17 January 1917

The USA paid Denmark $25 million for the Virgin Islands.

The Danish West Indies or Danish Antilles was a Danish colony in the Caribbean, consisting of the islands of Saint Thomas with 32 square miles; Saint John with 19 square miles; and Saint Croix with 84 square miles. The Danish West India Guinea Company annexed the uninhabited island of Saint Thomas in 1672 and St. John in 1675. In 1733, Saint Croix was purchased from the French West India Company. When the Danish company went bankrupt in 1755, the King of Denmark–Norway assumed direct control of the three islands. Britain occupied the Danish West Indies in 1801–02 and 1807–15, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Danish colonizers in the West Indies aimed to exploit the profitable triangular trade, involving the export of firearms and other manufactured goods to Africa in exchange for slaves who were then transported to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations. The final stage of the triangle involved the export of cargos of sugar and rum to Denmark. The economy of the Danish West Indies depended on slavery. After a rebellion, slavery was officially abolished in 1848, leading to the near economic collapse of the plantations.

In 1852 the Danish parliament first debated the sale of the increasingly unprofitable colony. Denmark tried several times to sell or exchange the Danish West Indies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: to the United States and to the German Empire respectively. The islands were eventually sold for 25 million dollars to the United States, which took over the administration on 31 March 1917, renaming the islands the United States Virgin Islands.

Merchants in Copenhagen asked King Christian IV for permission to establish a West Indian trading company in 1622, but by the time an eight-year monopoly on trade with the West Indies, Virginia, Brazil, and Guinea was granted on 25 January 1625, the failure of the Danish East India and Iceland Companies and the beginning of Danish involvement in the Thirty Years’ War dried up any interest in the idea. Prince Frederick organized a trading mission to Barbados in 1647 under Gabriel Gomez and the de Casseres brothers, but it and a 1651 expedition of two ships were unsuccessful. It was not until Erik Smit’s private 1652 expedition aboard the Fortuna was successful that interest in the West Indies’ trade grew into an interest in the creation of a new Danish colony.

Smit’s 1653 expedition and a separate expedition of five ships were quite successful, but Smit’s third found his two vessels captured for a loss of 32,000 rigsdaler. In August two years later, a Danish flotilla was destroyed by a hurricane. Smit returned from his fourth expedition in 1663 and formally proposed the settlement of St. Thomas to the king in April 1665. After only three weeks’ deliberation, the scheme was approved and Smit was named governor. Settlers departed aboard the Eendragt on 1 July, but the expedition was ill-starred: the ship hit two large storms and suffered from fire before reaching its destination, and then it was raided by English privateers prosecuting the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Smit died of illness, and a second band of privateers stole the ship and used it to trade with neighboring islands. Following a hurricane and a renewed outbreak of disease, the colony collapsed, with the English departing for the nearby French colony on Sainte-Croix, the Danes fleeing to Saint Christopher, and the Dutch assisting their countrymen on Ter Tholen in stealing everything of value, particularly the remaining Danish guns and ammunition.

Christiansted, the main town of St. Croix in the former Danish West Indies
The Danes formed a Board of Trade in 1668 and secured a commercial treaty with Britain, providing for the unmolested settlement of uninhabited islands, in July 1670. The Danish West India Company was organized in December and formally chartered by King Christian V the next year on March 11, 1671. Jørgen Iversen Dyppel, a successful trader on Saint Christopher, was made governor and the king provided convicts from his jails and two vessels for the establishment of the colony, the yacht Den forgyldte Krone and the frigate Færøe. Den forgyldte Krone was ordered to run ahead and wait but ended up returning to Denmark after the Færøe under Capt. Zacharias Hansen Bang was delayed for repairs in Bergen. The Færøe completed her mission alone, establishing a settlement on St. Thomas on May 25, 1672. From an original contingent of 190 – 12 officials, 116 company “employees”, and 62 felons and former prostitutes – only 104 remained, 9 having escaped and 77 having died in transit. Another 75 died within the first year, leaving only 29 to carry on the colony.

