Military Wiki
The Duke of Alba
Viceroy of Portugal and the Algarves

In office
18 July 1580 – 11 December 1582
Monarch Philip I of Portugal
Succeeded by Archduke Alberto of Austria
Governor of the Spanish Netherlands

In office
Monarch Philip II of Spain
Preceded by Margaret of Austria
Succeeded by Luis de Requesens
Personal details
Born (1507-10-29)October 29, 1507
Piedrahíta, Ávila, Spain
Died 11 December 1582(1582-12-11) (aged 75)
Lisbon, Kingdom of Portugal
Spouse(s) María Enríquez de Toledo y Guzmán
Children Fernando de Toledo, García Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzmán, Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzman, Diego Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzmán, Beatriz Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzmán
Profession Soldier, diplomat, statesman
Religion Catholic
Military service
Allegiance Spain Spanish Crown

Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel or Ferdinandus Toletanus Dux Albanus[1] (29 October 1507 – 11 December 1582), known as the Grand Duke of Alba, was a Spanish noble, soldier, and diplomat. He was titled the 3rd Duke of Alba de Tormes and 1st Duke of Huéscar, 4th Marquis of Coria, 3rd Count of Salvatierra de Tormes, 2nd Count of Piedrahita, 8th Lord of Valdecorneja, Grandee of Spain, and an Illustrious Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Alba was a trusted adviser and servant of Charles I of Spain (Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) and his successor Philip II, both chief steward and member of their Councils of State and War. He was charged with the government of the Duchy of Milan (1555–1556), the Kingdom of Naples (1556–1558), the Netherlands (1567–1573) and the Kingdom of Portugal (1580–1582). He represented Philip II at Philip's betrothal to Elizabeth of Valois, daughter of Henry II of France, and to Anne of Austria, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.

Considered by Spanish historians as the greatest general of his time and one of the best in history, he is considered a butcher & criminal in the rest of Europe. Alba distinguished himself in La Jornada de Túnez, and in many campaigns during the Religious Wars, including the Mühlberg, Jemmingen and Alcántara. He is most remembered in Western European history for his brutal attempts to pacify, and eradicate sedition in, the Netherlands, where he suppressed and punished a Dutch uprising by murdering, raping & looting entire towns, sometimes leaving not a single child alive. He capped his career as an old man with the succession crisis in Portugal in 1580, conquering that kingdom for Philip II. Because of his military genius Spain achieved the unification of all the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula and the consequent expansion of the overseas territories.

The most important representative of the house of Álvarez de Toledo, received a Golden Rose of Pope Paul III as a reward for their efforts in favor of Catholicism. He was comrade in arms, friend and protector of the poet and soldier Garcilaso de la Vega, who spent part of his Eclogue II to extol to the House of Alba and Duke.

His motto in Latin was Deo patrum Nostrorum, which in English means To The God of our fathers.

He is an important component of the Spanish black legends, which describe him as an authentic warlord, famous and intrepid but at the same time, brutal, implacable and extremely severe.[2] Still, Alba was a clear leader, tough, strong and respectful of his men. The speeches where he referred to "gentlemen soldiers" were the delight of the Tercios, his élite troops. He used to say "Kings use men like oranges: first squeeze the juice, then discard the peel."[3]

The life of the 3rd Duke of Alba was marked by a long series of military feats that contributed to Spain reaching its peak during the sixteenth century.

Early years

Coat of arms of the III Duke of Alba de Tormes with the Manto of Grandee of Spain.

Fernando was born in Piedrahíta, Province of Ávila, on 29 October 1507. He was the son of García Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga, heir of Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo and Enríquez de Quiñones, II Duke of Alba de Tormes, and of Beatriz Pimentel, daughter of Rodrigo Alonso Pimentel, IV Count - I Duke of Benavente and his wife, María Pacheco. Fernando was orphaned at age of three when his father, García, died during a campaign on the island of Djerba in Africa in 1510. Thus, when his grandfather Fadrique died in 1531, the ducal title passed directly to his grandson Fernando as the firstborn son of García.

