The Count-Duke of Olivares

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The Statesman in an Age of Decline

J. H. Elliott

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A masterful biography of Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count Duke of Olivares—righthand advisor to Spain’s Philip IV, archrival of Cardinal Richelieu, and a central figure in seventeenth-century Europe. Written by the eminent historian J. H. Elliott and based on many original sources, this elegant book is a landmark in the study of a man and an age.
"A monument of scholarship almost unique in our time. … Professor Elliott has written what must rank as the finest biography ever written on a Spanish statesman."—Raymond Carr, New York Review of Books
"A wonderful life of Olivares and his time. … An exceptional biography."—Harold Stone, New York Times Book Review
"One of the outstanding works of Spanish historical scholarship written this century."—Henry Kamen, Times Literary Supplement
"A perfect blend of biography and history, which brilliantly evokes both the man his milieu. The research is prodigious, the exposition is on the grandest scale, and the book is as much a delight to handle as it is to read."—David Cannadine, New Society
Winner of the 1986 Wolfson Prize in History
J. H. Elliott is professor in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He is the author of numerous books, including, Spain and its World 1500-1700 and, with Jonathan Brown, A Palace for a King: The Buen Retiro and the Court of Philip IV.

"A splendid, intimate view of the chief minister at work, which reveals both the strengths and the weaknesses of the man on whose shoulders the fate of the world's greatest empire rested. . . . An impressive and thoroughly documented survey of the political history and foreign policy of the reign of Philip IV. . . . This volume . . . will take its place alongside Maranon's life of Antonio Perez as one of the outstanding works of Spanish historical scholarship written this century."—Henry Kamen, Times Literary Supplement 
























"A great book, one that is bound to occasion not only a buzz in the cool corridors of academia but an absorbed grateful quiet in the private study of the serious general reader."—Thomas D'Evelyn, The Christian Science Monitor

"A lucid and readable portrait of this statesman."—Roger Hearing, The Birmingham Post 

"This splendid biography has a text and footnotes that are elegantly and clearly set out. . . . A pleasure to handle as well as to read."—J. H. Shennan, Times Higher Education Supplement 

"Admirable for its clarity and restraint. . . . This is as near to a definitive study as we are likely to get."—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The Observer

"Professor Elliott, perhaps the greatest living authority on Imperial Spain, has produced another masterly and fascinating work on the subject."—John Grigg, Sunday Telegraph

"A wonderful life of Olivares and his time. . . . Mr. Elliott explains in clear and elegant prose the complexities of family rivalries and the obsession with reputation, and he reconstructs how the early modern state managed the public debt created by massive military expenditures and the administration of its own form of entitlement programs. . . . An exceptional biography."—Harold Stone, The New York Times Book Review

"A monument of scholarship almost unique in our time. . . . Professor Elliott has written what must rank as the finest biography ever written on a Spanish statesman."—Raymond Carr, The New York Review of Books

"Professor Elliott's book proves a revealing and compelling story, opening up new perspectives on familiar people and issues, and providing sharp insights from economic, political, religious and cultural angles. The book is massive in its scope and documentation."—Nigel Glendinning, The Times (London)

"Elliott's judgement is as always impeccable, his analysis acute."—Library Journal

"A complex, fascinating, if sometimes exasperating personality, Olivares comes alive in this biography. . . . This is now the definitive study of Olivares and his world; historians of modern Europe will ignore it at their peril. Elegantly written and well produced, it is a massive work in every sense."—J.S. Cummins, British Booknews

Pick of the Year! "A perfect blend of biography and history, which brilliantly evokes both the man and his milieu. The research is prodigious, the exposition is on the grandest scale, and the book is as much a delight to handle as it is to read."—David Cannadine, New Society

"Elliott has produced a superbly crafted, elegantly written, meticulously researched political biography of Olivares."—

"Mr. Elliott brilliantly shows us an abrasive, compulsive visionary whose arrogance never wholly precluded a longing to be understood and appreciated. He brings this gifted, overreaching, and unlucky man, his times, and his troubles very close to us—too close, often, for comfort."—Naomi Bliven, New Yorker

"A superb political biography."—Peter Burke, London Review of Books

"An absolutely wonderful book, and a must for all students of European history."—Meir Ronnen, Jerusalem Post Magazine