In 1675, Iversen claimed St. John and placed two men there; in 1684, Governor Esmit granted it to two English merchants from Barbados but their men were chased off the island by two British sloops sent by Governor Stapleton of the British Leeward Islands. Further instructions in 1688 to establish a settlement on St. John seem not to have been acted on until Governor Bredal made an official establishment on March 25, 1718.

The islands quickly became a base for pirates attacking ships in the vicinity and also for the Brandenburg African Company. Governor Lorentz raised enormous taxes upon them and seized warehouses and cargoes of tobacco, sugar, and slaves in 1689 only to have his actions repudiated by the authorities in Copenhagen; his hasty action to seize Crab Island prohibited the Brandenburgers from establishing their own Caribbean colony, however. Possession of the island was subsequently disputed with the Scottish in 1698 and fully lost to the Spanish in 1811.

St. Croix was purchased from the French West Indies Company in 1733. In 1754, the islands were sold to the Danish king, Frederick V of Denmark, becoming royal Danish colonies.

The first British invasion and occupation of the Danish West Indies occurred during the French Revolutionary Wars when at the end of March 1801 a British fleet arrived at St Thomas. The Danes accepted the Articles of Capitulation the British proposed and the British occupied the islands without a shot being fired. The British occupation lasted until April 1802, when the British returned the islands to Denmark.

The second British invasion of the Danish West Indies took place during the Napoleonic Wars in December 1807 when a British fleet captured St Thomas on 22 December and Saint Croix on 25 December. The Danes did not resist and the invasion was bloodless. This British occupation of the Danish West Indies lasted until 20 November 1815, when Britain returned the islands to Denmark.

By the 1850s the Danish West Indies had a total population of about 41,000 people. The government of the islands were under a governor-general, whose jurisdiction extended to the other Danish colonies of the group. However, because the islands formerly belonged to Great Britain the inhabitants were English in customs and in language. The islands of that period consisted of:

Merchants in Copenhagen asked King Christian IV for permission to establish a West Indian trading company in 1622, but by the time an eight-year monopoly on trade with the West Indies, Virginia, Brazil, and Guinea was granted on 25 January 1625, the failure of the Danish East India and Iceland Companies and the beginning of Danish involvement in the Thirty Years’ War dried up any interest in the idea. Prince Frederick organized a trading mission to Barbados in 1647 under Gabriel Gomez and the de Casseres brothers, but it and a 1651 expedition of two ships were unsuccessful. It was not until Erik Smit’s private 1652 expedition aboard the Fortuna was successful that interest in the West Indies’ trade grew into an interest in the creation of a new Danish colony.

Smit’s 1653 expedition and a separate expedition of five ships were quite successful, but Smit’s third found his two vessels captured for a loss of 32,000 rigsdaler. In August two years later, a Danish flotilla was destroyed by a hurricane. Smit returned from his fourth expedition in 1663 and formally proposed the settlement of St. Thomas to the king in April 1665. After only three weeks’ deliberation, the scheme was approved and Smit was named governor. Settlers departed aboard the Eendragt on 1 July, but the expedition was ill-starred: the ship hit two large storms and suffered from fire before reaching its destination, and then it was raided by English privateers prosecuting the Second Anglo-Dutch War. Smit died of illness, and a second band of privateers stole the ship and used it to trade with neighboring islands. Following a hurricane and a renewed outbreak of disease, the colony collapsed, with the English departing for the nearby French colony on Sainte-Croix, the Danes fleeing to Saint Christopher, and the Dutch assisting their countrymen on Ter Tholen in stealing everything of value, particularly the remaining Danish guns and ammunition.

Christiansted, the main town of St. Croix in the former Danish West Indies
The Danes formed a Board of Trade in 1668 and secured a commercial treaty with Britain, providing for the unmolested settlement of uninhabited islands, in July 1670. The Danish West India Company was organized in December and formally chartered by King Christian V the next year on March 11, 1671. Jørgen Iversen Dyppel, a successful trader on Saint Christopher, was made governor and the king provided convicts from his jails and two vessels for the establishment of the colony, the yacht Den forgyldte Krone and the frigate Færøe. Den forgyldte Krone was ordered to run ahead and wait but ended up returning to Denmark after the Færøe under Capt. Zacharias Hansen Bang was delayed for repairs in Bergen. The Færøe completed her mission alone, establishing a settlement on St. Thomas on May 25, 1672. From an original contingent of 190 – 12 officials, 116 company “employees”, and 62 felons and former prostitutes – only 104 remained, 9 having escaped and 77 having died in transit. Another 75 died within the first year, leaving only 29 to carry on the colony.

