Charles II of Spain

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Charles II
King Charles II of Spain by John Closterman.jpg
Portrait by John Closterman, painted circa 1696
King of Spain
Reign17 September 1665 – 1 November 1700
PredecessorPhilip IV
SuccessorPhilip V
RegentMariana of Austria (1665–1675)
Born(1661-11-06)6 November 1661
Royal Alcazar of Madrid, Spain
Died1 November 1700(1700-11-01) (aged 38)
Royal Alcazar of Madrid, Spain
(m. 1679; died 1689)
(m. 1689)
FatherPhilip IV of Spain
MotherMariana of Austria
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SignatureCharles II's signature

Charles II of Spain (Spanish: Carlos II) (6 November 1661 - 1 November 1700), known as The Bewitched (Spanish: El Hechizado), was the last Habsburg ruler of the Spanish Empire. Although best remembered for his physical disabilities and the War of the Spanish Succession that followed his death, modern historians argue "both the myth of decline and an incapable king...are simplistic and inexact".[1]

For reasons that are still debated, Charles suffered ill health throughout his life and from the moment he became king at the age of three in 1665, the succession was a prominent consideration in European politics. Historian John Langdon-Davies summarised his life as follows: "Of no man is it more true to say that in his beginning was his end; from the day of his birth, they were waiting for his death".[2] Despite this, his successors inherited an Empire that remained largely intact, while during his reign Spain played a prominent role in opposing the expansionist policies of Louis XIV of France.

Although Charles married twice, neither union produced children, and on his death in November 1700, he was succeeded by the 16-year-old Philip of Anjou, grandson of his elder half-sister Maria Theresa of Spain and Louis XIV.[3] However, the question of who inherited the crown was less important than the division of his territories, and failure to resolve the issue through diplomacy led to war in 1701.

Personal details[edit]

Charles was the only surviving son of Mariana of Austria (1634–1696) and Philip IV of Spain (1605–1665) who was 56 years old at the time of his son's birth. European nobility commonly married within the same extended family to retain property, although the Spanish Habsburgs were unusual only in the extent. Of eleven marriages contracted between 1450 and 1661, the vast majority contained some element of consanguinity, while Philip and Mariana were one of two unions between uncle and niece.[4] It is suggested this may have been partially driven by Spanish Limpieza de sangre or "blood purity" statutes enacted in the early 16th century and which remained in use until the 1860s.[5]

Monument to Charles II in the Grand Place, Brussels.

A consequence of such inbreeding is the 'Habsburg jaw', a physical characteristic shared by many Habsburgs, including Charles. The extent to which this was responsible for his numerous health issues is unclear, and disputed, while his elder sister, Margaret Theresa of Spain, did not have the same issues. Based on contemporary accounts of his symptoms, he may have suffered from combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.[6]

These conditions could be indicative of rare genetic disorders, possibly caused by inbreeding.[7] However, in the absence of genetic material such claims remain speculative; a 2019 study by the same team on the Habsburg jaw, based on analysis of portraits, could only conclude a genetic link was 'highly likely'.[8] One suggestion is his health problems derived from a herpetic infection shortly after birth, while his autopsy report indicates hydrocephalus.[9] Historians Will and Ariel Durant famously described him as "short, lame, epileptic, senile and completely bald before 35, always on the verge of death but repeatedly baffling Christendom by continuing to live."[10]

After his birth, he was entrusted to the royal governess Mariana Engracia Álvarez de Toledo Portugal y Alfonso-Pimentel.[11] By the age of six, he had survived attacks of measles, chickenpox, rubella, and smallpox, any one of which was then potentially fatal.[12] His Habsburg jaw was so pronounced that he spoke and ate only with difficulty, and did not learn to talk until the age of four. However, it was Mariana who insisted he be carried everywhere until he was eight, and left uneducated as a child, allegedly to reduce the 'strain' on his body and mind. On reaching the age of 14 in 1670, he was tutored in music by Juan del Vado, and in mathematics by Jose Zaragoza, Professor at the Colegio Imperial de Madrid, whom he later commissioned to carry out a number of engineering projects in Spain.[13]

