Biography of Fernando III Duque de Alba Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel (1507-1582)

Spanish nobleman born in Piedrahíta (Ávila) from October 29, 1507 and died in Lisbon on December 11, 1582.

Biographical synthesis

He was a major general, Director and Manager of the Emperor Carlos V and King Felipe II of Spain. He/She received his baptism of fire in Fuenterrabia against the French, very young, in 1524. In 1531 he/she went to defend Vienna against the Turks. Their participation in the decision of Tunisia in 1535 and his services as a counselor earned the favour of the Emperor, who was trusting him progressively more important jobs. In charge of the defense of the Spanish border, in 1542 made back to the French in Roussillon. Later it fought together to Carlos V against the German Protestants, being one of the main architects of the great victory of Mühlberg in 1547, which rid the League of Esmalkalda. In the following years, more Butler and now head of one of the main parties in the Court, he/she served as Advisor to the Prince Felipe (from 1554 in England).

By intrigues, he/she was sent in 1555 to Italy as viceroy of Naples and captain general of Milan. He/She successfully defended these territories against the French and the Pope Paulo IV and took part in 1559 in the signing of the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. At the top of his military career, he/she was relegated in court after his arch rival Ruy Gómez de Silva. Recovered the preponderance, in 1567 he/she was sent as captain general and Governor to the Netherlands in order to restore order to the province. However, behaved with little touch (Court of Tumults, executions, low tolerance towards Protestantism, centralization and new tax system). It rejected in 1568 to Guillermo de Orange, but it could not prevent the outbreak of a serious revolt in 1572. Replaced in 1573, he/she fell into disgrace in 1579 and was one year confined, but in 1580 it was released and was entrusted with the command of the army which should ensure the Portuguese throne to Felipe II. Alba was exemplary and entered in Lisbon in August, city in which would die two years later.

Los Álvarez de Toledo and Fernando education

He was the son of García Álvarez de Toledo (grandson of Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, II Duke of Alba) and Beatriz de Pimentel, that he/she was called Fernando in honor of Fernando the Catholic, then King of Aragon and Regent of Castile. Had two sisters, Catherine, and María, and a brother, Bernardino. It belonged, therefore, to one of the great Spanish aristocrats families, with vast domains around the sierra de gredos mountains; the title most important possessing the Álvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alba, came from one of those places, Alba de Tormes (Salamanca). The young Fernando was his father very soon, on the death of García Álvarez de Toledo in 1510, on the landing of the count Pedro Navarro on the Gelbes (Island Djerba, Tunisia) Island, victim of a Muslim ambush at an oasis.

His grandfather, Fadrique, veteran soldier, worried about giving a careful education, both in the military and with regard to the letters. Fernando was first tutor to a Benedictine monk of Messina, Bernardo Gentile, and from 1521 to a Dominican of Piacenza named Severus; his grandfather had tried to hire the humanist Luis Vives, but failed to obtain its services. Severe taught latin in the classical authors, at the time that gave him to know the erasmismo. Since 1520 was his schoolmaster poet Juan Boscán, that in addition to infuse her taste for literature would accompany him as a friend until he/she died in 1542. The military training and other practical issues, such as the direction of the heritage of the dawn, was commissioned to the own Fadrique, bringing him to their warlike campaigns and frequent travels made by their domains.

Fernando gave early signs of military vocation: in 1524, at the age of seventeen, ran away from home to get the orders of Iñigo de Velasco, condestable of Castile, and thus participate in the siege of Hondarribia, occupied by the French. Very mature for his age, he/she behaved courageously, and once taken place, temporarily received the same Government. April 27, 1529 married María Enríquez de Toledo, daughter of Diego Enríquez de Guzmán, III count of Alba de Liste and Aldonza Leonor Álvarez de Toledo. He/She would have to García (1530-1548), Beatriz (1534), Fadrique (1537-1585, IV Duke of Alba), and Diego (1542-1583). A lover before her wedding, María, born Hernando Álvarez (1528). Interestingly, except on the military, it did not give their children so careful education such as that he/she had received: only Fadrique and Hernando would have some importance as soldiers. Little more is known about the life of Fernando Álvarez de Toledo in recent years until the death of his grandfather in September 1531.