In 1675, Iversen claimed St. John and placed two men there; in 1684, Governor Esmit granted it to two English merchants from Barbados but their men were chased off the island by two British sloops sent by Governor Stapleton of the British Leeward Islands. Further instructions in 1688 to establish a settlement on St. John seem not to have been acted on until Governor Bredal made an official establishment on March 25, 1718.

The islands quickly became a base for pirates attacking ships in the vicinity and also for the Brandenburg African Company. Governor Lorentz raised enormous taxes upon them and seized warehouses and cargoes of tobacco, sugar, and slaves in 1689 only to have his actions repudiated by the authorities in Copenhagen; his hasty action to seize Crab Island prohibited the Brandenburgers from establishing their own Caribbean colony, however. Possession of the island was subsequently disputed with the Scottish in 1698 and fully lost to the Spanish in 1811.

St. Croix was purchased from the French West Indies Company in 1733. In 1754, the islands were sold to the Danish king, Frederick V of Denmark, becoming royal Danish colonies.

The first British invasion and occupation of the Danish West Indies occurred during the French Revolutionary Wars when at the end of March 1801 a British fleet arrived at St Thomas. The Danes accepted the Articles of Capitulation the British proposed and the British occupied the islands without a shot being fired. The British occupation lasted until April 1802, when the British returned the islands to Denmark.

The second British invasion of the Danish West Indies took place during the Napoleonic Wars in December 1807 when a British fleet captured St Thomas on 22 December and Saint Croix on 25 December. The Danes did not resist and the invasion was bloodless. This British occupation of the Danish West Indies lasted until 20 November 1815, when Britain returned the islands to Denmark.

By the 1850s the Danish West Indies had a total population of about 41,000 people. The government of the islands were under a governor-general, whose jurisdiction extended to the other Danish colonies of the group. However, because the islands formerly belonged to Great Britain the inhabitants were English in customs and in language. The islands of that period consisted of:

St. Thomas had a population of 12,800 people and had sugar and cotton as its chief exports. St. Thomas city was the capital of the island, then a free port, and the chief station of the steam-packets between Southampton, in England, and the West Indies.

St. John had a population of about 2,600 people.

St. Croix, though inferior to St. Thomas in commerce, was of greater importance in extent and fertility, and, with 25,600 people, was the largest in terms of population.

On 17 January 1917, according to the Treaty of the Danish West Indies, the Danish government sold the islands to the United States for $25 million, when the United States and Denmark exchanged their respective treaty ratifications. Danish administration ended on 31 March 1917, when the United States took formal possession of the territory and renamed it the United States Virgin Islands.

The United States had been interested in the islands since at least the 1860s. The United States finally acted in 1917 because of the islands’ strategic position near the approach to the Panama Canal and because of a fear that Germany might seize them to use as U-boat bases during World War I.

The Danish West Indies were inhabited by many different cultures, and each had its own traditions and religions. The king and the church worked closely together to maintain law and order; the church was responsible for people’s moral upbringing, and the King led the civil order. There was no state-sponsored religion in Denmark until 1849, but in the Danish West Indies there had always been a great deal of religious freedom. Danish authorities tended to be lenient towards religious beliefs, but required that all citizens had to observe Danish holidays. Freedom of religion was partially granted to help settle the islands, as there was a shortage of willing settlers from Europe. This worked to an extent, seeing that a large proportion of settlers were in fact Dutch and British natives fleeing religious persecution.

Jews began settling the colony in 1655, and by 1796 the first synagogue was inaugurated. In its heyday in the mid-19th century, the Jewish community made up half of the white population. One of the earliest colonial governors, Gabriel Milan, was a Sephardic Jew.

