Charles II of Spain

Charles II (Spanish: Carlos; 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 now best remembered for his physical disabilities, and the war for his throne that followed his death.

Charles II
Juan de Miranda Carreno 002.jpg
Portrait by Juan Carreño de Miranda, c. 1685, shows Charles' Habsburg jaw
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
FatherPhilip IV of Spain
MotherMariana of Austria
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SignatureCharles II's signature

He died childless in 1700 with no immediate Habsburg heir. His will named his successor as 16-year-old Philip of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV and Charles's half-sister Maria Theresa.[1] Disputes over the inheritance led to the War of the Spanish Succession.

Early lifeEdit

Diego Velázquez' 1656 painting Las Meninas showing the Spanish royal court of the time

Charles was born in Madrid to Philip IV of Spain and his second wife, Mariana of Austria. The only survivor of three son from their marriage, he was given the title Prince of Asturias, traditionally held by the heir to the Spanish throne. The Habsburgs protected their estates by frequent intermarriage between the Spanish and Austrian branches. Philip and Mariana were uncle and niece, making Charles their great-nephew and first cousin respectively, as well as their son. All eight of his great-grandparents were descendants of Joanna and Philip I of Castile.

The impact of this is not fully understood, and his elder sister Margaret Theresa did not have the same issues; he may have suffered from combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.[2] If correct, these are indicative of rare genetic disorders, possibly caused by inbreeding.[3]

Another suggestion is they were caused by a herpetic infection shortly after birth, while his autopsy report is symptomatic of hydrocephalus.[4] However, any theories are based on contemporary accounts of his symptoms, and in the absence of genetic material, remain speculation.[5]

Regardless of the cause, Charles suffered from ill-health throughout his life, as well as depression;[a] by the age of six, he had had measles, chickenpox, rubella and smallpox, any one of which was potentially fatal at the time.[7] In his case, the so-called Habsburg lip was so pronounced he spoke and ate only with difficulty, and did not learn to talk until the age of four, or walk until eight. However, foreign observers such as the Marquess of Torcy reported his mental capacities remained intact, and suggested his ailments were exaggerated by his mother to restrict access.[8]

Background; the decline of Spanish powerEdit

Mariana of Austria by Diego Velázquez, c. 1656; she acted as Regent for much of Charles' reign

When Charles became King in 1665, the Spanish Empire or 'Monarchy' remained an enormous global confederation in terms of territory, but decades of war ended Spain's supremacy in Europe. The 1648 Treaty of Westphalia recognised the Dutch Republic and ended the 1568-1648 Eighty Years' War, but also agreed peace between the Austrian Habsburgs and France. After centuries of mutual support, this left the Spanish Habsburgs fighting the 1635-1659 war with France, and a Portuguese revolt, which only ended in 1668.[9]

The Kingdom of Spain comprised the two Crowns of Castile and Aragon, each with very different political cultures and traditions.[b] This made it hard to enact reforms or collect taxes and government finances were in perpetual crisis. Spain declared bankruptcy nine times between 1557 and 1666, including 1647, 1652, 1661 and 1666.[10]

However, the 17th century was a period of crisis for many European states and Spain was not alone in facing these problems.[11] Infighting between those who ruled in Charles' 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.[12]


John of Austria; his struggle with Mariana over control of government severely weakened Spain

Charles was three years old when his father, Philip IV, died on 17 September 1665; as a legal minor, his mother Mariana was appointed Queen Regent by the Council of Castile. Although supposedly ruling in his own name after her death in 1696, his ill-health meant power was often exercised by others. Internal struggles for control further weakened government, the feud between his mother and illegitimate half-brother John of Austria the Younger being especially damaging.[13]

The system of delegating duties to a personal minister or valido was established by Philip, when he appointed the Count-Duke of Olivares in 1621. Mariana followed this precedent, her first choice being her Austrian personal confessor, Father Juan Everardo Nithard; assessments of her competence often reflect contemporary views women were incapable of exercising power on their own.[14]

When Charles came to the throne, his administration was faced by the long-running Portuguese Restoration War and the War of Devolution with France. The Crown declared bankruptcy in 1662 and 1666, and reducing military expenditure a matter of extreme urgency. The 1668 treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle and Lisbon ended the war with France, and accepted Portuguese independence.[15]

Marie Louise of Orléans, Charles' first wife

Spain was no longer strong enough to retain Portugal against its will, while Aix-la-Chapelle restored most of their losses in the Spanish Netherlands and Franche-Comté. However, John instigated a revolt in Aragon and Catalonia, compelling Mariana to dismiss Nithard in February 1669 and replace him with Fernando de Valenzuela. Mariana's regency was dissolved when Charles turned became a legal adult in 1675, then restored in 1677 on the basis of his health.[16]

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.[17] 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.

