1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Medina Sidonia, Don Alonso Perez de Guzman el Bueno

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MEDINA SIDONIA, DON ALONSO PEREZ DE GUZMAN EL BUENO, 7th Duke of (1550–1615), the commander-in-chief of the Spanish Armada, was born on the 10th of September 1550. He was the son of Don Juan Claros de Guzman, eldest son of the 6th duke, and of his wife Doña Leonor Manrique de Zuñiga y Sotomayor. His father died in 1555, and Don Alonso became duke, and master of one of the greatest fortunes in Europe, on the death of his grandfather in 1539. The family of Guzman was originally lords of Abiados, on the southern slope of the Picos de Europa in the hill country of Leon. The name is believed to be a contraction or corruption of Gundamaris, i.e. son of Gundamar. An early family tradition represents them as having come from Britain, and they may have descended from one of the Scandinavian invaders who attacked the north coast of Spain in the 10th century. It is in the 10th century that they first appear, and they grew great by the reconquest of the country from the Mahommedans. The branch to which the dukes of Medina Sidonia belonged was founded by Alonso Perez de Guzman (1256–1309), surnamed El Bueno, the good, in the sense of good at need, or stout-hearted. In 1296 he defended the town of Tarifa on behalf of Sancho IV., and when the besiegers threatened to murder one of his sons whom they held as a prisoner if he did not surrender, he allowed the boy to be killed. He was rewarded by great grants of crown land. The duchy of Medina Sidonia, the oldest in Spain, was conferred by John II. in 1445 on one of his descendants, Juan Alonzo de Guzman, count of Niebla. The addition “El Bueno” to the family name of Guzman was used by several of the house, which included many statesmen, generals and colonial viceroys.[1] The 7th duke was betrothed in 1565 to Ana de Silva y Mendoza, who was then four years of age, the daughter of the prince of Eboli. In 1572 when the duchess was a little more than ten years of age, the pope granted a dispensation for the consummation of the marriage. The scandal of the time, for which there appears to be no foundation, accused Philip II. of a love intrigue with the princess of Eboli. The unvarying and unmerited favour he showed the duke has been accounted for on the ground that he took a paternal interest in the duchess. Don Alonso, though he bore the name of El Bueno, was a man of mean spirit. He made no serious effort to save his mother-in-law from the persecution she suffered at the hands of Philip II. His correspondence is full of whining complaints of poverty, and appeals to the king for pecuniary favours. In 1581 he was created a knight of the Golden Fleece, and was named captain-general of Lombardy. By pressing supplications to the king he got himself exempted on the ground of poverty and poor health. Yet when the marquess of Santa Cruz (q.v.) died, on the 9th of February 1588, Philip insisted on appointing him to the command of the Armada. He was chosen even before Santa Cruz was actually dead, and was forced to go in spite of his piteous declarations that he had neither experience nor capacity, and was always sick at sea. His conduct of the Armada justified his plea. He was even accused of showing want of personal courage, and was completely broken by the sufferings of the campaign, which turned his hair grey. The duke retained his posts of “admiral of the ocean” and captain-general of Andalusia in spite of the contempt openly expressed for him by the whole nation. When an English and Dutch armament assailed Cadiz in 1596 his sloth and timidity were largely responsible for the loss of the place. He was held up to ridicule by Cervantes in a sonnet. Yet the royal favour continued unabated even under the successor of Philip II. In 1606 the obstinacy and folly of the duke caused the loss of a squadron which was destroyed near Gibraltar by the Dutch. He died in 1615.

See Cesario Duro, La Armada invincible (Madrid, 1884), which gives numerous references to authorities.

  1. The titles and grandeeship passed, in accordance with Castilian law, by marriage of a daughter and heiress in 1777, to the marquess of Villafranca, and have since remained in that house.