The extent of his alleged physical and mental disabilities is hard to assess, since very little is known for certain, and much of what is suggested either unproved, or incorrect. While prone to illness, he was extremely active physically and contemporaries reported he spent much of his time hunting.[14] One often cited example of his alleged mental incapacity is the period he spent sleeping with his father's disinterred body; that was actually done under instructions from Mariana, whose doctors advised this would help him produce an heir. Although reputedly subject to bouts of depression, reports from his council and foreign observers including the French ambassador, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Marquess of Torcy, suggest his mental capacities remained intact.[15] This is confirmed in a 1691 report submitted by an envoy carrying letters from Ismail Ibn Sharif, Sultan of Morocco. Sent to negotiate an exchange of prisoners, the ambassador was received by Charles himself, who thanked him for the letter, sent greetings to the Sultan and played a full part in discussions.[16]


Mariana of Austria by Diego Velázquez, c. 1656, Regent for much of Charles's reign

Since Charles was a legal minor when Philip died on 17 September 1665, Mariana was appointed Queen Regent by the Council of Castile. While the Spanish Empire remained an enormous global confederation, its economic supremacy was challenged by the Dutch Republic, and increasingly England, while Europe was destabilised by French expansion under Louis XIV. Managing these issues was damaged by Mariana's power struggle with Charles's illegitimate half-brother, Don Juan José de Austria; in addition, Spain was a personal union between Castile and Aragon, each with very different political cultures and traditions.[a][17]

As a result of these factors, government finances were in perpetual crisis; the Crown declared bankruptcy nine times between 1557 and 1666, including 1647, 1652, 1661, and 1666.[18] However, the so-called "Little Ice Age" of the 17th century was a period of crisis for many European states, and Spain was not alone in facing these problems.[19] Infighting between those who ruled in Charles's name did little to help, but it is debatable how far they or he can be held responsible for long-term trends predating his reign. The Monarchy proved remarkably resilient, and when Charles died, remained largely intact.[20]

The policy of delegating duties to a personal minister had been set by Philip in 1621, when he appointed Olivares as his valido. When Marianna appointed Juan Everardo Nithard, she was thus following an established custom; modern assessments of her competence are often based on reports by contemporaries, who generally believed women were incapable of exercising power on their own.[21] The costs of the Portuguese Restoration War, and the War of Devolution with France, forced the Crown to declare bankruptcy in 1662 and 1666, making reductions in expenditure urgent. The 1668 treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle and Lisbon ended the war with France, and accepted Portuguese independence. Don Juan compelled Mariana to dismiss Nithard in February 1669, who replaced him with Fernando de Valenzuela. The regency was dissolved when Charles became a legal adult in 1675, then restored by Marianna in 1677 on the basis of his health.[22]

Charles's illegitimate half-brother, Don Juan José de Austria

The 1672 Franco-Dutch War dragged Spain into another war with France over the Spanish Netherlands, placing additional strain on the economy. When Don Juan finally took charge of government in January 1678, his first task was ending it; in the 1678 Treaties of Nijmegen, Spain ceded Franche-Comté and areas of the Spanish Netherlands returned in 1668.[23] Prior to his death in September 1679, he arranged a marriage between Charles, and a 17-year-old French princess, Marie Louise of Orléans; Mariana returned as Queen Regent but her influence was diminished.

The 1683–1684 War of the Reunions with France was followed in 1688 by the Nine Years' War. Shortly afterwards, Marie Louise died in February 1689; based on the description of her symptoms, modern doctors believe her illness was almost certainly appendicitis.[b] In August, Charles married Maria Anna of Neuburg by proxy, the formal wedding taking place in May 1690; after his mother died on 16 May 1696, he ruled in his own name, although Maria Anna played a significant role due to his ill-health and her control over access to Charles.[24]

It was clear Charles's health was finally failing and agreeing on a successor became increasingly urgent. The Nine Years' War showed France could not achieve its objectives on its own; the 1697 Treaty of Ryswick was the result of mutual exhaustion and Louis's search for allies in anticipation of a contest over the Spanish throne. Austrian Habsburg Emperor Leopold refused to sign since it left the issue unresolved; he reluctantly did so in October 1697, but viewed it as a pause in hostilities.[25]


