Álvarez De Toledo, Fernando (1507–1582), third duke of Alba (also Alva), Spanish general and statesman. Fernando Álvarez de Toledo was born on his family's estate at Piedrahita on 29 October 1507. Three years later his father was killed in a skirmish with the Muslims on the island of Jerba. The child was given a military upbringing by his grandfather, Fadrique, second duke of Alba, whose title he inherited in 1531. At sixteen he had fought at Fuenterrabía and thereafter served the Emperor, Charles V, in the campaigns of Vienna, Tunis, Provence, and Algiers. By the outbreak of the Schmalkald War in 1546, Alba had emerged as the emperor's chief military adviser and was largely responsible for the victory at Mühlberg in the following year.
In 1548 Alba was named majordomo to Prince Philip, a position that he retained after the latter's accession to the Spanish throne as Philip II. This enabled him to become patron of an aristocratic faction that included not only Alba's many relatives and their retainers but also several of the more important royal secretaries. His chief political rival was the royal chamberlain, Ruy Gómez de Silva, a man associated with the Mendoza family and with the secretarial “school” founded by Cardinal Espinosa.
Alba accompanied Philip to England in 1554, served briefly as viceroy of Milan and then of Naples, and in 1556–1557 commanded the royal forces in their successful war against Pope Paul IV and Henri, duke of Guise. He played a major role in the negotiations at Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559 and returned to Spain in 1560 as a member of the council of state who claimed special expertise on the affairs of France and England.
Tall, saturnine, and deeply religious, Alba was known for his sharp tongue and limitless arrogance. Philip found him trying but useful, not only in military and diplomatic affairs but also in reviewing ecclesiastical appointments. The duke's unbending orthodoxy and long association with the policies of the late emperor made him the king's conscience in the years leading up to the Revolt of the Netherlands. His innate regalism and a passionate hatred of heretics caused him to oppose all compromise with the Netherlanders, and when rioting and iconoclasm broke out in 1566, he was the natural choice to suppress what the king perceived as rebellion.
The plan was that Alba would go to the Netherlands and purge the country of heretics and rebels. The king would then come in person, repudiate his captain-general's excesses, and issue a general pardon. The scheme was supported by Alba's enemies, who until now had favored a policy of reconciliation. They wanted Alba away from court so that they could discredit him and undermine his influence.
In 1567 the duke marched to the Low Countries with an army of Spanish veterans. He immediately arranged the execution of Lamoraal, count of Egmont, and Filips van Montmorency, count of Hoorne, on charges of treason and established the Council of Troubles, a political court designed to root out enemies of the crown. At this point William of Orange assumed leadership of the revolt and invaded the Netherlands with a force composed largely of German mercenaries. Alba defeated him with ease and by the end of 1568 had achieved pacification of all seventeen provinces. The king, however, did not come. The death of his only heir, Don Carlos, followed by a revolt of the Moriscos in southern Spain, made it impossible for Philip to leave Spain, and Alba was left to reap the consequences of his own repressive policies.
In the next four years the duke installed fourteen new bishops whose appointments had been blocked since 1560 and reformed the legal code, but the alien and unsympathetic character of his regime aroused resentment. When he tried to impose perpetual taxation in the form of the Tenth Penny, a generalized revolt broke out in 1572. In trying to suppress it, Alba began a deliberate policy of terror, which encouraged bitter resistance at Haarlem and Alkmaar, and the king, urged on by Ruy Gómez, recalled him. Though Ruy Gómez died in the following year, Alba's position at court was now seriously weakened, and the king actually imprisoned him for a time in the royal castle at Uceda. In 1580 he was recalled to lead the royal armies in the annexation of Portugal, where he died in 1582.
Alba was generally acknowledged as the greatest soldier of his day, and his concept of warfare was preserved by an entire school of military writers who had served under him. He was also an able, if unpopular, diplomat, but his political legacy in the Netherlands, the most important command of his career, was entirely negative. His harsh policies provoked unified opposition to Spanish rule and may be said to have precipitated the movement toward Dutch independence.