In spite of a general tolerance for religion, many African religions were not recognized because they typically revolved around belief in animism and magic, beliefs which were consistently met with scorn, and were regarded as immoral and subservient. A widespread viewpoint was that if you could convert slaves to Christianity, they could have a better life, and therefore many slaves were converted.

By 1900, with a population of 30,000, a fourth of the people were Roman Catholics, along with Anglicans, and some Moravians and other Protestant groups. For decades the Moravians had organized missions and also taken charge of the educational system.

Laws and regulations in the Danish West Indies were based on Denmark’s laws, but the local government was allowed to adapt them to match local conditions. For example, things like animals, land, and buildings were regulated according to Danish law, but Danish law did not regulate slavery. Slaves were treated as common property, and therefore did not necessitate specific laws.

The Høgensborg estate on Sankt Croix, 1833
In 1733, differentiation between slaves and other property was implied by a regulation that stated that slaves had their own will and thus could behave inappropriately or be disobedient.[not in citation given] The regulation also stated that the authorities were to punish slaves for participating in illegal activity, but many owners punished slaves on their own. There was a general consensus that if the slaves were punished too hard or were malnourished, the slaves would start to rebel. This was borne out by the 1733 slave insurrection on St. John where many plantation owners and their families were killed by the Akwamu, including Breffu, before it was suppressed later the following year. In 1755 Frederick V of Denmark issued more new Regulations, in which slaves were guaranteed the right not to be separated from their children and the right to medical support during periods of illness or old age. However, the colonial government had the ability to amend laws and regulations according to local conditions, and thus the regulations were never enacted in the colony, on grounds that it was more disadvantageous than advantageous.

By 1778, it was estimated that the Danes were bringing about 3,000 Africans to the Danish West Indies yearly for enslavement. These transports continued until the end of 1802 when a law by Crown Prince Regent Frederik that banned the trade of slaves came into effect.

When Denmark abolished slavery in 1848, many plantation owners wanted full reimbursement on the grounds that their assets were damaged by the loss of the slaves, and by the fact that they would have to pay for labor in the future. The Danish government paid fifty dollars for every slave the plantation owners had owned and recognized that the slaves’ release had caused a financial loss for the owners. However, the lives of the former slaves changed very little. Most were simply hired at the plantations where they had previously worked and were offered one-year contracts, a small hut, a little land and some money as part of a sharecropping system. However, as employees, former slaves were not the plantation owners’ responsibility and did not receive food or care from their employers.

16 January 1556

Philip II is crowned King of Spain.

Philip II SpanishFelipe II de HabsburgoPortugueseFilipe I  May 21, 1527 – September 13, 1598 was the first official King of Spain from 1556 until 1598, king of Naples and Sicily from 1554 until 1598, King of England  from 1554 to 1558, King of Portugal and the Algarves  from 1580 until 1598 and King of Chile from 1554 until 1556. He was born at Valladolid and was the only legitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

The Estates General of the seven United Provinces passed an Oath of Abjuration of the Spanish king, who was also Sovereign of the Netherlands, in 1581 following the Union of Utrecht of 1579. It should be noted that the Netherlands were at this time a personal union under King Philip as he was lord of each separate Dutch Province. The rebel leader, William I, Prince of Orange was outlawed by Philip, and assassinated in 1584 by a Catholic fanatic after Philip had offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who killed William the Silent, calling him a ‘pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of the human race’. Nevertheless, the Dutch forces continued to fight on, and increasingly used their substantial naval resources to plunder Spanish ships and blockade the Spanish-controlled southern provinces.

Aside from draining state revenues for failed overseas adventurism, the domestic policies of Philip II further burdened Spain, that would, in the following century, contribute to its decline. For one, far too much power was concentrated in Philip’s hands. Unlike England, Spain was subject to separate assemblies: the Cortes in Castile along with the assembly in Navarre and three for each of the three regions of Aragon, each of which jealously guarded their traditional rights and laws inherited from the time they were separate kingdoms. This made Spain and its possessions cumbersome to rule. While France was divided by regional states, it had a single Estates-General. The lack of a viable supreme assembly would lead to a great deal of power being concentrated in Philip’s hands, but this was made necessary by the constant conflict between different authorities that required his direct intervention as the final arbiter. To deal with the difficulties arising from this situation authority was administered by local agents appointed by the crown and viceroys carried out instructions of the crown. Philip, a compulsive micro-manager, presided over specialized councils for state affairs, finance, war, and the Inquisition. A distrustful sovereign, Philip played royal bureaucrats against each other, leading to a system of checks and balances that would manage state affairs in a very inefficient manner, sometimes damaging state business. Calls to move capital to Lisbon from the Castilian stronghold of Madrid — the new capital Philip established following the move from Valladolid — could have perhaps lead to a degree of decentralization, but Philip adamantly opposed such efforts.