Marie Louise of Orléans, Charles's first wife

One of John's last actions was to arrange Charles's marriage in 1679 to Marie Louise, eldest daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. While the French ambassador wrote "... he is so ugly as to cause fear, and looks ill", it was considered irrelevant to the political benefits. Marie Louise was blamed for the failure to produce an heir, while primitive fertility treatments gave her severe intestinal problems.[26] There has been considerable debate as to whether Charles was impotent, and if so, the cause; based on private interviews with Marie Louise, he may have suffered from premature ejaculation. The suggestion it was the result of inbreeding has not been proved, while a number of scientific studies dispute any linkage between fertility and consanguinity.[27]

After she died in February 1689, Charles married Maria Anna of Neuburg, one of the twelve children of Philip William, Elector Palatine, and sister-in-law to Emperor Leopold. Although partly selected because her family was famous for its fertility, she proved no more successful in producing an heir than her predecessor. By this stage, Charles was almost certainly impotent, since after his autopsy later revealed he had only one atrophied testicle.[28]

This made the question of his successor increasingly urgent; since the Crown of Spain passed according to cognatic primogeniture, it was possible for a woman, or the descendant of a woman, to inherit. This enabled Charles's sisters Maria Theresa (1638–1683) and Margaret Theresa to pass their rights to the children of their marriages with Louis XIV and Emperor Leopold. However, to prevent a union between Spain and France, Maria Theresa had renounced her inheritance rights on her marriage; in return, Louis was promised a dowry of 500,000 gold écus, a huge sum that was never paid.[29]

In 1685, Leopold and Margaret's daughter Maria Antonia married Max Emanuel of Bavaria; she died in 1692, leaving one surviving son, Joseph Ferdinand. In October 1698, France, England and the Dutch Republic attempted to impose a diplomatic solution to the Succession on Spain and Austria, by the Treaty of the Hague or First Partition Treaty. This made Joseph Ferdinand heir to the bulk of the Spanish Monarchy, with France gaining the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily and other concessions in Italy plus the modern Basque province of Gipuzkoa. Leopold's younger son Archduke Charles became ruler of the Duchy of Milan, a possession considered vital to the security of Austria's southern border.[30]

Maria Anna of Neuburg, Charles's pro-Austrian second wife

The Spanish objected to their Empire being divided by foreign powers without consultation, and on 14 November 1698, Charles II made Joseph Ferdinand heir to an independent and undivided Spanish Monarchy. Maria Anna was appointed Regent during his minority, an announcement allegedly received by the Spanish councillors in silence. Joseph Ferdinand's death in 1699 ended these arrangements.[31] It also left Louis XIV's eldest son, the Grand Dauphin, heir to the Spanish throne, once again implying union between Spain and France. In March 1700, France, England and the Dutch agreed an alternative; Archduke Charles replaced Joseph Ferdinand, with Spanish possessions in Europe split between France, Savoy and Austria. Charles reacted by altering his will in favour of Archduke Charles, but once again stipulating an undivided and independent Spanish Monarchy.[32]

Most of the Spanish nobility disliked the Austrians, and Maria Anna, and viewed a French candidate as more likely to ensure their independence. In September 1700, Charles became ill again; by 28 September he was no longer able to eat, and Portocarrero persuaded him to alter his will in favour of Louis XIV's grandson, Philip of Anjou.[33] He died on 1 November 1700, five days before his 39th birthday; Philip was proclaimed King of Spain on the 16th, and the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701.[34]

The autopsy records his "heart was the size of a peppercorn; his lungs corroded; his intestines rotten and gangrenous; he had a single testicle, black as coal, and his head was full of water."[35] As suggested previously, these are indicative of hydrocephalus, a disease often associated with childhood measles, one of many illnesses suffered by Charles.[9]


Europe in 1700

The thirty-five year reign of Charles II has traditionally been viewed as one of decline and decay; in 1691, a foreign ambassador observed "it is incomprehensible how this monarchy survives".[36] Deflation resulting from currency reforms over the period 1679 to 1686 severely impacted the Castilian economy, while its population dropped from 6.5 million in 1600 to less than 5 million in 1680; for Spain as a whole, comparable figures were 8.5 to 6.6 million.[37] Recent scholarship suggests a more nuanced perspective; despite the short-term impact, these measures ended the chronic instability which had affected the Spanish currency throughout the 17th century and helped drive sustainable economic growth.[38] In addition, a variety of commercial and political policies initiated under Charles formed the basis for many of the reforms enacted by his Bourbon successors.[39]

