Charles II of Spain (Spanish: Carlos II; 6 November 1661 – 1 November 1700) was the last Habsburg ruler of the Spanish Empire. Known as "the Bewitched" (Spanish: el Hechizado),[1] he is now best remembered for his extensive physical, intellectual, and emotional disabilities and the war that followed his death.

He died childless in 1700, all potential Habsburg successors having predeceased him. His will named his successor as 16-year-old Philip, grandson of the reigning French king Louis XIV and Charles's half-sister Maria Theresa.[2] Disputes over his inheritance led to a European war known as the War of the Spanish Succession.

Early life

Charles was born in Madrid to Philip IV of Spain and his second wife, Mariana of Austria. The only surviving son of his father's two marriages, he was named Prince of Asturias, a title traditionally held by the heir to the Spanish throne.[3]

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez; Charles' sister Margarita Teresa in 1656.

Since power and possessions were habitually transferred by marriage, some degree of inter-marriage or consanguinity was common at the upper levels of society in order to retain their assets;[a] the Spanish Habsburgs took this to a level considered extreme even by contemporaries.[4] Philip and Mariana were uncle and niece, making Charles their son, first-cousin and great-nephew respectively, with all eight of his great-grandparents being descendants of Joanna and Philip I of Castile.[b] His older full sister Margaret Theresa does not appear to have suffered the same issues.

Charles was severely disabled, both physically and mentally, described as "short, lame, epileptic, senile and completely bald before 35, always on the verge of death but repeatedly baffling Christendom by continuing to live."[5] He is thought to have suffered from the endocrine disease acromegaly and a combination of rare genetic disorders often transmitted through recessive genes, including combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.[6] In his case, the so-called Habsburg lip was so pronounced that he spoke and ate with difficulty his entire life. He did not learn to speak until four, walk until eight, was effectively treated as an infant until he was ten years old and did not attend school.

His indolence was indulged to such an extent that at times he was not expected to be clean. When his illegitimate half-brother John of Austria the Younger obtained power by exiling his mother Mariana from court, he covered his nose and insisted the King at least brush his hair.[citation needed] The only vigorous activity in which Charles is known to have participated was shooting in the preserves of El Escorial.[citation needed]

Background; the decline of Spanish power

Charles II in his twenties

When Charles succeeded his father in 1665, the Spanish Empire or 'Monarchy' remained an enormous global confederation but its power and prestige had been diminishing since the 1640s for a number of reasons.

Almost continuous warfare drained money, energy and men, the most serious of which was the 1578-1648 Eighty Years' War with the Dutch Republic. Spain recognised Dutch independence in the 1648 Peace of Münster but kept the Spanish Netherlands. This simply replaced the Dutch with France and led to a series of wars for a province that no longer provided any benefit; Münster also gave the Dutch and the merchants of Amsterdam control of the Scheldt that flowed through Antwerp and destroyed its trading activities.[c]

The 17th Spanish economy experienced long periods of low productivity and depression for a number of reasons.[7] Between 1600-1700 the population declined by an estimated 25%, due to emigration, disease eg the 1646-50 Great Plague of Seville, famine and the casualties caused by almost endless warfare. This had a huge economic impact with major manufacturing areas losing almost half their workforce and not enough men to build or man the ships on which Spanish trade depended.[8] Limited central control made it hard to collect taxes and combined with economic depression meant government finances were in perpetual crisis.[9] The Spanish Crown declared bankruptcy nine times between 1557 to 1666, including 1647, 1652, 1661 and 1666.

The third factor was weak central control; 'Spain' was actually separate kingdoms under the same monarch, the major ones being the Crown of Castile and Crown of Aragon.[d] The tensions between the different regions combined with the deeply conservative nature of the political class made decision-making or enacting reforms extremely slow and difficult.

These factors make it debatable as to how far Charles himself and those who ruled in his name can be held responsible for long-term trends that predated his reign.[10] In addition, these problems were not uniquely Spanish; the 17th century was a period of crisis for many European nations.[11] The Empire proved remarkably resilient and when Charles died in 1700, it remained largely intact.[12]


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. While Charles theoretically ruled in his own name after her death in 1696, his disabilities meant throughout his reign power was exercised by others. The result was internal struggles between different elements for control of government, the long feud between his mother and illegitimate half-brother John being especially damaging.