Philip’s regime severely neglected farming in favour of sheep ranching, thus forcing Spain to import large amounts of grain and other foods by the mid-1560s. Presiding over a sharply divided conservative class structure, the Church and the upper classes were exempt from taxation while the tax burden fell disproportionately on the classes engaged in trade, commerce, and industry.

Due to the inefficiencies of the Spanish state structure, industry was also greatly over-burdened by government regulations, though this was the common defect of all governments of the times. The dispersal of the Moriscos from Granada had serious negative economic effects, particularly in the region it affected.

Inflation throughout Europe in the sixteenth century was a broad and complex phenomenon, but the flood of bullion from Americas was the main cause of it in Spain. Under Philip’s reign, Spain saw a fivefold increase in prices. Due to inflation and a high tax burden for Spanish manufacturers and merchants Spanish industry was harmed and Spain’s riches were frittered away on imported manufactured goods by an opulent, status-obsessed aristocracy and Philip’s wars. Increasingly the country became dependent on the revenues flowing in from the mercantile empire in the Americas, leading to Spain’s first bankruptcy in 1557 due to the rising costs of military efforts. Dependent on sales taxes from Castile and the Netherlands, Spain’s tax base, which excluded the nobility and the wealthy church, had far too narrow a base to support Philip’s grand plans. Philip became increasingly dependent on loans from foreign bankers, particularly in Genoa and Augsburg. By the end of his reign, interest payments on these loans alone would account for 40% of state revenue.

 

Philip became King of Portugal, and the success of colonization in America improved his financial position, enabling him to show greater aggression towards his enemies. In 1580, the direct line of the Portuguese royal family ended when Sebastian of Portugal died following a disastrous campaign in Morocco. His death gave Philip, his uncle, the pretext for claiming the throne through his mother, who was also a Portuguese princess. As a matter of fact, Philip had been brought up by Portuguese courtesans during his early life and spoke Portuguese as his native tongue until the death of his mother. He met little resistance in Lisbon, and his power helped him to seize the throne, which would be kept a personal union for sixty years. Philip famously remarked upon his acquisition of the Portuguese throne: “I inherited, I bought, I conquered”, a variation on Julius Caesar and Veni, Vidi, Vici. Thus, Philip added to his possessions a vast colonial empire in AfricaBrazil, and the East Indies, seeing a flood of new revenues coming to the Habsburg crown. In the ruling of Portugal however, Philip showed tact, trimming his beard and wearing clothes in the Portuguese style, and ruling from Lisbon for the next couple of years, leaving Portuguese privileges and forals alone.

 

In the early part of his reign, Philip was concerned with the rising power of the Ottoman Empire under Suleyman the Magnificent. Fear of Islamic domination in the Mediterranean caused him to pursue an aggressive foreign policy.

In 1558 Turkish admiral Piyale Pasha captured the Balearic Islands, especially inflicting great damage on Minorca and enslaving many, while raiding the coasts of the Spanish mainland. Philip appealed to the Pope and other powers in Europe to bring an end to the rising Ottoman threat. Since his father’s losses against the Ottomans and against Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha in 1541, the major European sea powers in the Mediterranean, namely Spain and Venice, became hesitant in confronting the Ottomans. The myth of “Turkish invincibility” was becoming a popular story, causing fear and panic among the people.

In 1560 Philip II organized a Holy League between Spain and the Republic of Venice, the Republic of Genoa, the Papal States, the Duchy of Savoy and the Knights of Malta. The joint fleet was assembled at Messina and consisted of 200 ships and 30,000 soldiers under the command of Giovanni Andrea Doria, nephew of the famous Genoese admiral Andrea Doria who had lost three major battles against the Turks in 1538, 1541 and 1552.