These included the Spanish Inquisition, whose attempts to restore its influence by holding large auto-da-fé during Charles' reign was negated by its involvement in the political struggle over the succession. When Charles changed his will in favour of Philip in 1700, the Inquisitor General Baltasar de Mendoza y Sandoval, an ally of Maria Anna, arrested his personal confessor Froilán Díaz on a charge of 'bewitching' the king. When Díaz was found not guilty, Mendoza attempted to arrest those who voted for his acquittal, resulting in the establishment of a Council to investigate the Inquisition; although it survived until 1834, its influence had ended.[40]

In November 1693, a Royal Decree provided sanctuary in Spanish Florida for escaped slaves from the colony of South Carolina. Despite its relative poverty, Spanish Florida provided protection from storms in the Gulf of Mexico for Spanish merchant shipping; the decree was intended to bolster its population, while undermining the neighboring colony, which claimed the Spanish capital of St. Augustine.[41] Formalised in 1733 by Philip, it led to the founding in 1738 of Santa Teresa de Mose, the first legally sanctioned free black town in the present-day United States.[42]

The Caroline Islands and the town of Charleroi in modern Belgium were named after him in 1666 and 1686 respectively.[43] Decrees were also issued in his name approving universities in South America which still exist. In Peru, they include San Cristóbal, established in 1680, and the National University; in Guatemala, the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, the fourth oldest university on the continent. Others include Santo Tomas Aquino in 1688, now part of the Central University of Ecuador, and finally in 1694 the Universidad de San Nicolás de Mira in Bogota, Colombia.[44]

Family tree of claimants to the Spanish throne following the death of Charles II
Philip III
of Spain

of Austria

Maria Anna
of Spain

Ferdinand III
Holy Roman Emperor

of Austria

of France

Philip IV
of Spain

of Austria

Louis XIV
of France

Maria Theresa
of Spain

Charles II
of Spain

Margaret Theresa
of Spain

Leopold I
Holy Roman Emperor

Eleonor Magdalene
of Neuburg

Grand Dauphin

Maria Antonia
of Austria

Charles VI
Holy Roman Emperor

Petit Dauphin of France

Philip V
of Spain

Duke of Berry

Joseph Ferdinand
of Bavaria

  • Potential heirs are shown with a golden border. In cases of second marriages, the earlier spouse is to the left and the later to the right.
  • References
  • Durant, W.; Durant, A. (2011). The Age of Louis XIV: The Story of Civilization. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781451647655.
  • Kamen, H. (2001). Philip V of Spain: The King Who Reigned Twice. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300180541.



Philip I
of Castile
of Castile
of Portugal
Charles V
Holy Roman Emperor
Ferdinand I
Holy Roman Emperor
of Bohemia
and Hungary
of Austria
Christian II
of Denmark
of Spain
Maximilian II
Holy Roman Emperor
of Austria
Albert V
Duke of Bavaria
of Denmark
Francis I
Duke of Lorraine
Philip II
of Spain
of Austria
Charles II
Archduke of Austria
Maria Anna
of Bavaria
William V
Duke of Bavaria
of Lorraine
Philip III
of Spain
of Austria
Ferdinand II
Holy Roman Emperor
Maria Anna
of Bavaria
Maria Anna
of Spain
Ferdinand III
Holy Roman Emperor
Philip IV
of Spain
of Austria
Charles II
of Spain