A new imperial general: the liberation of Vienna to the conquest of Tunisia

With twenty-four years Fernando inherited the family titles (Duke of Huéscar, Marquis of Coria and count of Salvatierra and Alba), possessions and incomes. The following year he/she attended the appeal of Carlos V to fight against the Turks, which had set site to Vienna. Accompanied by the poet and military Garcilaso de la Vega, friend, met with the Emperor until March, in Regensburg. Did not engage in combat: when in September everything was ready the Turkish sultan Suleiman I, seeing difficult sustain the siege before the winter that was coming, withdrew with his armies. The Duke, instructing a Croatian Cavalry Squadron, was supporter of persecuting them and attack their rear; He/She was not listened to, but at least it had given to the Emperor, and when this moved shortly after to Italy to meet with Pope Clement VII received the command of the rearguard.

It was in Bologna during the negotiations, until February 1533, returning with Carlos V to Spain. By then it had intensified attacks from the Berber Pirates of Barbarossa, Khair Ben Eddyn, the Spanish and Neapolitan Mediterranean coasts and the Emperor prepared a punitive expedition. Alba was awarded the captaincy of a body of heavy cavalry, not very relevant in a naval operation but prestigious position; It was accompanied by his brother Bernardino and his son, García, who had five years of age. Forces hardly participated in the taking of the Fort of the schooner at the entrance of the Tunisian port, and in the assault of Tunisia had to stay in rear, with a brief intervention. Yielded the plaza in July 1535, he/she recovered the armor of his father, which was kept there after his defeat and death. Then it became again to Italy of the emperor. The final months of 1535 and the initials of 1536 was in Naples, and then in Rome. In all this time, in addition to creating a real network of patronage in Italy, supported by family members with important positions, shook his relationship with Carlos V, like-minded, soon counted among his advisers.

The Duke of Alba and the war against France

About to explode the war against France, he/she was opposed to begin the campaign by besieging Marseille, very well defended port and whose siege would give time to reorganize the weakened French army. Ignored his advice to attack Lyon, the facts give reason: had to retire shortly after arriving at Marseille. The own Alba collected supplies brought by sea the Genoese Andrea Doria and said the withdrawal of the emperor. Garcilaso could not prevent, however, the death of his friend in one smaller action. While it negotiated a truce with France throughout the year 1537 he/she was in Spain; his mother died in July. In the spring of 1538 it was part of the imperial retinue which attended the signing of a temporary peace with the French in Nice Treaty.

Free in Europe, the Emperor summoned courts in Toledo to request funding for a new expedition against Algiers. The courts denied it, but at the moment the issue was adjourned by the revolt of Ghent, the hometown of the emperor. The Duke attended its repression in 1539, then there was probably in Regensburg, and uncertain date returned to Spain. In September of 1541 it was in Cartagena organizing supplies for the Spanish Navy was finally going to attack Algiers; not without equipment and navigation difficulties he/she managed to join the forces of Carlos V, who had arrived before. Troops carrying could only land in part until a strong wind from the North encallase or destroy a large number of ships. Did not return to make another attempt to conquest at the moment, because again he/she threatened France.

The protection of the Spanish border was entrusted to the Duke of Alba: organized the defense of Navarre and fortified Perpignan, capital of the Roussillon, on which the French attack seemed imminent. In August, 1542 the Dauphin Henry (Henry II in 1547) besieged the city with higher forces. Alba had previously taken care to retire to Gerona leaving Perpignan well garnished: its strength and the menacing presence of Alba behind their lines forced the Dolphin to withdraw. In 1543, when the Emperor left for the Netherlands to take charge of the defense of the province, left his son the Prince Felipe (Felipe II) as Regent and the Duke as captain general of the Spanish forces. Alba organized the same year the wedding of the Prince with María Manuela of Portugal, which acted as Godfather. In 1544 was signed the peace of Crespy between Spanish and French, that remembered the wedding of Carlos, Duke of Orléans (one of the sons of King Francisco I) with María, daughter of Carlos V, or with the niece of the Archduchess Ana of Hungary. The Netherlands and Milan would be the dowry. The Duke recommended giving the Netherlands, but although the Emperor bowed by Milan is did not deliver one or the other, because in September 1545 died the Duke of Orleans.