Throughout his adulthood, he served the Spanish monarchs, beginning with King Charles I and later Philip II. Alba was educated at the ducal court of Alba by the Renaissance poet and writer Juan Boscán. At the age of six, he accompanied his grandfather on a military mission to capture Navarre. In 1524, when he was seventeen, he joined the troops of Constable of Castile, Íñigo Fernández de Velasco, II Duke of Frías, who besieged and forced the surrender of Fuenterrabía, then occupied by France and Navarre. For his role in the successful struggle he was appointed governor of Fuenterrabía.

Against the Ottomans

Having became Duke of Alba in 1532, he answered the call of Emperor Charles V and went to Vienna, accompanied by his friend, the soldier-poet Garcilaso de la Vega, to defend the city against a new Ottoman invasion army. No battle was required: when the Turks, having lost valuable time in the Siege of Güns, decided not to advance against Vienna and retreated from the field. De la Vega later dedicated part of his Eclogue II to extolling the House of Alba and its Duke.

The Duke's first major opportunity to fight was in the Conquest of Tunis (1535). In early June 1535 at Cagliari, he embarked with the military force commanded by the Marquis del Vasto. On 14 July, the fortress of La Goleta was seized, and a week later the army took the city of Tunis (which was defended by Hayreddin Barbarossa). In 1541, the emperor appointed him chief steward and therefore chief of his Household. In 1542, he led the Spanish troops against the Ottoman-supported French Army, ending the siege of Perpignan. The siege was one of the costliest defeats of Francis I in the French offensive of 1542.

In Germany and England

In 1547, the emperor had to deal with the Protestant forces of the Schmalkaldic League. The Duke of Alba was in charge of Tercios, the elite Spanish ground troops, who fought in the Battle of Mühlberg on the banks of the river Elbe. Alba's Tercios were largely responsible for the imperial army's victory against the Elector of Saxony. The first personal service Alba gave to King Philip II was to accompany him to England for his marriage to Mary Tudor. The Duke was one of fifteen grandees of Spain who attended the ceremony in the abbey of Winchester on 25 July 1554.

In Milan and Naples

The Duke of Alba in 1549 by Anthonis Mor

In later years, conflict between France and Spain was centred around Italy. Alba was sent to Italy as commander in chief, and became governor of Milan in 1555, and viceroy of Naples in 1556.

The newly appointed Pope Paul IV, visceral enemy of the Habsburgs, prompted King Henry II of France to expel the Spanish from Italy. In return, Papal troops joined the French. In July 1556 the Pope declared Philip II to be dispossessed of his title of King of Naples. Alba did not hesitate[4] and went to Rome at the head of 12,000 Spanish soldiers. The Pope called for a truce, giving time for a French army commanded by Francis, Duke of Guise to enter through northern Italy and march towards Naples. However, in the wake of the landmark victory of Spain over the French at the Battle of San Quentin, the Duke of Guise was recalled to France. Without French support, the papal troops were overwhelmed by the Spanish and the victorious Duke of Alba entered Rome in September 1557. The pope called for and received peace.[5]

In 1559, the Peace of Cateau–Cambrésis was signed. The Peace is considered the most important treaty of sixteenth-century Europe. By this treaty, Spain began its dominant position in Western Europe and the Italian Peninsula entered a long period of tranquillity.

Governor of the Netherlands

Arrival of the Duke of Alba at Rotterdam in 1567. Eugene Isabey, 1844. Musee d'Orsay, Paris

Head of a bronze medal with the effigy of the Duke of Alba in commemoration of his triumphs in 1571

Back of the same medal with the Latin inscription "Deo et Regi", which means, in English, "For God and King"

Fernando Álvarez de Toledo by Peter Paul Rubens (1628).

