The Duke of Alba Henry Kamen

Publication date:
11 May 2004
Yale University Press
216 pages: 235 x 156mm
12 b-w illus.
Sales territories:


An engrossing biography that attempts to fathom the motivations of an infamous sixteenth-century Spanish general

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.

Henry Kamen, an eminent authority on Spanish history, has published numerous books in the field, including Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492–1763.

?This book will be a key source not just for students of early modern European and military history, but also for academics and researchers of the period.??Lorraine White, Journal of Military History

?As Henry Kamen demonstrates in this elegant and balanced reappraisal of Alba?s career, there was more to the ?Butcher of Flanders? than simply a taste for bigotry and blood.??John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph

?Henry Kamen renders a pithy and vivid portrait of the Castilian grandee as reactionary, cultivated, authoritarian, arrogant and, above all, loyal to kin and king.??Francis X. Rocca, The Wall Street Journal

"A highly readable biographical account of the duke, in which the duke's voice clearly speaks from his own and others' letters."?Martha K. Hoffman-Strock, Renaissance Quarterly

"Henry Kamen, with customary verve, eloquence, and clarity, offers a compelling account of the Alba's life, travels, and military and political career. . . . Kamen deserves praise for his thorough research. . . . Kamen has offered a balanced portrait of one of the most polarizing figures of early modern European history. The writing is superb, a factor that enables even the non-specialist reader to benefit from this excellent biography. . . . lucid and contentious."?G. B. Paquette, Canadian Journal of History