Mühlberg victory Adviser of Prince Felipe

In January 1546 he/she moved to Utrecht, where he/she was rewarded with admission to the order of the Golden Fleece; in April he/she was once more in Regensburg, where the Emperor had decided to end the Protestant League of Esmalkalda (founded in 1531). As reinforcements arrived, Carlos V and the Duke of Alba left Regensburg and took refuge in Landshut, somewhat further to the South. When all of the imperial army (40,000 men) was formed in Ingolstadt, they came out to meet the enemy. The Protestants, to avoid a direct clash, retreated in early September. The imperial army recovered several squares of the two banks of the Danube, avoiding Alba met again the opponent waiting for its dissolution. This occurred in November, after which many Princes and cities Lutheran made submission. Not so the main ringleaders, the Duke of Sajonia Juan Federico and the landgrave of Hesse Federico. The first continued fighting successfully until Carlos V and Alba headed towards the Elbe: the night of April 23, 1547 crossed the River at the height of Mühlberg, completely surprising the Manless Mauricio. Many of his men died, and he/she was made prisoner, being handed over for safekeeping to the Duke of Alba. Captured Hesse Felipe shortly after, the capitulations of Wittemberg (May) submitted by the time Lutherans.

A few months later, in January 1548, Duke of Alba moved to Spain in functions of Butler of the Court, with the Mission of introducing the Burgundian ceremonial and prepare for the coming of the Regent Maximiliano (nephew of the Emperor). He/She then accompanied the Prince Felipe to the Netherlands; along the way the Duke received the news of the death of his eldest son, García, with only eighteen years old. Stay in the province allowed him to establish important links with Felipe, soon becoming one of the main characters of the House of the Prince. However, he/she would find a powerful rival in the party of Portuguese Ruy Gómez de Silva, personal friend of Felipe and copero mayor, especially after this marriage with Ana de Mendoza (1552). Both factions dominate Spanish politics during the next three decades. Among the supporters of Alba were, in addition to numerous relatives, officials like Gonzalo Pérez, Royal Secretary. At the moment, in 1550 the Duke moved to Augsburg with the Prince to return to Spain with him in may 1551.

Soon returned to Germany in the summer of 1552, which had formed a new coalition of Protestant princes (among them the traitor Mauricio of Saxony) that had surrounded the Emperor in Austria. With 7,000 soldiers he/she left hastily to their support; the Protestants, having been removed by order of the Emperor he/she laid siege in October to Metz, who had been surprisingly occupied by Enrique II of France. It did not succeed by the arrival of winter, but nonetheless lost imperial trust. He/She stayed alongside Carlos V in Brussels until the summer of 1553; with permission of the Prince Felipe spent the winter in Alba de Tormes. In February 1554 was given a new and important task: join Felipe in his trip to England, where he/she was to enter into a second marriage with the English Queen María I Tudor. Its function was, as in 1543, organize the wedding preparations, and also try to avoid any problem of the Spanish Entourage with the English, which did not see with good eyes the marriage. Thanks to his work, there were few incidents, becoming the chief spokesman of Felipe in his Council (Privy Council) and the English Parliament.

Viceroy of Felipe II in Naples and Milan

This preponderance alarmed Ruy Gómez de Silva, who through intrigues was the appointment of the Duke as viceroy of Naples and Captain General of Milan, region is very threatened by the French with superior forces. In 1555 Alba reinforced the fortifications and drove out small French garrisons, although he/she could not prevent the loss of Volpiano (Piedmont). The winter would prevent greater evils and forced to sign a truce in Cambrai; the disadvantage that was found during the fighting made him behave with cruelty the prisoners captured. In January 1556, coinciding with the abdication of Carlos V and Felipe II's enthronement, he/she moved to Naples, where he/she met a difficult situation because his Lieutenant Bernardino de Mendoza had failed to comply with the complex problems of the Neapolitan (famine, banditry...).