From August to October 1566, the "Storm of the images" (Dutch language: Beeldenstorm ) took place in the Netherlands, during which Calvinist Protestant followers looted or destroyed a number of monasteries and churches and defaced or destroyed Catholic images. To tackle both civil and religious rebels, King Philip II sent the 3rd Duke of Alba to Brussels on August 22, 1567, at the head of a powerful army. On arrival, Alba replaced Margaret of Parma, the sister of the Spanish king, as head of the civil jurisdiction. He determined that the local nobility was in open rebellion against the king and supported the new Protestant teachings, heresy in his view.

A few days later, on 5 September 1567, Alba established the "Council of Troubles", popularly known in the Netherlands as the "Court of Blood," to prosecute those responsible for the riots of 1566, especially those who were deemed heretics. Alba also targeted the local Catholic nobility, who favored dialogue and opposed outside intervention. Two of the three heads of the Flemish nobility, the Count of Egmont, a Catholic General for Philip II, who had led the cavalry that defeated the French at the Battle of San Quentin, and Philip de Montmorency, Count of Horn, were quickly arrested. The court acted with extraordinary rigour and sentenced the leaders to death, along with a large group of other "heretics". The condemned persons were executed on 5 June 1568 in the Town Hall Square in Brussels. Alba had little confidence in Flemish justice, which he perceived as sympathetic to the defendants, and so witnessed the executions in person. However, at the execution of the Earl of Egmont, who was his respected friend, Alba reportedly could not stop crying. Although he never regretted these sentences, he petitioned the king for a pension for Egmont's widow.

The maintenance of the troops in Flanders entailed substantial economic costs that forced the Duke to impose new taxes on the population. Some cities, including Utrecht, refused to pay the "tithe" and declared a rebellion, which quickly spread through the Netherlands. The rebellion led to the outside intervention of William the Silent, the rebellious prince of Orange, who enlisted the help of the French Huguenots.

William and the Huguenots took many Dutch cities by force of arms, but in 1572 the Tercios carried out the Spanish Fury at Mechelen, retaking the city with brutal force. From there, Spain retook Zutphen, Alkmaar and Naarden. The Spanish Siege of Haarlem, characterized by brutality and savagery on both sides, culminated in the surrender of the city and the execution of all the garrison, estimated at 2,000 men. Those terrible military campaigns and the harsh repression of the Flemish rebels earned the III Duke of Alba the nickname "The Iron Duke" in the Netherlands. However, Alba remained very popular with the Spanish troops, gaining their respect through military leadership and rousing speeches.

The kings use men like oranges, first they squeeze the juice and then throw away the peel.[3]

Although military actions were constant, the political situation in Flanders did not improve. After five years of repression, more than 5,000 executions[6] and numerous complaints to the Spanish court, Philip II decided to change policy and relieve the Duke of Alba. The monarch sent Luis de Requesens to replace Alba. De Requesens opted to use less harsh methods and give more concessions to the rebels. Alba returned to Spain in 1573.

Nevertheless, the Duke still had influence in the deliberations of the Royal Council. Alba belonged to the conservative Spanish faction called Albistas or imperialists. This faction included the Inquisitor General Fernando de Valdés y Salas, the House of Pimentel, the Duke de Alburquerque and other members of the House of Álvarez de Toledo. The Albistas advised the king to take a firm stand in the Netherlands. The Albistas' hardline position was hotly contested by the liberal Ebolistas or humanists, led by Ruy Gómez de Silva, prince of Éboli and his secretary Francisco de Eraso. After the death of the prince of Éboli in 1573, the royal secretary Antonio Pérez went on to lead the liberal faction and began his association with Ana de Mendoza de la Cerda, Princess of Éboli.

Against the Albistas' urging, King Philip II himself publicly acknowledged that "it is not possible to carry Flanders forward by way of war." [7] However, the subsequent performance of the Ebolistas in the affairs of state provoked the distrust of the king. Political concessions by Luis de Requesens failed in Flanders, where hostilities soon resumed, and Philip II again granted the Duke of Alba a superior position in court.