  1. ^ a b Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Joanna" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 15 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1860). "Habsburg, Elisabeth (eigentlich Isabella von Oesterreich)" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 6. p. 167 – via Wikisource.
  4. ^ a b Kurth, Godefroid (1911). "Philip II" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  5. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Maria von Spanien" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 19 – via Wikisource.
  6. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1860). "Habsburg, Karl II. von Steiermark" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 6. p. 352 – via Wikisource.
  7. ^ a b Press, Volker (1990), "Maximilian II.", Neue Deutsche Biographie (in German), 16, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 471–475; (full text online)
  8. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1860). "Habsburg, Anna von Oesterreich (1528–1587)" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 6. p. 151 – via Wikisource.
  9. ^ a b c d Cartwright, Julia Mary (1913). Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan and Lorraine, 1522-1590. New York: E. P. Dutton. pp. 536–539.
  10. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1860). "Habsburg, Anna von Oesterreich (Königin von Spanien)" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 6. p. 151 – via Wikisource.
  11. ^ a b Sigmund Ritter von Riezler (1897), "Wilhelm V. (Herzog von Bayern)", Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB) (in German), 42, Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 717–723
  12. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Maria von Bayern" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 20 – via Wikisource.
  13. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Philipp III." . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 120 – via Wikisource.
  14. ^ a b Eder, Karl (1961), "Ferdinand II.", Neue Deutsche Biographie (in German), 5, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 83–85; (full text online)
  15. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Margaretha (Königin von Spanien)" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 13 – via Wikisource.
  16. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Maria Anna von Bayern" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 23 – via Wikisource.
  17. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Maria Anna von Spanien" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 23 – via Wikisource.
  18. ^ a b Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Philipp IV." . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 122 – via Wikisource.
  19. ^ a b c d Wurzbach, Constantin, von, ed. (1861). "Habsburg, Maria Anna (Königin von Spanien)" . Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich [Biographical Encyclopedia of the Austrian Empire] (in German). 7. p. 24 – via Wikisource.
  20. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Charles II. (King of Spain)" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.


  1. ^ The Crown of Aragon was divided into the Kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, the Principality of Catalonia, and the Marquisate of Malta.
  2. ^ Despite contemporary suggestions of poison, this claim was extremely common in an era when many illnesses were poorly understood, particularly since it could rarely be disproved.


  1. ^ Ribot 2018, p. 215.
  2. ^ Langdon-Davies 1963, p. 3.
  3. ^ Kamen 2001, p. 25.
  4. ^ Alvarez, Ceballos & Celsa 2009, pp. 3–4.
  5. ^ Kamen 2002, pp. 344–345.
  6. ^ Callaway 2013.
  7. ^ Alvarez, Ceballos & Celsa 2009, p. 4.
  8. ^ Vilas 2019, pp. 553–561.
  9. ^ a b Turliuc 2019, pp. 76–78.
  10. ^ Durant & Durant 1935, p. 452.
  11. ^ "Mariana Engracia de Toledo Portugal y Pimentel | Real Academia de la Historia".
  12. ^ Calvo 1998, p. 6.
  13. ^ Bordas & Robledo 1998, pp. 392–393.
  14. ^ Mitchell 2013, pp. 303–308.
  15. ^ Rule 2017, pp. 91–108.
  16. ^ Stanley 1868, pp. 366–367.
  17. ^ Mitchell 2013, pp. 7–9.
  18. ^ Cowans 2003, pp. 26–27.
  19. ^ De Vries 2009, pp. 151–194.
  20. ^ Storrs 2006, pp. 6–7.
  21. ^ Mitchell 2013, pp. 233–234.
  22. ^ Mitchell 2013, pp. 265–269.
  23. ^ Horne 2005, p. 168.
  24. ^ Rule 2017, p. 97.
  25. ^ Meerts 2014, p. 168.
  26. ^ García-Escudero López et al 2009, p. 181.
  27. ^ Bittles 2002, pp. 111–130.
  28. ^ García-Escudero López et al 2009, p. 182.
  29. ^ Wolf 1968, p. 117.
  30. ^ Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 384.
  31. ^ Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 385.
  32. ^ McKay & Scott 1983, pp. 54–55.
  33. ^ Hargreaves-Mawdsley 1979, pp. 15–16.
  34. ^ Falkner 2015, p. 96.
  35. ^ Gargantilla 2005, p. ?.
  36. ^ Kamen 2002, p. 434.
  37. ^ "Charles II". Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  38. ^ Villanueva 2006, pp. 14–15.
  39. ^ Fox 2013, p. 55.
  40. ^ Kamen 1965, p. 185.
  41. ^ Landers 1984, p. 298.
  42. ^ Landers 1984, pp. 300–301.
  43. ^ Dunford & Lee 1999, p. 303.
  44. ^ Beltrán & Carmen 2012.


Charles II of Spain
Born: November 6 1661 Died: November 1 1700
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Spain,
Sardinia, Naples and Sicily
Duke of Milan, Lothier,
Brabant, Limburg and Luxemburg
Count of Flanders, Hainaut and Namur

Succeeded by
Count Palatine of Burgundy
Lost to France
Treaties of Nijmegen
Spanish royalty
Title last held by
Philip Prospero
Prince of Asturias
Title next held by
Louis Philip