Mariana of Austria by Diego Velázquez, c. 1656; she acted as Regent for much of Charles' reign
John of Austria; his struggles with Mariana for control of government severely weakened Spain

The system of ruling through personal favourites or "validos" had been established by Charles' father Philip in 1621 when he appointed the Count-Duke of Olivares. Mariana did the same, the only difference being that as a woman, they were more visible; the first was her personal confessor, Juan Everardo Nithard who was appointed Grand Inquisitor in 1666 placing him on the Regency Council. [e]

On Charles' accession, his administration had to end the long-running Portuguese Restoration War and settle the War of Devolution with France. Nithard was desperate to reduce Spain's military commitments at almost any price, with the Spanish Crown declaring bankruptcy in 1662 and 1666. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war with France while the Treaty of Lisbon accepted the restoration of the Crown of Portugal and loss of the Portuguese Empire.[13] These were simply an acceptance of reality while Aix-La-Chapelle was in many ways a diplomatic triumph, since France was forced to return most of its territorial gains. However, John exploited discontent within the ruling class to instigate a revolt in Aragon and Catalonia, compelling Mariana to dismiss Nithard in February 1669.

Nithard was replaced by Fernando de Valenzuela; when Charles turned 14 in 1675, he was legally able to rule on his own. This would have resulted in the end of the Regency while John used the opportunity to dismiss the valido. Mariana succeeded in having the Regency continued on the basis of Charles's disabilities and Valenzuela returned to court in 1677.

The outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War in 1672 dragged Spain into another war with France over the Spanish Netherlands, the cost of which placed almost intolerable strain on the economy. In January 1678, John finally took charge of government, expelled Mariana and exiled Valenzuela. Ironically, given his earlier opposition to the concessions made in 1668, his first act was to end the war; under the terms of the Treaties of Nijmegen, Spain ceded many of the territories in Franche-Comté and the Spanish Netherlands returned by France at Aix-la-Chapelle.

Marie Louise, Charles' first Queen.

Having spent so many years achieving power, John's administration failed to live up to expectations, one of the few achievements being to stabilise the currency. He faced an almost impossible situation and had insufficient time to have a real impact before his government ended with his death in September 1679. Mariana returned as Queen Regent but her influence was diminished by Charles' marriage in November 1679 to the 17-year-old Marie Louise of Orléans to whom he was devoted.

Marie-Anne de Neuborg, Charles' second wife.

The 1683-84 War of the Reunions was a brief but devastating conflict with France over the Spanish Netherlands, followed in 1688 by the outbreak of the Nine Years' War. Shortly afterwards, Marie Louise died in February 1689, almost certainly from appendicitis; there were allegations she was poisoned but many deaths were due to lack of medical knowledge. In August, Charles married Maria Anna of Neuburg and when Mariana died on 16 May 1696, he ruled in his own name until his death in 1700.

By this time it was clear Charles' health was finally failing and agreeing his 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 simply a pause in hostilities.[14]

The Succession

Europe in 1700, at the beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession

Unlike France or Austria, the Spanish Monarchy could be inherited by or through a woman. [15] Charles had two sisters, Maria Theresa and Margaret; Maria (1638-83) married Louis XIV, their son Louis, Dauphin of France being heir to the French throne. Margaret married her Habsburg cousin Emperor Leopold and their daughter Maria Antonia 1669-1692 had a son Joseph Ferdinand with Max Emanuel of Bavaria.

Maria Antonia transferred her rights to the Spanish throne to Leopold's sons from his third marriage, her half-brothers Joseph and Charles.[16] This was a measure of dubious legality but theoretical arguments over who had the better claim by birth are largely irrelevant; neither Austria and France could allow the other to acquire an undivided Spanish Monarchy.

Joseph Ferdinand, Prince of Bavaria and heir to Charles until his death in 1699.