In 1566, Alba's son and heir, Fadrique, broke his promise of marriage to Magdalena de Guzman, lady of Queen Anne of Austria, which led to his arrest and imprisonment in the Castle of La Mota in Valladolid. The following year he was released so he could go to Flanders with his father to serve in the military. In 1578 Philip II ordered the case against Fadrique reopened. It was discovered that in order to avoid marriage to the claimant, Fadrique had secretly married María de Toledo, daughter of García Álvarez de Toledo and Osorio, IV Marquis of Villafranca del Bierzo, using a permit issued for that purpose by his father the Duke of Alba. Fadrique was confined in prison, in the Castle of La Mota and Alba was banished from the court for a period of one year for "breaking the strict court protocol."[8] The Duke went into exile in Uceda, where his secretaries Fernando de Albornoz and Esteban Ibarra were likewise incarcerated.[9]

Conquest of Portugal

Because of his excellent reputation and enormous popularity with the troops, Alba was quickly reinstated as general in 1580. When his nephew Sebastian I disappeared in the Battle of Alcácer Quibir, presumed dead, leaving the throne of Portugal vacant, King Philip II needed the Duke's military leadership [10] to neutralize the monarchical claims of Don Antonio, the Prior of Crato.

The 72-year-old Duke, appointed Captain General, gathered a force estimated at 40,000 men in Badajoz,[11] and in June of that year crossed the Spanish-Portuguese border toward Lisbon. In late August Alba's troops defeated the Portuguese army, led by General Diego de Meneses, in the Battle of Alcántara and triumphantly entered the city, clearing the way for the arrival of Philip II. Philip became King Philip I of Portugal, achieving the dynastic union with the other kingdoms of the Spanish monarchy.

King Philip II rewarded Alba with the titles Constable of Portugal and I Viceroy of Portugal, top posts subordinate only to the sovereign, which he held until his death.

Marriage and children

His first child, Fernando de Toledo (1527-1591), was an illegitimate son, the result of a relationship with a miller's daughter in the nearby town of La Aldehuela.[12]

The Duke was married in 1527 to his cousin María Enríquez de Toledo y Guzmán (died 1583), daughter of Diego Enríquez de Guzmán, III Count of Alba de Liste, with whom he had four children, three boys and a girl.

  • García Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzmán (23 July 1530 – 1548)
  • Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzman, IV Duke of Alba (21 November 1537 – 3 September 1585)
  • Diego Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzmán (1541-1583), Count of Lerín and Constable of Navarre by his marriage, held on 24 March 1565, with Brianda Beaumont (1540–1588), daughter of Luis de Beaumont. He was succeeded by Antonio Álvarez de Toledo y Beaumont, V Duke of Alba de Tormes (1568 – 29 January 1639)
  • Beatriz Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Guzmán (died 1637), married Álvaro Pérez Osorio, V Marquis of Astorga.


García Álvarez de Toledo y Carrillo de Toledo
I Duke of Alba
Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo y Enríquez de Quiñones
II Duke of Alba
María Enriquez de Quiñones y Toledo
García Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga
Álvaro de Zúñiga y Guzmán
I Duke of Plasencia
Isabel de Zúñiga y Pimentel
Leonor Pimentel y Zúñiga
Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel
III Duke of Alba
Alonso Pimentel y Enríquez
III Count of Benavente
Rodrigo Alonso Pimentel
I Duke of Benavente
María de Quiñones y Portugal
Beatriz Pimentel y Pacheco
Juan Pacheco, I Duke of Escalona
María Pacheco y Portocarrero
señora de Villacidaler
María Portocarrero Enríquez

Later years and death

Alba received a Golden Rose from Pope Paul III as a reward for his efforts on behalf of Catholicism. Alba died in Lisbon on 11 December 1582, at the age of seventy-four; he was given the last rites by the famous Fray Luis de Granada.