More serious still that these were his tensions with the Pope Paulo IV, to which displeased presence imperial in Italy. The Pontiff armed troops and fortified the border with Naples, so the Duke of Alba attacked several strategic places within the limits of the Papal States: didn't directly attack Rome, but quickly reach peace. A brief intervention of Francisco de Lorraine, Duke of guise, ended with the defeat of this in Giulianova (on the Adriatic coast) and the complete withdrawal after the French disaster of Saint-Quentin (August 1557). Until September, even with Alba in the vicinity of Rome, the Pope refused to sign the Armistice. In January 1558, Alba was triumphantly received by Felipe II in Brussels. He/She then participated in the work of drafting the long-lasting peace treaty with France, that of Cateau-Cambrésis (March 29, 1559). Transferred to Paris to verify compliance with the agreements, on 21 June he/she represented Felipe II in his third marriage with Isabella of Valois, daughter of Enrique II.

In August he/she returned to Spain, where he/she met the surprise of not being included among the King's closest advisors. Alba, which did not accept this willingly, could not avoid that for two or three years their influence at court to slow considerably. He/She retired to their properties, only intervening in State Affairs by letter. His luck began to change at the end of 1563, when his protégé the cardinal Antonio Perrenot de Granvelle was ousted as Advisor to Margaret of Parma, Regent of the Netherlands, by culpabilizár you of disorganization, self-determination of the nobles and extension of Protestantism. Their substitutes, supported by Gómez de Silva (now the Prince of Eboli), ruled even worse, so that Felipe II returned to remember the Duke of Alba to restore the Royal authority. From 1565 their power in the Court exceeded the Prince of Eboli, even when the following year Antonio Pérez, of the party ebolista, replaced his late father as Secretary of the Royal Council.

Alba, captain general and Governor of the Netherlands

After representing Felipe II in the deliberations of Bayonne between Queen Elizabeth and her mother Catherine de Medicis, French Regent, tried to convince to Felipe II deny any concession to the Localism Flemish or Dutch Protestantism. His stance was imposed once the main noble Flemish Parma Margarita submit a written protest and request of religious tolerance (Compromise), followed by various disorders. In October 1566, Alba was ordered to March to the tumultuous region, in principle by preceding the journey of Felipe II himself. He/She left in April with 10,000 soldiers, traveling by sea to Italy and then overland across the Piedmont, Savoie, Franche-Comté, Lorraine and Luxembourg, avoiding France and Protestant Switzerland and Rhineland (this was the origin of the "Spanish road" used to the s. XVII by Hispanic troops to go north to southern Europe or vice versa).

Your arrival with an army caused great concern, confirmed when in September arrested including Lamoral, count of Egmont, and Felipe de Montmorency, count of Horn, two of the most important noble flamingos along with Guillermo de Orange, previously taken refuge in Germany. Soon after resigned Margarita of Parma, leaving Alba as captain general and civil Governor. To the imminent believe the arrival of the King did not create a defined system of Government, which could cause numerous administrative problems. For its mission was limited to return order to the province while restoring Royal authority and securing religious unity. Thus raised a series of forts for Spanish troops barracks and it was created in October, a special court that had the final decision, which he/she called Court of Tumults, popularly known as blood Tribunal by its summary trials and sentences to death (including all the signatories of the Compromise of 1566). The mass executions of this period would be more than thousand, confiscating the properties. This repression not Scythian tempers, they created a sense of terror and desire for resistance.