The 1698 Treaty of the Hague made Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria heir to the bulk of the Spanish Monarchy and split its European possessions between France and Austria.[f][17] Acceptable to Spain, it was less so to Leopold; his grandson became King but it made Bavaria more powerful, threatening Habsburg dominance of the Holy Roman Empire.[g]

When Joseph Ferdinand died of smallpox in February 1699, the 1700 Treaty of London made Leopold's younger son Archduke Charles the new heir and divided Spanish possessions in Italy, the Netherlands and Northern Spain between France, Savoy and Austria.[18] Neither Spain nor Austria signed the Treaty.

Philip, Duke of Anjou is recognised as Philip or Felipe V of Spain on 16 November 1700

The Spanish saw no reason why their Empire should be partitioned and devised their own solution, the key principle being an undivided and independent Empire.[19] For various reasons, including the unpopularity of the Austrians with Spanish ministers, Charles' will named his heir as Louis' younger grandson Philip but on condition he renounce any claim on the French throne. Since his father the Dauphin and older brother stood between him and the French crown, the Spanish hoped this would be acceptable.[h][20]

When Charles died on 1 November 1700, insisting on the Treaty of London required Louis to enforce an Austrian heir on an undivided Spanish Monarchy for a treaty neither signed and led to an outcome unacceptable to France. This was never likely to happen and on 16 November 1700, his grandson became Philip V of Spain, a decision accepted with varying degrees of enthusiasm by the other European powers.[21] Having achieved most of his aims by diplomacy, Louis then made a series of moves that led to the conflict known as the War of the Spanish Succession.[22]


Toward the end of his life Charles's fragile health deteriorated; he became increasingly hypersensitive and strange, at one point demanding the bodies of his family be exhumed so he could look upon the corpses. He officially retired when he had a nervous breakdown caused by the stress of Spain's economic issues and conflict over his successor.

He died in Madrid five days before his 39th birthday on 1 November 1700, the 39th anniversary of the death of his elder brother Philip. The physician who performed his autopsy stated 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."[23]

His life is memorably summarised by John Langdon-Davies as follows; We are dealing with a man who died of poison two hundred years before he was born. If birth is a beginning, of no man was it more true to say that in his beginning was his end. From the day of his birth they were waiting for his death.[24]


Spanish gold coin minted in 1700, the last year of the reign of Charles II.
Marie Louise, Charles and his mother attend the auto de fe of 30 June 1680 by Francisco Rizi.

In 1680, Charles presided over the greatest auto-da-fé in the history of the Spanish Inquisition, in which 120 prisoners were forced to participate and 21 later burned at the stake. This seems to have left its mark; the last public auto-da-fé took place in 1691 and in one of his few independent acts as king, Charles set up a Council in August 1700 to investigate the Inquisition. Their report was so critical the Inquisitor General convinced Charles to have it burned.[25] Nevertheless, the power of the Inquisition was broken, although the institution itself survived until 1834.

During his reign as the Count of Namur in 1666, the city of Charleroi in modern Belgium was named after him as were the Caroline Islands by the Spanish explorer Francisco Lazcano when he visited Yap in 1686.



  1. ^ Requesting approval to waive restrictions on this was a major source of income for the Catholic Church
  2. ^ The offspring of an uncle-niece marriage would normally have an inbreeding coefficient of 0.125 but in Charles' case this was 0.254.
  3. ^ This was kept in place until 1863, although by then it was no longer as significant an outlet.
  4. ^ The Crown of Aragon was divided into the Kingdoms of Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Majorca, Naples, Sicily, Malta and Sardinia.
  5. ^ Modern assessments of Mariana tend to mirror contemporary views that single women naturally needed a husband, so 'favourite' often gets interpreted as lover. In reality, she was simply following established practice, while John did no better when he finally achieved power himself in 1678.
  6. ^ In practice this meant Italy; the Spanish had long since recognised their inability to retain the Spanish Netherlands unaided.
  7. ^ Leopold habitually seemed to view solutions that required him to make concessions with deep suspicion.
  8. ^ The high mortality rate of the period meant Louis XIV was ultimately succeeded by Philip's 4 year old nephew.