"I can assure your majesty of this much: Firstly, that I never came across a business of any sort belonging to your majesty, no matter how unimportant, which would not supersede any of mine, no matter how important. Secondly, that I was always more careful and mindful with your property than my own and thus to this day I remain free of any debt accrued to you or your kingdom. And thirdly, that I never advanced a name to your majesty's favour, which was not by all means the best among those which I knew and always free of any interest or favor on my part." [13]

His remains were transferred to Alba de Tormes, where he was buried in the convent of San Leonardo. In 1619 they were transferred to the Convento de San Esteban, Salamanca, where since 1983 rested in a chapell of the convent that contains a mausoleum proyected by Chueca Goitia and that was costed by the Provincial Diputation of Salamanca.[14][15]


  1. Nominis causa vide Christian Matthiae: Theatrum historicum theoretico-practicum, Daniel Elzevirius, Amstelodamum 1667, S. 1042.
  2. BEHIELS, Lieve. El duque de Alba en la conciencia colectiva de los flamencos. Foro Hispánico. Revista Hispánica de los Países Bajos. 3 (1992) 31-43.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Spanish language: Los reyes usan a los hombres como si fuesen naranjas, primero exprimen el jugo y luego tiran la cáscara.
  4. Letter from the Duque of Alba to Paul IV, in the Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de España, vol. II, pp. 437–446.
  5. Virreyes de Nápoles, op. cit., vol. XXIII, pp. 148–163.
  6. Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic: its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1995), pp. 159-160.
  7. Spanish language: No es posible llevar adelante lo de Flandes por la vía de la guerra.
  8. Spanish language: Por romper el estricto protocolo de La Corte.
  9. Documents about the causes that motivated the prission of D. Fadrique, son of the duke of Alba, and that the same time, the duke himself, op. cit., vol. VII, pp. 464–524, y vol. VIII, pp. 483–529.
  10. Disposition of Philip II about giving the duke the control of the army, op. cit., vol. XXXII, pags. 7-9.
  11. Title of captain general given by Philip II to the duke of Alba, op. cit., pp. 151–60.
  12. Frey Fernando de Toledo, Gran Prior de Castilla
  13. Spanish language: Tres cosas diré a Vuestra Majestad; la una es que no se ofreció negocio vuestro, aunque fuese muy pequeño, que no le antepusiese al mío, aunque fuese importantísimo; la segunda, es que mayor cuidado tuve siempre de mirar por vuestra hacienda que por la mía y así no os soy en cargo de un solo pan a Vos ni a ninguno de vuestros vasallos; la tercera, es que nunca os propuse un nombre para algún cargo que no fuese el más suficiente de todos cuantos yo conocía para ello, pospuesta toda afición.
  14. Notice about the translación of the body of the Duke of Alba, op. cit., vol XXXV, p. 361.
  15. Rosell, María del Mar. Traslado definitivo de los restos del gran duque de Alba a un mausoleo de Salamanca. El País. Edición impresa. 26 mar 1983. To the move attended, the duchess of Alba, Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart and her second housband, Jesús Aguirre y Ortiz de Zárate, their sons -the duque of Huéscar Carlos Fitz-James Stuart y Martínez de Irujo y Fernando, Cayetano y Eugenia Martínez de Irujo-, as well as other family members, of nobiliary houses, the mausolum author, the mayor of the Salamanca duchal villages, and other guests standt out the bishop of the diocece, Mauro Rubio, who presided over the solemn religious ceremony.


Government offices
Preceded by
Ferdinando Gonzaga
Governor of the Duchy of Milan
Succeeded by
Cardinal Cristoforo Madruzzo
Preceded by
Margaret of Austria
Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands
Succeeded by
Luis de Zúñiga
New title Viceroy of Portugal
Succeeded by
Cardinal Archduke Albert of Austria
Spanish nobility
Preceded by
Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo
Duke of Alba
Succeeded by
Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo

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