On March 12, 1560, the Holy League captured the island of Djerba which had a strategic location and could control the sea routes between Algiers and Tripoli. As a response, Suleiman the Magnificent sent an Ottoman fleet of 120 ships under the command of Piyale Pasha, which arrived at Djerba on May 9, 1560. The battle lasted until May 14, 1560, and the forces of Piyale Pasha and Turgut Reis had an overwhelming victory at the Battle of Djerba. The Holy League lost more than 60 galleys and 20,000 men, and Giovanni Andrea Doria could barely escape with a small vessel. The Ottomans retook the Fortress of Djerba, whose Spanish commander, D. Alvaro de Sande, attempted to escape with a ship but was followed and eventually captured by Turgut Reis. In 1596 Ottoman forces took control of Tunis that had been nominally a Spanish protectorate since its conquest by Charles I in 1535 at the behest of Mulay Hassan.

The grave threat posed by the increasing Ottoman domination of the Mediterranean was reversed in one of history’s most decisive battles, with the destruction of nearly the entire Ottoman fleet at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, by the Holy League under the command of Philip’s half brother, Don John of Austria. A fleet sent by Philip, again commanded by Don John, reconquered Tunis from the Ottomans in 1573. However, the Turks soon rebuilt their fleet and in 1574 Uluç Ali Reis managed to recapture Tunis with a force of 250 galleys and a siege which lasted 40 days.

In 1585 a peace treaty was signed with the Ottomans.

 

Spanish hegemony and the Counter-Reformation achieved a clear boost when Philip married Mary Tudor — a Catholic — in 1554. However, they had no children Queen Mary, or “Bloody Mary” as she was known by English Protestants, died in 1558 before the union could revitalize the Catholic Church in England.

The throne went to the formidable Elizabeth, the Protestant daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This union was deemed illegitimate by English Catholics, who did not recognize divorce and who claimed that Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic great-granddaughter of Henry VII, was the legitimate heir to the throne.

The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587 ended Philip’s hopes of placing a Catholic on the English throne. He turned instead to more direct plans to return England to Catholicism by invasion. His opportunity came when England provided support for the Dutch rebels. In 1588 he sent a fleet of vessels, Spanish Armada, to lead an invasion. However, a so-called “Protestant Wind” thwarted Spanish ambitions, enabling the small, deftly maneuverable English ships to defeat the larger and less-maneuverable Spanish ships. Eventually, three more Armadas were deployed; two were sent to England, both of which also failed; the third was diverted to the Azores and Canarie Islands to fend off raids there. This Anglo-Spanish war would be fought to a grinding end, but not until both Philip II and Elizabeth I were dead.

The stunning defeat of the Spanish Armada gave great heart to the Protestant cause across Europe. Many Spaniards blamed the admiral of the Armada for its failure, but Philip was not among them. The Spanish navy was rebuilt, and intelligence networks were improved. An example of the character of Philip II can be given by the fact that he personally saw that the wounded of this expedition were treated and received a pension, which was unusual for the time.

While the invasion had been averted, England was unable to take advantage of this success. An attempt to use her newfound advantage at sea with a counter armada the following year failed disastrously. Likewise, English buccaneering and attempts to seize territories in the Caribbean were defeated by Spain’s rebuilt navy and her intelligence networks.

Even though Philip was bankrupt by 1596, in the last decade of his life more silver and gold was shipped safely to Spain than ever before. This allowed Spain to continue military efforts.