"Pithy, illuminating and amusing."—Conrad Russell, Times Educational Supplement

"A magisterial synthesis . . . that summarizes a generation of scholarship on seventeenth-century Spain and on much of the rest of Europe as well."—William S. Maltby, American Historical Review

"In this magnificent study of Professor Elliott has done full justice to Olivares' insight as well as to the limitations of the policy which he followed."—V.H.H., Green, History Today

"Contributes to a new understanding of political processes in Spain."—John Lynch, History

"Elegantly written . . . this is a magnificent achievement, the work of a great historian."—Patrick Williams, European History Quarterly

"Elliott shows us a man of violently alternating extremes, of ineradicable and almost paranoid obsessions, of gigantic bombast and profound self-doubt, an arbitrista whose grandiose schemes were not the less impracticable for his being able to implement them, an inveterate planner who was always caught unprepared by events. Olivares was as much a `cuerpo fantastico' as the Monarchy that for so long he helped govern. It is a superb evocation of the baroque character of his subject, subtly conjured as much from the language, style and form of the minister's consults and letters as from their consent. . . . Elliott has explicitly sought to vindicate the political biography as a meaningful unit of historical study. If one is still left with doubts, it is not despite, but precisely because his Count-Duke of Olivares is an example of the genre at its very best."—I.A.A. Thompson, English Historical Review

"Elliott's richly embroidered tapestry of the Count-Duke unrelentingly pursuing his fixed vision of Habsburg Spain's greatness helps us see somewhat better why Olivares failed."—A. Lloyd Moote, Journal of Modern History

"More thoroughly, more successfully, and more profitably to the common weal than any Drake or Blake, he has plundered the Olivares empire of incalculable wealth. . . . Even on its own, and certainly in conjunction with earlier monograph studies of major aspects of Olivare's career, it stands as the most thorough examination yet of any central administration in the period."—R.A. Stradling, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

"Elliott has given us a full, richly-drawn portrait of the royal court in Madrid; he has brought to full light the major personalities and many key figures in the Castilian royal government, whose names—let alone careers—were hardly known before the publications of this book. He has done it with a style and wit that make the story utterly absorbing."—Helen Nader, Renaissance Quarterly

"A magnificent work of historical scholarship."—Irish Independent

"The problems faced by the Spanish monarchy—a huge national debt, failing industrial and agricultural sectors, unassimilated minorities, overreaching national ambitions, an economy drained by massive military spending—sound strikingly modern. J.H. Elliott's long, detailed, elegantly rendered portrait of the minister and his times is riveting as history, and provides food for thought about contemporary problems and solutions."—Newsday

"Elliott's contribution to our knowledge of the history of Imperial Spain . . . is immense. He has done more than anyone else to elucidate the political and social characteristics of a country which in the 16th and 17th centuries ruled the world, fought against imminent decline, and completed with nations on the rise. The author combines solid historical research with a smooth narrative style to produce elegant essays which inform, stimulate, and frequently entertain the reader."—The Virginia Quarterly Review

"The book is a masterpiece. Professor Elliott has given us not just the life of a tormented politician but the history of a tormented country during those disastrous decades when Spain, attempting to recover its earlier dominance, crashed spectacularly and nearly lost all."—David Gilmour, The Times Literary Supplement

"If the figure of the Count-Duke Olivares has finally emerged from the shadows cast both by his counterpart and rival Richelieu and the unwieldy edifice of state and declining empire he presided over, we have largely to thank the prodigious labors of J.H. Elliott. . . . This massively researched, magisterial biography of Philip IV's First Minister . . . . [sic] has been justly celebrated as a landmark contribution to our understanding of the seventeenth century. Eminently worthy of its titanic subject, it is indeed a life and times on a grand scale, which deftly manages to provide a split-screen view of both the statesman and the sprawling, tottering empire, racked by war, division, and insolvency, that he so mightily if unsuccessfully struggled to master."—Robert A. Schneider, Americas

Winner of the 1986 Wolfson Prize in History, given by the Wolfson Foundation
ISBN: 9780300044997
Publication Date: September 10, 1989
738 pages, 6 3/4 x 9 1/2
36 b/w illus.
The World of the Favourite

Edited by J. H. Elliott and L.W.B. Brockliss

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Spain and Its World, 1500-1700

Selected Essays

J. H. Elliott

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Empires of the Atlantic World

Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

J. H. Elliott

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Scots and Catalans

Union and Disunion

J. H. Elliott

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