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The Duke of Alba

by Henry Kamen

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754275,696 (3.88)1
Ferdinand Alvarez de Toledo, the third duke of Alba (1507-82), is known to history as "the butcher of Flanders." The general who carried out Philip II's repressive policies in the Netherlands, he was responsible for the massacre of thousands of men, women, and children, considering it better to lay waste an entire country than leave it in the hands of heretics. Alba came to represent for contemporaries as well as for future generations the unacceptable face of Spanish imperialism. In this intriguing re-evaluation, Henry Kamen narrates the duke's personal history, looking beyond the conventional image to reveal motives and to explain rather than simply to condemn. Kamen examines the early years of Alba's life, his travels over the whole of Europe, and the complex military and political career that made him Spain's leading general of the imperial age. Drawing on the duke's rich and expressive surviving correspondence, Kamen explores Alba's beliefs and considers his infamous actions within the contexts of his time and of the monarchs--Emperor Charles V and King Philip II of Spain--whom he served.… (more)
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This professional life of the Duke of Alba abounds with ironies. While the preeminent Castillian general, Alba was more likely to be found in the role of military governor; a position which did not suit his temperment. A man of great personal culture and impeccable manners, Alba was likely to stalk off in theatrical temper tantrums if he did not get his way. A man who gave almost unswerving obediance to Charles V & Philip II of Spain, Alba failed to control his son and heir, a contributing factor to the disaster of the Dutch Revolt. At the base, the problem of the Duke of Alba is that he could not rise above his rigid authoritarianism when artful flexibility was the order of the day, and did not help his historical image by his propensity for letting off steam in his official documents. The massacres were real enough though, and Alba's career in the Netherlands seems to be the case of a man finding his own special heart of darkness, not that Alba ever gave any sense that he regretted the acts he felt he had to commit; one could really do no wrong in the service of the king. ( )
  Shrike58 | Apr 2, 2009 |
Not an especially exciting read, but very solid. It's worth seeing the Revolt of the Netherlands through Spanish eyes. Kamen does tend to blame those around Alba more than Alba himself, but that's perhaps a useful corrective against all the blame usually heaped upon the duke. ( )
  sknox | Sep 8, 2008 |
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Ferdinand Alvarez de Toledo, the third duke of Alba (1507-82), is known to history as "the butcher of Flanders." The general who carried out Philip II's repressive policies in the Netherlands, he was responsible for the massacre of thousands of men, women, and children, considering it better to lay waste an entire country than leave it in the hands of heretics. Alba came to represent for contemporaries as well as for future generations the unacceptable face of Spanish imperialism. In this intriguing re-evaluation, Henry Kamen narrates the duke's personal history, looking beyond the conventional image to reveal motives and to explain rather than simply to condemn. Kamen examines the early years of Alba's life, his travels over the whole of Europe, and the complex military and political career that made him Spain's leading general of the imperial age. Drawing on the duke's rich and expressive surviving correspondence, Kamen explores Alba's beliefs and considers his infamous actions within the contexts of his time and of the monarchs--Emperor Charles V and King Philip II of Spain--whom he served.

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