Don Francisco Gómez de Sandoval, 1st Duke of Lerma (1552 - 1625), a favourite of Philip III of Spain, was the first of the validos ('most worthy') through whom the later Habsburg monarchs ruled. As a young man he passed his time as a courtier, and made himself a favourite with the young prince Philip (III), heir to the Spanish throne.
The dying king Philip II foresaw that Lerma was one of those nobles who were likely to mislead the new sovereign. The old king’s fears were, it is claimed by some, fully justified after his death. Others however, claim that Lerma was a fully capable favourite, as he led Castile and the Habsburg dominions on a more modest and economically viable course of peace than both Phillip II and Olivares, Philip III´s valido, both figures that have received far more positive recognition by historians.
No sooner was Philip III king than he entrusted all authority to his favourite, who amassed power unprecedented for a privado or favorite and became the "king's shadow". Philip III, preoccupied with piety and indolence, soon created him Duke of Lerma (1599),
As chief minister Lerma's ideas of foreign policy were firmly grounded in feudal ideas about royal patrimony. He cemented Spanish rule by many marriage alliances with the Austrian Habsburgs and then with the French Bourbons. Lerma's administration began with a treaty with France Treaty of Vervins 1598, declaring peace, but he persisted in costly and useless hostilities with England till 1604, when Spain was forced by exhaustion to make peace. Lerma used all his influence against a recognition of the independence of the Low Countries.
In the end, Lerma was deposed by a palace intrigue carried out by his own son, Cristóbal de Sandoval, Duke of Uceda, manipulated by Olivares. After a long intrigue in which the king remained silent and passive, Lerma was at last compelled to leave the court, on 4 October 1618.
Under the reign of Philip IV, which began in 1621, Lerma was despoiled of part of his wealth. The already cardinal Lerma was sentenced, on August 3, 1624, to return to the state over a million ducates. However, at the peak of his powers, Lerma had accumulated for himself a fortune estimated by contemporaries at forty-four million ducats.
Lerma was pious, spending lavishly on religious houses: in 1604 the el Monasterio de la Ascensión de Nuestro Señor (zusters clarissen), in 1613 the Convento de San Francisco de los Reyes (discalced franciscans), in 1610 the Monasterio de la Madre de Dios (discalced carmelites), the Fundación Benedictina de Fray Prudencio de Sandoval (benedictine nuns), in 1617 the Convento de Santo Domingo (dominican friars), in 1617 the Convento de Santa Teresa (carmelites) and in the Convento de San Blas (dominican nuns), often praised by the musical habilities, and who had an important roll in the musical live of the city of Lerma.
Lerma died in 1625 at Valladolid
Lerma & Rubens
In 1603, when he made his first visit to Spain, Rubens was then in the service of Vincenzo I, duke of Mantua. His Italian patron had sent the 25-year-old painter to present costly gifts to Philip III and the Spanish court favourites, who were all then settled in Valladolid. By this lavish gesture, Rubens's ducal patron hoped to gain Spain's favour and protection for Mantua. On May 24, a week after his arrival in the new capital city of the Spanish empire, Rubens voiced in a letter professional complaints about the technical limitations of the Spanish artists working in Valladolid. In the same letter Rubens also states that the duke of Lerma had "already made to me some sort of a proposition" On September 15, Rubens mentions for the first time his painting Lerma, Equestrian.
The historical importance of this magnificent, life-sized portrait of The Duke of Lerma on horseback is notable for two reasons. On the one hand, this was the first time a person prominent in a royal court commissioned Rubens to paint a wholly profane subject matter. Apparently serving a primarily
political purpose, the Lerma Equestrian represents an important step at the beginning of Rubens' career as the courtier-diplomat-artist par excellence.
Secondly, in this picture Rubens seems to have invented a type of official equestrian-portraiture that was to establish an important precedent for other court imagery incorporating similar content and purposes. According to this new "foreshortened-frontalized equestrian-type," apparently premiered in the Lerma Equestrian, the noble horse is viewed from an oblique angle and shown to be pacing resolutely towards the viewer. Previously, the canonic model in the Renaissance for painted equestrian-portraiture had been the
iconographic type established by Titian in his Charles V, where the prancing horse is placed perpendicular to the viewer's line- of-sight.
Williams, Patrick "The Great Favourite: The Duke of Lerma and the Court and Government of Philip III of Spain, 1598-1621" Manchester University, 2006