Charles II of Spain

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Charles II
Juan de Miranda Carreno 002.jpg
Portrait by Juan Carreño de Miranda, c. 1685, shows the Habsburg jaw
King of Spain
Reign17 September 1665 1 November 1700
Predecessor Philip IV
Successor Philip V
Regent Mariana 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
House Habsburg
Father Philip IV of Spain
Mother Mariana of Austria
Religion Roman Catholicism
Signature Firma del Rey Carlos II.svg

Charles II of Spain (6 November 1661 – 1 November 1700), also known as El Hechizado or the Bewitched, was the last Habsburg ruler of the Spanish Empire. He is best remembered for his alleged physical disabilities, and the war that followed his death.


Charles suffered ill-health throughout his life; from the moment he became king at the age of four in 1665, the succession was a prominent consideration in European politics. The historian John Langdon-Davies summarised this 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". [1]

Despite two marriages, he remained childless. When he died in 1700, his heir was 16-year-old Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV and his first wife, Charles's elder half-sister, Maria Theresa. [2] However, the succession of Charles was less important than the division of his territories, and the failure to resolve that question led to war in 1701.

Personal details

Monument to Charles II in the Grand Place, Brussels. Belgique - Bruxelles - Maison du Roi d'Espagne - 02b.jpg
Monument to Charles II in the Grand Place, Brussels.

Charles was the only surviving son of Mariana of Austria (1634-1696) and Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665). For political reasons, marriages between Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs were common; Philip and Mariana were uncle and niece, making Charles their great-nephew and first cousin once removed respectively. All eight of his great-grandparents were descendants of Joanna and Philip I of Castile. [3]

The best-known consequence of such inbreeding is the 'Habsburg jaw', a physical characteristic shared by many Habsburgs, including Charles. However, despite what is often claimed, the extent to which this inbreeding was responsible for his numerous health issues is unclear, and disputed; Margaret Theresa, his elder sister, 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. [4]

If correct, these would be indicative of rare genetic disorders, possibly caused by inbreeding. [5] However, in the absence of genetic material, they remain speculation; even 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'. [6] Another suggestion is his health problems derived from a herpetic infection shortly after birth, while his autopsy report indicates hydrocephalus. [7]

Regardless of the cause, Charles suffered physical ill-health throughout his life, as well as depression; [lower-alpha 1] by the age of six, he had had measles, chickenpox, rubella and smallpox, each of which was then potentially fatal. [9] His Habsburg jaw was so pronounced 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, to reduce the 'strain' on his body and mind. Although prone to illness, contemporaries reported he spent much of his time hunting. [10]

In reality, very little is known for certain, and much of what is suggested unproved, or incorrect. One famous example of his alleged mental problems is that he slept with his father's body; while true, it was done under instructions from Mariana, whose doctors advised this would help him produce an heir. Reports from his council and foreign ambassadors indicate his mental capacities remained intact. [11]


Mariana of Austria by Diego Velazquez, c. 1656, Regent for much of Charles's reign Retrato de la reina Mariana de Austria, by Diego Velazquez.jpg
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, or 'Monarchy', 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, John of Austria the Younger. [12]

Administrative reforms were complex, since the Kingdom of Spain was a personal union of the two Crowns of Castile and Aragon, each with very different political cultures and traditions. [lower-alpha 2] As a result, government finances were in perpetual crisis; the Crown declared bankruptcy nine times between 1557 and 1666, including 1647, 1652, 1661 and 1666. [13]

However, the 17th century was a period of economic crisis for many European states, and Spain was not alone in facing these problems. [14] 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. [15]

The system of delegating duties to a personal minister or valido was established by Philip in 1621, when he appointed the Count-Duke of Olivares. Mariana followed this precedent, her first choice being her Austrian personal confessor, Father Juan Everardo Nithard; modern assessments of her competence are often based on reports by contemporaries, who generally believed women were incapable of exercising power on their own. [16]

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. John forced 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 in 1677 on the basis of his health. [17]

Charles's illegitimate half-brother, John of Austria the Younger Juan Jose de Austria.jpg
Charles's illegitimate half-brother, John of Austria the Younger

The 1672 Franco-Dutch War dragged Spain into another war with France over the Spanish Netherlands, placing additional strain on the economy. When John 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. [18] 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 1683-84 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. [lower-alpha 3] 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. [19]

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. [20]


Marie Louise of Orleans, Charles's first wife Marie Louise d'Orleans by Mignard wearing the Fleur-de-lis (showing her dignity as a Grand daughter of France) and the Spanish crown.jpg
Marie Louise of Orléans, Charles's first wife

One of John's last acts was arranging 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. [21]