In the meantime, Guillermo de Orange together in Germany an army with the support of the French and Dutch Calvinists, while other exiles were the beggars of the Sea ('gueux de la mer') and a considerable fleet. The first rebel movements were quickly neutralized (April 1568), being defeated and captured in the region of Maastricht Jean de Montigny, Mr de Villiers. In June he/she beheaded Egmont and Horn, and then departed for Groningen, in the North, to fight the brother of Guillermo, Luis de Nassau, defeating him in July. Then it was the turn of the own Guillermo de Orange, which came in September in the Netherlands; Alba avoided combat until his opponent began to lose order, and then attacked him not far from Brussels on 16 October. Guillermo had to return to Germany with his broken army. Alba, on his return to Brussels, learned that Felipe II had resigned to go to the Netherlands by various problems (death of his then-only son Carlos and his wife, and beginning of the Moorish revolt of the Alpujarras), which requested its replacement, not accepted.

In the following years implemented various reforms in the Netherlands, in addition to specific missions such as ensure the transfer to Spain of the fourth wife of Felipe II, Anna of Austria (daughter of Emperor Maximiliano II). He/She promoted the drafting of a single legal code that resulted in the criminal law Ordinance of 1570, abolished after his departure. Reorganized the ecclesiastical administration under the provisions of the bull Super Universalis of 1559, creating a lasting structure. Parallel to this was his search of heretical books, which also culminated in success. Finally, more problematic was the introduction of a tax system fairer: despite their full powers on the issue could not straighten the disastrous situation. His proposal to impose a tax of 10% on the trade and 5% on the sale of real estate found great resistance between Flemish advisers. Alba finally did approve a reduced rate that would never be applied by his departure to Spain not long after in 1571.

He was opposed to the invasion of England, rejected when Queen Elizabeth I expelled from their ports the beggars of the sea. When their leader Lumey de la Marck took in April 1572 a small town in the Netherlands, the northern regions took this opportunity to manifest Guillermo de Orange supporters. The Duke calmly prepared his response: he/she recruited men, gathered media and ensured the French neutrality. Shortly after his son Fadrique beat a game of French Huguenots in Mons (Hainaut). Finally missing the possibility of intervention of Carlos IX of France by the massacre of the Huguenots in the night of St. Bartholomew, he/she could face without fear of Guillermo de Orange, who had entered in Brabant. Once again the military genius of Alba was imposed, and must withdraw his opponent with heavy losses without being able to help the besieged Bishop to give up this September 21, his brother Luis de Nassau was taken prisoner.

It was still missing submit to rebel Northern places, to which Alba decided to give exemplary punishment to any of them to instill respect for the others. Mechelen and Zutphen were subjected to looting and several cities surrendered shortly without a fight. But when the son of the Duke, Fadrique, applied the same policy in Naarden, Dutch believed that this had occurred despite having surrendered without a fight. This action further intensified the Protestant resistance to the armies of Alba. In March 1573 he/she reached an agreement with Isabel I so it definitely deny all aid to the rebels, but meanwhile extended the site of vital square of Haarlem; the attack by sea yielded it to the end in July, after several months of siege. It was already late to Alba, as in January of that year Luis of Requesens had been appointed his replacement to the delight of the Flemish, who did not like the authoritarianism of the Duke. Requesens did not reach Brussels until November, returning happy Alba to Spain in December. The situation of the Netherlands remained uncertain.

Fall into misfortune and rehabilitation: the conquest of Portugal

He arrived in Barcelona in March, to meet with that, died shortly before Ruy Gómez de Silva, his position at Court Antonio Pérez, also raging his enemy had occupied it. He/She remained in the Council of State but with reduced influence. His enemies worked fatigue causing their opinions on the King: thus, in 1576, as way to attack him personally, his son Fadrique was detained in the castle of Tordesillas in part by be held guilty of the military situation in the low countries, in part because even recalled that he/she had tried to marry a Lady of the Court in 1568Magdalena de Guzmán, without Royal permission. In July 1578 this lady, instigated by Ana de Mendoza, widowed Princess of Eboli, asked the King that it taken out of the convent where he/she was since then and be allowed to marry by Fadrique. The Duke of Alba, alarmed by the possibility of a marriage that is unfavorable to the interests of his dynasty, sought a wife of convenience, his niece María de Toledo. The marriage was held in secret in October in Madrid, without having asked Felipe II approval. The King grieved for this reason with the Duke of Alba and ordered its closure in January 1579; disgraced, he/she was taken to the village of Uceda (Guadalajara).