 

From 1590 to 1598 Philip was also at war against Henry IV of France, joining with the Papacy and the Duke of Guise in the Catholic League during the French Wars of Religion. Philip’s interventions in the fighting – sending Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma to relieve the siege of Paris in 1590, and again into Rouen in 1592 – to aid the Catholic faction, was disastrous in terms of the Dutch Revolt, allowing the Dutch forces opportunities time to regroup and refortify their defenses. Henry IV of France was also able to use his propagandists to identify the Catholic faction with a foreign enemy. In 1593, Henry agreed to convert to Catholicism; this caused most French Catholics to rally to his side against the Spanish forces. In June 1595 the redoubtable French king defeated the Spanish supported Holy League in Fontaine-Francaise in Burgundy and reconquered Amiens from the overstretched Spanish forces in September 1597. The 1598 Treaty of Vervins was largely a restatement of the 1559 Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis; meanwhile, Henry issued the Edict of Nantes, which offered a high degree of religious toleration for French Protestants. The military intervention in France thus ended in a disappointing fashion for Philip, as it failed to either oust Henry from the throne or suppress Protestantism in France. However, the conversion of Henry also ensured that Catholicism would remain France’s majority faith.

 

Under Philip II Spain reached the peak of its power but also met its limits. Having nearly reconquered the rebellious Netherlands, Philip’s unyielding attitude led to their loss, this time permanently, as his wars expanded in scope and complexity. So in spite of the great and increasing quantities of gold and silver flowing into his coffers from the American mines, the riches of the Portuguese spice trade and the enthusiastic support of the Habsburg dominions for the Counter-Reformation he would never succeed in suppressing Protestantantism or defeating the Dutch rebellion. Early in his reign the Dutch may have laid down their weapons if he had desisted in trying to suppress Protestantism, but his devotion to Roman Catholicism and the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, as laid down by his father, would not permit him. He was a fervent Roman Catholic, and exhibited the typical 16th century disdain for religious heterodoxy.

Philip’s wars against what he perceived to be heresies led not only to the persecution of Protestants, but also to the harsh treatment of the Moriscos, causing a massive local uprising in 1568. The damage of these endless wars would ultimately undermine the Spanish Habsburg empire after his passing. His endless meddling in details, inability to prioritise and failure to effectively delegate authority hamstrung his government and led to the creation of a cumbersome and overly centralised bureaucracy. Under the weak leadership of his successors it would drift towards disaster. Yet such was the strength of the system he and his father had built this did not start to become clearly apparent until a generation after his death.

However Philip II’s reign cannot simply be characterised as a failure. He consolidated Spain’s overseas empire, succeeded in massively increasing the importation of silver in the face of English, Dutch and French privateering, and ended the major threat posed to Europe by the Ottoman navy. He succeeded in uniting Portugal and Spain through personal union. He dealt successfully with a crisis that could have led to the secession of Aragon. His efforts also contributed substantially to the success of the Catholic Reformation in checking the religious tide of Protestantism in Northern Europe. Philip was a complex man, and though given to suspicion of members of his court, was not the cruel tyrant that he has been painted by his opponents. Philip was known to intervene personally on behalf of the humblest of his subjects. Above all a man of duty; he was also trapped by it.

He died in 1598 and was succeeded by his son, King Philip III. Philip II’s enemies (generally Protestant propagandists) were instrumental in the creation of the Black Legend of Spain, which painted the king as a merciless, bloodthirsty tyrant and the Spanish empire as being built upon greed, deception, and destruction.

 

15 January 1759

The British Museum opens.

In 1753 Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish-born physician and naturalist, left his collection of 71,000 books, manuscripts, natural specimens and other objects to the nation in his will, in return for a payment of £20,000 to his heirs. The collection was used as the basis for the British Museum, the world’s first national public museum, which was established by an Act of Parliament on 7 June 1753. It opened on 15 January 1759, offering free admission to all “studious and curious persons”.

The museum was first located in Montagu House in Bloomsbury. During the 18th century it attracted around 5,000 people per year, but its popularity increased greatly in the 1800s. In 1823 George IV donated the King’s Library to the collection and this led to the construction of the main quadrangular building and the circular Reading Room that are the centre of the museum today.

These were completed in 1857. To allow room for expansion, the museum’s natural history collection was relocated to a new building in South Kensington during the 1880s, which is now called the Natural History Museum.

The book collection, which had been housed in the Great Court around the Reading Room, moved to the new British Library building in St Pancras in 1997. The Great Court, which had effectively been closed to the public since 1857, was then refurbished at a cost of £100m, including the construction of a new glass and steel roof that made it the largest public square in Europe. Today, the British Museum has over 3.5 million objects on display and attracts more than six million people every year.