catalonia to discuss the Union, with the shadow of the army backing him. However the Cortes never met and between February and March 1640, the Catalonians clashed with the army. The pace of the revolt increased as prisoners were taken, notably Tamarit, a colleague of Claris. It was only on learning that Claris had been freed and Barcelona had been marched on, that Olivares woke up to the fact that he was facing a large-scale rebellion. From that point he reversed his policies and on the 27th May, he ordered steps to be taken to re-conciliate the Catalans. However his actions were just too late and a riot on 7th June, put the diputcio in control following the brutal murder of the Count of Santa Coloma.
Meanwhile the events within Catalonia had severe repercussions on Portugal leading to a revolt on 1st December 1640, when the Duke of Braganza was proclaimed King John IV. Olivares, seeing that total anarchy was a close possibility, looked to make peace with the Dutch and the Catalans. However the Catalans were not interested since Spain’s troops were still advancing towards Barcelona. On 23rd January, it was stated that Catalonia was allied to the King of France. Immediately French forces aided the rebels and the Spanish army under Los Velez, was thwarted at Montjuich.
This defeat set the seal of the 1640 disasters. Following years of neglect and exploitation the economy and political system were now in a state of disintegration. Although the process of disintegration had begun before Olivares, he can be seen to undermine the Castilian economy and furthermore cause the implosion of the American economy. Montjuich spelled the end for Olivares, although he made superhuman attempts to raise more men to form an army. However the opposition to him was too strong. He was hated as a tyrant in Castile, and even nobles within his family were plotting against him.
Philip IV was very reluctant to part with his valido since he had brought him up from birth. However Olivares’ worsening of the economy through his meddling with the vellon currency, and failure to prevent the French from taking Rousillon in September displayed that he was simply incompetent. The Count of Castrillo was working in Madrid to undermine the valido’s position, and on Olivares’ return it was made clear that his time in office was limited. On 17th January 1643 the decision was taken to give Olivares his leave, and on 23rd January he left for exile following twenty years in Madrid under his king. A statesman whose capacity for conceiving great designs was weakened only by his consistent incapacity in carrying them through to a successful conclusion.