He still had friends, and was considered in Spain as a national hero, so in June the courts asked for his forgiveness. Would be not released until February 1580: nearby being the death of the King of Portugal, Henry I the cardinal, the Spanish monarch was the legitimate heir of the Crown as a son of Isabella of Portugal, but had rivals, and was necessary to ensure the throne by force. He/She was asked repeatedly to the King that Alba was the Commander of the army of occupation. Reluctantly, the King acknowledged the reason for these requests and, without giving your favor, sent the Duke to Badajoz (which accompanied his son Hernando de Toledo), where military preparations were carried out. Its task was to defeat Antonio, prior of Crato, the main rival of Felipe II, but without alienating the population. Up to 40,000 men assembled and secured their supplies so that they would not have to resort to looting in Portugal, came in the Alentejo in mid-June, without meeting any resistance.

Its major concerns of this peculiar campaign were the intense summer heat and a looming epidemic of flu. In Setúbal, on the coast, had to find the fleet of Álvaro de Bazán, Marquis of Santa Cruz. However, when in mid-July he/she sighted the city, Santa Cruz had not yet arrived, and at first the inhabitants of the city seemed even willing to fight. Managed control, arriving at last the fleet he/she embarked his men in it and landed in Cascais, not far from Lisbon; past-due the resistance of the Portuguese general Diego de Meneses (who was hanged), could not help his inexperienced troops looting the city. In August besieged Lisbon by land, while Santa Cruz did so by sea. Despite the stiff resistance from the prior of Crato the Portuguese defenses were quickly exceeded. Came the King in person to take possession of the Kingdom, Alba was as an administrator; Felipe II came in Lisbon in the spring of 1581, then keeping at his side at dawn as a counselor. In the autumn of the following year, 1582, he/she became ill and after several months of progressive weakening died in December, at the age of 75.

Portrayed by Antonio Moro in 1549 and by Alonso Sánchez Coello in 1567, the Duke of Alba was tall, thin, sallow skin, fiery inwardly but perfect control over itself due to his iron will, which made fearsome his sparse but intense outbursts of anger. It was an attitude of such gravity transmitting melancholy. Usually friendly in treatment, although distant, sometimes he/she pronounced sentences of extreme irony. He/She was an enlightened man (spoke latin, French, Italian and acceptably German), but it was not at all an intellectual, but a man of action. Indeed, excellent great cunning strategist, was more military than political or diplomatic. Great religiosity (had as confessors to Alonso de Contreras and, in the last years of his life to fray Luis de Granada) and austerity of customs, appreciated the courage and constancy, often severely punished the indiscipline. His performance in the Netherlands has given him fame of cruel, feeding one of the chapters of the "black legend" Spanish. However, it has been best seen in Spain: having remained almost unbeaten throughout his life, has been sometimes called "Gran duque de Alba".


BERRUETA, M. D. The Grand Duke of Alba: don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo. (Madrid, Biblioteca Nueva: 1944).

CASTRO, j. de. The Duke of Alba. (Madrid, Ibero-American company publications: 1931).

Correspondence of the 3rd Duke of Alba, Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo. 2 vols. (Madrid: 1952).

FITZ-JAMES STUART FALÇÓ, J.C. (ED). Life and exploits of Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba. (Madrid, Blass: 1945).

Tribute to the great Duke of Alba D. Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel. Proceedings of conferences held in the IV centenary of his death. (Salamanca, Caja de Ahorros y Monte de Piedad: 1983).

JANSSENS, G. Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, third Duke of Alba, and the Netherlands. (Brussels, Ministry of the Flemish Community: 1993).

MALTBY, W.S. The Grand Duke of Alba: a century of Spain and Europe, 1507-1582. (Madrid, Turner: 1985).

Links in Interent ; A page that contains part of a work of Manuel José Quintana with great amount of information on the life of the Duke of Alba (in Spanish).