Maria-Anna, Charles' pro-Austrian second wife

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; despite allegations she was poisoned, based on the description of her symptoms, modern doctors believe her illness was almost certainly appendicitis.[c] 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.[18]

It was clear Charles' health was finally failing and agreeing 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' search for allies in anticipation of a contest over the Spanish throne. The Habsburg Emperor Leopold initially refused to sign the Treaty since it left this issue unresolved; he reluctantly did so in October 1697 but all sides viewed it as a pause in hostilities.[19]

The SuccessionEdit

Europe in 1700

One of John's last acts was arranging Charles' marriage in 1679 to Marie Louise, eldest daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. The French ambassador wrote '...he is so ugly as to cause fear, and looks ill', but the marriage went ahead regardless. Marie Louise was blamed for the failure to produce an heir, while primitive fertility treatments gave her severe intestinal problems.[20]

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.[21]

Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria.

When she died in February 1689, Charles married Maria Anna of Neuburg; daughter of Philip William, Elector Palatine and sister-in-law to Emperor Leopold, her family was famous for its fertility. She was no more successful in producing an heir than her predecessor; Charles' autopsy revealed he had only one atrophied testicle, and he was almost certainly impotent by this stage.[22]

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' 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.

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.[23]

Philip of Anjou is proclaimed Philip V of Spain, 16 November 1700

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.[24]

This left Louis XIV's eldest son, the Grand Dauphin, as heir to the Spanish throne, which implied 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.[25]

Most of the Spanish nobility disliked the Austrians, and Maria Anna, and preferred a French candidate. 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.[26] Following his death on 1 November 1700, Philip was proclaimed King of Spain on 16th. Both Britain and the Dutch Republic accepted this, but diplomatic mis-steps by Louis XIV led to the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701.[27]


Spanish gold coin minted in 1700, the last year of the reign of Charles II

Charles died in Madrid five days before his 39th birthday on 1 November 1700; his 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."[28] As suggested previously, these are indicative of hydrocephalus.[4]

His life was memorably summarised by John Langdon-Davies as follows: "If birth is a beginning, 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."[29]


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.[30] The policy was formalised in 1733 by his successor Philip V, and led to the founding in 1738 of Santa Teresa de Mose, first legally sanctioned free black town in the present-day United States.[31]

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' personal confessor Froilán Díaz on a charge of 'bewitching' the King.[d] 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.[32]

The Caroline Islands and the town of Charleroi in modern Belgium were named after him in 1666 and 1686 respectively, [33] 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".[6]
  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. ^ In an era when many illnesses were poorly understood, poison was frequently suggested as the cause, 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' declining health had considerable influence over him.


  1. ^ Kamen 2001, p. 25.
  2. ^ Callaway 2013.
  3. ^ Alvarez, Ceballos & Celsa 2009, p. 4.
  4. ^ a b Turliuc 2019, pp. 76-78.
  5. ^ Leutenegger 2003, pp. 76-83.
  6. ^ Dunlop 1834, p. 73.
  7. ^ Calvo 1998, p. 6.
  8. ^ Onnekirk, Mijers, Rule 2017, pp. 91-108.
  9. ^ Dhondt 2016, p. 3.
  10. ^ Cowans 2003, pp. 26-27.
  11. ^ De Vries 2009, pp. 151-194.
  12. ^ Storrs 2006, pp. 6-7.
  13. ^ Mitchell 2013, pp. 7-9.
  14. ^ Mitchell 2013, pp. 233-234.
  15. ^ Barton 2009, p. ?.
  16. ^ Mitchell 2013, pp. 265-269.
  17. ^ Horne 2005, p. 168.
  18. ^ Onnekirk, Mijers, Rule 2017, p. 97.
  19. ^ Meerts 2014, p. 168.
  20. ^ García-Escudero López 2009, p. 181.
  21. ^ Bittles, et al 2002, pp. 111-130.
  22. ^ García-Escudero López 2009, p. 182.
  23. ^ Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 384.
  24. ^ Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 385.
  25. ^ McKay & Scott 1983, pp. 54-55.
  26. ^ Hargreaves-Mawdsley 1979, pp. 15-16.
  27. ^ Falkner 2015, p. 96.
  28. ^ Gargantilla 2005, p. ?.
  29. ^ Langdon-Davies 1963, p. 3.
  30. ^ Landers 1984, p. 298.
  31. ^ Landers 1984, pp. 300-301.
  32. ^ Kamen 1965, p. 185.
  33. ^ Dunford, Lee 1999, p. 303.


External linksEdit

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