1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lerma, Francisco de Sandoval y Rojas, Duke of

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16
Lerma, Francisco de Sandoval y Rojas, Duke of

LERMA, FRANCISCO DE SANDOVAL Y ROJAS, Duke of (1552–1625), Spanish minister, was born in 1552. At the age of thirteen he entered the royal palace as a page. The family of Sandoval was ancient and powerful, but under Philip II. (1556–1598) the nobles, with the exception of a few who held viceroyalties or commanded armies abroad, had little share in the government. The future duke of Lerma, who was by descent marquis of Denia, passed his life as a courtier, and possessed no political power till the accession of Philip III. in 1598. He had already made himself a favourite with the prince, and was in fact one of the incapable men who, as the dying king Philip II. foresaw, were likely to mislead the new sovereign. The old king’s fears were fully justified. No sooner was Philip III. king than he entrusted all authority to his favourite, whom he created duke of Lerma in 1599 and on whom he lavished an immense list of offices and grants. The favour of Lerma lasted for twenty years, till it was destroyed by a palace intrigue carried out by his own son. Philip III. not only entrusted the entire direction of his government to Lerma, but authorized him to affix the royal signature to documents, and to take whatever presents were made to him. No royal favourite was ever more amply trusted, or made a worse use of power. At a time when the state was practically bankrupt, he encouraged the king in extravagance, and accumulated for himself a fortune estimated by contemporaries at forty-four millions of ducats. Lerma was pious withal, spending largely on religious houses, and he carried out the ruinous measures for the expulsion of the Moriscoes in 1610—a policy which secured him the admiration of the clergy and was popular with the mass of the nation. He persisted in costly and useless hostilities with England till, in 1604, Spain was forced by exhaustion to make peace, and he used all his influence against a recognition of the independence of the Low Countries. The fleet was neglected, the army reduced to a remnant, and the finances ruined beyond recovery. His only resources as a finance minister were the debasing of the coinage, and foolish edicts against luxury and the making of silver plate. Yet it is probable that he would never have lost the confidence of Philip III., who divided his life between festivals and prayers, but for the domestic treachery of his son, the duke of Uceda, who combined with the king’s confessor, Aliaga, whom Lerma had introduced to the place, to turn him out. After a long intrigue in which the king was all but entirely dumb and passive, Lerma was at last compelled to leave the court, on the 4th of October 1618. As a protection, and as a means of retaining some measure of power in case he fell from favour, he had persuaded Pope Paul V. to create him cardinal, in the year of his fall. He retired to the town of Lerma in Old Castile, where he had built himself a splendid palace, and then to Valladolid. Under the reign of Philip IV., which began in 1621 he was despoiled of part of his wealth, and he died in 1625.

The history of Lerma’s tenure of office is in vol. xv. of the Historia General de España of Modesto Lafuente (Madrid, 1855)—with references to contemporary authorities.