There has been considerable debate as to whether Charles was impotent, and if so, the cause; reports provided by Marie Louise indicate 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. [22]

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; his autopsy revealed he had only one atrophied testicle. [23]

As the Crown of Spain passed according to cognatic primogeniture, it was possible for a woman, or the descendant of a woman, to inherit the crown. This enabled Charles's sisters Maria Theresa (1638–1683) and Margaret Theresa (1651–1673) to pass their rights to the children of their marriages with Louis XIV and Emperor Leopold. To prevent Spain's acquisition by France, Maria Theresa renounced her inheritance rights; in return, Louis was promised a dowry of 500,000 gold écus, a huge sum that was never paid. [24]

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, Britain 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. [25]

Maria Anna of Neuburg, Charles's pro-Austrian second wife Marie-Anne de Neubourg, reine d'Espagne.jpg
Maria Anna of Neuburg, Charles's pro-Austrian second wife

Unsurprisingly, 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. [26]

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, Britain 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. [27]

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. [28] He died five days before his 39th birthday on 1 November 1700; Philip was proclaimed King of Spain on 16th, and the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701. [29]

The autopsy records his body "did not contain a single drop of blood; 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." [30] As suggested previously, these are indicative of hydrocephalus, a disease often associated with childhood measles, one of many illnesses suffered by Charles. [7]


Europe in 1700 Europe c. 1700.png
Europe in 1700

In November 1693, Charles issued a Royal Decree, providing sanctuary in Spanish Florida for escaped slaves from the British 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 its neighbour, who claimed the Spanish capital of St. Augustine. [31] The policy was formalised in 1733 by his successor Philip V, and led to the founding in 1738 of Santa Teresa de Mose, the first legally sanctioned free black town in the present-day United States. [32]

When Charles came to the throne, the Inquisition remained a significant force, but its influence had declined, and the large auto-da-fé during his reign were attempts to assert its power. Involvement in the political struggle over his heir led to its downfall; in 1700, the Inquisitor General, Balthasar de Mendoza, Bishop of Segovia, arrested Charles's personal confessor Froilán Díaz on a charge of 'bewitching' the King. [lower-alpha 4] When he 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; it survived as an institution until 1834 but with little power. [33]

The Caroline Islands and the town of Charleroi in modern Belgium were named after him in 1666 and 1686 respectively, [34] as was Carolina, Puerto Rico, albeit long after his death in 1857.[ citation needed ]

Potential heirs to Charles II of Spain
Philip III
of Spain

of Austria

Maria Anna
of Spain

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

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 first spouse is to the left and the second to the right.
  • References
  • Durant, D.; 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.




  1. "His mind, too, was constant prey to a corroding melancholy". [8]
  2. The Crown of Aragon was divided into the Kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Principality of Catalonia and Marquisate of Malta.
  3. 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.
  4. Mendoza was an ally of the pro-Austrian Queen Maria Anna while Díaz was considered pro-French and given Charles's declining health had considerable influence over him.

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  1. Langdon-Davies 1963, p. 3.
  2. Kamen 2001, p. 25.
  3. Alvarez, Ceballos & Celsa 2009, p. 3.
  4. Callaway 2013.
  5. Alvarez, Ceballos & Celsa 2009, p. 4.
  6. Vilas 2019, pp. 553-561.
  7. 1 2 Turliuc 2019, pp. 76-78.
  8. Dunlop 1834, p. 73.
  9. Calvo 1998, p. 6.
  10. Mitchell 2013, pp. 303-308.
  11. Onnekirk, Mijers, Rule 2017, pp. 91-108.
  12. Mitchell 2013, pp. 7-9.
  13. Cowans 2003, pp. 26-27.
  14. De Vries 2009, pp. 151-194.
  15. Storrs 2006, pp. 6-7.
  16. Mitchell 2013, pp. 233-234.
  17. Mitchell 2013, pp. 265-269.
  18. Horne 2005, p. 168.
  19. Onnekirk, Mijers, Rule 2017, p. 97.
  20. Meerts 2014, p. 168.
  21. García-Escudero López 2009, p. 181.
  22. Bittles, et al 2002, pp. 111-130.
  23. García-Escudero López 2009, p. 182.
  24. Wolf 1968, p. 117.
  25. Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 384.
  26. Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 385.
  27. McKay & Scott 1983, pp. 54-55.
  28. Hargreaves-Mawdsley 1979, pp. 15-16.
  29. Falkner 2015, p. 96.
  30. Gargantilla 2005, p. ?.
  31. Landers 1984, p. 298.
  32. Landers 1984, pp. 300-301.
  33. Kamen 1965, p. 185.
  34. Dunford, Lee 1999, p. 303.


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

Succeeded by
Philip V
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