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Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Somerset House Conference


By an unidentified artist
The Somerset House Conference
1604
Oil on canvas
81 in. x 105 1/2 in. (2057 mm x 2680 mm)
National Portrait Gallery, London


This group portrait commemorates the peace treaty between England and Spain (The Treaty of London) in 1604 that brought an end to a war that had dragged on for almost twenty years, the  Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)

The negotiations took place in the Tudor palace of Somerset House on the Strand (which was later replaced by the building we know and see today)

Members of the Hispano-Flemish delegation (at left, from the window): Juan de Velasco, Duke of Frias, Constable of Castille; Juan de Tassis, Count of Villa Mediana; Alessandro Robida, senator of Milan;  Charles de Ligne, Count of Aremberg; Jean Richardot, president of the Council of State; and Louis Vereyken, audencier of Brussels.

Juan de Velasco, Duke of Frias, Constable of Castile, the leader of the Austro/Flemish and Spanish delegation did in fact plead ill-health and did not attend the conference.

The English commissioners (at right, from the window) were: Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham; Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire; Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton; and Robert Cecil, Viscount Cranborne (later 1st Earl of Salisbury).

Richardot, Verreyken and Robida arrived in England on 19th May,1604,  and the negotiations began shortly afterwards in Somerset House

Matters were  firmly i n the hands of the Spaniards.

There were t o be three main issues: trade, the cautionary towns held by England in the United Provinces, and religion . 

Full diplomatic relations between England and Spain were finally re-established. 

The treaty buried the notion that the King of Spain was the sword of Roman Catholic Christendom.

For 30 years, England had been a kingdom no Spaniard had dared to enter

The treaty created, and facilitated, new trade, political, cultural and literary relations between early modern England and Spain

The peace lasted until 1625 when further conflict ensued as part of the Eighty Years' War and the Thirty Years' War

The text of the Treaty is here

Some attribute the work to the Spanish Court painter Juan Pantoja de la Cruz who accompanied the Spanish delegation to England. Others to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, others again to Frans Pourbous and his circle

It was meant to be a memorial of an extremely important State occasion in the public life of Spain and England

There are two tapestries in the room. Both are shown dated 1560. The treaties had restored the position to what had pertained before the hostilities between the two countries. The Reformation in England was recognised.

Great and expensive gifts were given and received by members of each delegation and by the Kings of both countries

The period from the Peace Treaties of Vervins (1598) and London (1604), to the Truce of Antwerp/The Hague (1609-1621), is the period known by historians as the Pax Hispanica

The French had attempted to thwart closer Anglo-Spanish relations. However the bankruptcy of the Spanish Empire required Spain to come to an accomodation with England and with the United Provinces of the Netherlands

Spain claimed a colonial monopoly on the Indian trade: the East and West Indies and Brazil. This was the source of her national wealth and strength. This had been disputed by the English since the middle of the sixteenth century

As part of the process of healing the disputes between Catholic princes in Europe, Spain had conceded trading rights to France by the Treaty of Vervins (1598) 

According to F G Davenport, European Treaties bearing on the History of the United States and its Dependencies to 1648 in the discussions preliminary to the treaty of 1604, the right of Englishmen to engage in the Indian trade was argued at length.

The question had previously been debated with representatives of Portugal or Spain in 1555,  1561, 1562, 1569-1576, 1587, 1588, and 1600. 

Since 1555 the claim that Englishmen had a right to visit such parts of the Indies as were not actually held by Spain had been maintained. 

It may have been due to Robert Cecil's characteristic subtlety that in 1604 an ambiguous article was finally agreed on, which, according to England, admitted Englishmen to the Indies; according to Spain, excluded them.

Spain had fought fiercely to restore Catholicism in England but in terms of the Treaty was compelled to recognize the Protestant Monarchy in England.

Now recognised by the great Catholic powers as the rightful King of England and free of any obligation to grant toleration to Catholicism, James was now free to pursue an anti-Catholic policy which was jfiercer than that pursued by his predecessor Elizabeth