  1. ^ "A History of Spain and Portugal, v. 1". Chapter 15, "The Seventeenth Century Decline". pp. Payne, Stanley. Retrieved July 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ Kamen, Henry (2001). Philip V of Spain: The King who Reigned Twice. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08718-7. 
  3. ^ Sampedro, José Luis (2006). "Los títulos del Príncipe - La dignidad de Príncipe de Asturias". Boda Real (in Spanish). abc.es. Retrieved July 8, 2013. 
  4. ^ Francisco C. Celballos; Gonzalo Álvarez (10 April 2013). "Royal Dynasties as Human Inbreeding Laboratories: The Habsburgs". Heredity. 111: 114-121. doi:10.1038/hdy.2013.25. 
  5. ^ Durant, Ariel, Durant, Will (1963). Age of Louis XIV (Story of Civilization). TBS Publishing. ISBN 0207942277. 
  6. ^ Callaway, Ewen (19 April 2013). "Inbred Royals Show Traces of Natural Selection". Nature News. Retrieved 7 July 2016. 
  7. ^ Storrs, Christopher. [gale.cengage.co.uk/images/SpainChristopherStorrs.pdf "The Decline of Spain in the Seventeenth Century"] Check url= value (help) (PDF). State Papers Online. Gale;Cengage Learning. Retrieved 7 April 2018. 
  8. ^ Earl J. Hamilton, "Money and Economic Recovery in Spain under the First Bourbon, 1701–1746", Journal of Modern History Vol. 15, No. 3 (Sep., 1943), pp. 192-206 in JSTOR
  9. ^ Jon Cowans (2003). Modern Spain: A Documentary History. U. of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 26–27. ISBN 0-8122-1846-9. 
  10. ^ Payne, Stanley. "A History of Spain and Portugal Volume 1; Chapter 15 The Seventeenth Century Decline". The Library of Iberian Resources Online. UCA. Retrieved 6 April 2018. 
  11. ^ de Vries, Jan (2009). "The Economic Crisis of the 17th Century" (PDF). Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies. 40 (2): 151–194. Retrieved 7 April 2018. 
  12. ^ Storrs, Christopher (2006). The Resilience of the Spanish Monarchy 1665-1700. OUP Oxford. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0199246378. 
  13. ^ Barton, Simon (2009). A History of Spain. ISBN 978-0230200111. 
  14. ^ Meerts, Paul Willem (2014). Diplomatic negotiation: Essence and Evolution. http://hdl.handle.net/1887/29596: Leiden University dissertation. p. 168. 
  15. ^ Wolf: Louis XIV, 493
  16. ^ Ingrao: The Habsburg Monarchy, 105; McKay and Scott: The Rise of the Great Powers, 55
  17. ^ Clark: From the Nine Years' War to the War of the Spanish Succession, 393
  18. ^ McKay and Scott: The Rise of the Great Powers, 55; Ingrao: The Habsburg Monarchy, 106; Spielman: Leopold I, 172–4
  19. ^ Kamen: Philip V, 3; Spielman: Leopold I, 176
  20. ^ Clark: From the Nine Years' War to the War of the Spanish Succession, 396–7; Wolf: Louis XIV, 503–4
  21. ^ Trevelyan: England, I, 134; Wolf: Louis XIV, 507
  22. ^ Falkner, James (2015). The War of the Spanish Succession 1701-1714 (Kindle ed.). 96: Pen and Sword. ISBN 9781473872905. 
  23. ^ Gargarilla, Pedro. "Enfermedades de los reyes de España. Los Austrias : de la locura de Juana a la impotencia de Carlos II el Hechizado" La Esfera de los Libros S.L., 2005. ISBN 8497343387
  24. ^ Langdon-Davies, John (1963). Carlos; the King Who Would Not Die. Prentice Hall. ISBN B0006AYR3A Check isbn= value: invalid character (help). 
  25. ^ Durant, Ariel and Durant, Will. The Age of Louis XIV (The Story of Civilization VIII), 1963


  • Will Durant, The Reformation (1957)
  • Will and Ariel Durant, The Age of Louis XIV (1963)
  • Martin Andrew Sharp Hume, The Year After the Armada, and other historical studies (1896)
  • Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition (1997)
  • John Langdon-Davies, Carlos, the Bewitched, the last Spanish Hapsburg, 1661-1700, London (1962)
  • Ludwig Pfandl, Karl II. Das Ende der spanischen Machtstellung in Europa, Munich (1940)

External links

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