The Spanish Match was a proposed marriage between Prince Charles, the son of King James I of England, and Infanta Maria Anna of Spain, the daughter of Philip III of Spain. The policy, unpopular with England's Protestant House of Commons, where the recent Anglo-Spanish War had not been forgotten, was initiated during the embassy to England of Gondomar, who arrived in London in 1614 with the offer that Spain would not interfere with James's troubled rule in Ireland if James would restrain the English "privateers" in Spanish American waters. Further, he proposed a marriage alliance, offering a dowry of £500,000 (later increased to £600,000), which seemed especially attractive to James after the failure of the Parliament of 1614 to provide him with the financial subsidies he requested.
The climax of the ensuing decade of high-level negotiation to secure a marriage between the leading Protestant and Catholic royal families of Europe occurred in 1623 in Madrid, with the embassy of the Prince Charles and James's favourite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. The wedding never took place despite the signing of a marriage contract by King James; criticism instead led to the dissolution of Parliament.
The prospect of a Spanish dowry from a marriage between Charles, Prince of Wales, and Infanta Maria Anna of Spain was a potential source of income for James I, who sought ways to rule without depending on the Commons for subsidies. The policy of the "Spanish Match", as it was called, was supported by the Howards and other Catholic-leaning ministers and diplomats—together known as the Spanish Party—but deeply distrusted in Protestant England, a sentiment voiced vociferously in the Commons when James called his first parliament for seven years in 1621 to raise funds for a military expedition in support of Frederick V, Elector Palatine.
By the 1620s, events on the continent had stirred up anti-Catholic feeling to a new pitch. A conflict had broken out between the Catholic Holy Roman Empire and the Protestant Bohemians, who had deposed the emperor as their king and elected James's son-in-law, Frederick V, Elector Palatine, in his place, triggering the Thirty Years' War. James reluctantly summoned parliament as the only means to raise the funds necessary to assist his daughter Elizabeth and Frederick, who had been ousted from Prague by Emperor Ferdinand II in 1620. The Commons on the one hand granted subsidies inadequate to finance serious military operations in aid of Frederick, and on the other called for a war directly against Spain.
In November 1621, led by Sir Edward Coke, the Commons framed a petition asking not only for a war with Spain but for Prince Charles to marry a Protestant, and for enforcement of the anti-Catholic laws. When James heard of the petition, he is said to have cried, "God give me patience". James flatly told them not to interfere in matters of royal prerogative or they would risk punishment; to which provocation they reacted by issuing a statement protesting their rights, including freedom of speech. James wrote: "We cannot with patience endure our subjects to use such anti-monarchical words to us concerning their liberties, except they had subjoined that they were granted unto them by the grace and favour of our predecessors." Urged on by Buckingham and the Spanish ambassador Gondomar, James ripped the protest out of the record book and dissolved Parliament.
Charles in Spain 
Denied the military option, James ignored public opinion and returned to the Spanish match as his only hope of restoring the possessions of Elizabeth and Frederick. When negotiations began to drag, Prince Charles, now 22, and Buckingham decided to seize the initiative and travel to Spain incognito, to win the Infanta directly. Travelling under the names Thomas and John Smith, they arrived in Madrid on 17 February 1623 to the astonishment of King Philip IV, and of the English Ambassador, John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol, who had been given no warning of the Prince's intentions. The impetuous delegation proved a desperate mistake. Charles and Buckingham had no idea that Maria Anna was strongly averse to marrying a non-Catholic and that the Spanish, who had been protracting the marriage negotiations to keep British troops out of the war, would never agree to such a match unless James and Charles pledged to repeal the anti-Catholic laws. Though a secret treaty was signed, the prince and duke returned to England in October without the Infanta, much to the delight of the British people.
Return to Britain 
Embittered by their treatment in Spain, Charles and Buckingham now turned James's Spanish policy upon its head and called for a French match and a war against the Habsburg empire. To raise the necessary finance, they prevailed upon James to call another Parliament, which met in February 1624. For once, the outpouring of anti-Catholic sentiment in the Commons was echoed in court, where control of policy had shifted from James to Charles and Buckingham, who pressured the king to declare war and engineered the impeachment and imprisonment of the Lord Treasurer, Lionel Cranfield, earl of Middlesex, when he opposed the idea on grounds of cost. Lord Bristol, though entirely blameless, was made the scapegoat for the failure of the match, recalled in disgrace and ordered to remain on his estates. Charles thus antagonised one of his most valuable public servants, and they were not fully reconciled until the outbreak of the English Civil War.
The outcome of the Parliament of 1624 was ambiguous: James still refused to declare war, but Charles believed the Commons had committed themselves to financing a war against Spain, a stance which was to contribute to his problems with Parliament in his own reign. Charles eventually married Henrietta Maria of France.
In popular fiction 
In 2011, Sophia Institute Press released a novel based on historical events entitled The Spanish Match
- Willson, p 357.
- Willson, pp 408–416.
- Willson, p 417.
- Willson, p 421.
- Willson, p 421.
- Willson, p 442.
- Quoted by Willson, p 423.
- Willson, p 243.
- Croft, p 118.
- Croft, pp 118–119.
- "There was an immense outbreak of popular joy, with fireworks, bell ringing and street parties." Croft, p 120.
- Croft, pp 120–121.
- "The aging monarch was no match for the two men closest to him. By the end of the year, the prince and the royal favourite spoke openly against the Spanish marriage and pressured James to call a parliament to consider their now repugnant treaties...with hindsight...the prince’s return from Madrid marked the end of the king's reign. The prince and the favourite encouraged popular anti-Spanish sentiments to commandeer control of foreign and domestic policy." Krugler, pp 63–4.
- "The lord treasurer fell not on largely unproven grounds of corruption, but as the victim of an alliance between warmongering elements at court and in Parliament." Croft, p 125.
- "On that divergence of interpretation, relations between the future king and the Parliaments of the years 1625–9 were to founder." Croft, p 126.
- Croft, Pauline (2003). King James. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-61395-3.
- Krugler, John D. (2004). English and Catholic: the Lords Baltimore in the Seventeenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7963-9.
- Willson, David Harris ( 1963 ed). King James VI & I. London: Jonathan Cape Ltd. ISBN 0-224-60572-0.
Further reading 
- Glyn Redworth (2003). The Prince and the Infanta: The Cultural Politics of the Spanish Match New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10198-8. (Review)
- Robert Cross (2007). "Pretense and Perception in the Spanish Match, or History in a Fake Beard". Journal of Interdisciplinary History. XXXVII:4 (Spring, 2007), 563-583. (link to article)