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
Portrait by Juan Carreño de Miranda, c. 1685, shows Charles's 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

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 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 given the title Prince of Asturias, traditionally held by the heir to the Spanish throne.

The Habsburgs achieved their prominence due to advantageous marriages, and protected their holdings 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. It has been suggested he may have had 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.[2]

However, "evidence supporting inbreeding as an important factor in the extinction of the Spanish Habsburg lineage [is] not conclusive; it has not been demonstrated disabilities suffered by Charles II were caused by detrimental recessive alleles inherited from common ancestors."[3]

Regardless of the cause, Charles suffered ill-health throughout his life and has been 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."[4] In his case, the so-called Habsburg lip was so pronounced he spoke and ate only with difficulty, 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.[5]

Background; the decline of Spanish power

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.[6]

The Kingdom of Spain comprised the two Crowns of Castile and Aragon, each with very different political cultures and traditions.[lower-alpha 1] 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.[7]

However, the 17th century was a period of crisis for many European states and Spain was not alone in facing these problems.[8] 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.[9]


Charles was three years old when his father, Philip IV, died on 17 September 1665; as he was 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, frequent 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.[10]

The system of delegating duties to a personal minister or validos" was established by Philip with the appointment of the Count-Duke of Olivares in 1621. Mariana followed this precedent, the first being her Austrian personal confessor, Father Juan Everardo Nithard; modern assessments of her rule often reflect the contemporary view woman were incapable of exercising power on their own.[11]

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 had declared bankruptcy in 1662 and 1666 and reducing their military commitments was a matter of extreme urgency. In 1668, the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war with France and the Treaty of Lisbon accepted the restoration of the Crown of Portugal and loss of the Portuguese Empire.[12]

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 exploited discontent within the ruling class to instigate a revolt in Aragon and Catalonia, compelling Mariana to dismiss Nithard in February 1669 and replace him with Fernando de Valenzuela. When Charles turned 14 in 1675, he was legally able to rule on his own and John used this to remove Valenzuela; Mariana had the Regency continued on the basis of Charles's disabilities and Valenzuela was restored in 1677.[13]

The 1672 Franco-Dutch War 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; his first act was to end the war and in the 1678 Treaties of Nijmegen, Spain ceded Franche-Comté and areas of the Spanish Netherlands returned in 1668.[14] His government faced an almost impossible situation and he had insufficient time to have a real impact before his death in September 1679. However, he arranged the marriage of Charles to the 17-year-old French royal, Marie Louise of Orléans; Mariana returned as Queen Regent but her influence was diminished.

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 in February 1689, Marie Louise died; despite allegations she was poisoned, based on the description of her symptoms, modern doctors believe her illness was almost certainly appendicitis.[lower-alpha 2] 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.[15]

It was clear Charles' health was finally failing and agreeing upon 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.[16]

The Succession

One of John's last acts was to arrange Charles' marriage in 1679 to Marie Louise of Orléans, eldest daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans. The French ambassador wrote that '...the Catholic King is so ugly as to cause fear and he looks ill' while the marriage was strongly resisted by the prospective bride but went ahead regardless.

When Mariana returned as Regent, she did her utmost to isolate Marie Louise, who was French, rather than Austrian, and the choice of her bitter rival. Marie Louise claimed Charles suffered from premature ejaculation; the lack of an heir made her unpopular, fertility treatments gave her severe intestinal problems and she became depressed.[17] The pressure to produce an heir is illustrated by the story that when an astrologer suggested Charles' sterility was due to his failure to say goodbye to his father, Mariana had Philip IV's body disinterred to allow him to do so.

Charles was distraught when Marie Louise died in February 1689 but his declining health meant in August he married Maria Anna of Neuburg, daughter of Philip William, Elector Palatine and sister-in-law to the Emperor Leopold. As one of 12 children, she was selected for her family background of fertility but also to strengthen the pro-Austrian faction in the Spanish court; when Mariana herself died in 1696, she assumed leadership of this element.[18] The marriage was no more successful in producing an heir; after his death, Charles' autopsy revealed he had only one atrophied testicle and he was almost certainly impotent by this stage.[19]

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.[lower-alpha 3]

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.[20]

Unsurprisingly, the Spanish objected to their Empire being divided by foreign powers without consultation, and on 14 November 1698, Charles II published his will. This made six year old Joseph Ferdinand heir to an independent and undivided Spanish Monarchy, with Maria Anna as Queen Regent during his minority, an announcement allegedly received by the Spanish councillors in silence.[21]

Joseph Ferdinand died of smallpox in 1699, leaving Louis XIV's eldest son, the Grand Dauphin, as the senior surviving legitimate descendant of Philip IV; since this would lead to the union of Spain and France, an alternative was needed. In March 1700, France, Britain and the Dutch agreed to the Second Partition Treaty or Treaty of London; Archduke Charles replaced Joseph Ferdinand as heir, with Spanish possessions in Europe split between France, Savoy and Austria.[22] Charles altered his will in favour of Archduke Charles, once again stipulating an undivided and independent Spanish Monarchy.

However, much of the nobility, including Charles, disliked the Austrians and saw genuine advantages for Spain in a Bourbon 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.[23] When Charles died on 1 November 1700, the throne was offered to Philip, who was proclaimed King of Spain on 16 November 1700. This was accepted by Britain and the Dutch Republic among others but disputes over division of territories and commercial rights led to the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701.[24]


Charles died in Madrid five days before his 39th birthday on 1 November 1700, the 39th death anniversary 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."[25]

His life was 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."[26]


When he came to the throne, the Inquisition remained a significant force but its influence had declined and the auto-da-fé were an attempt to publicly assert its power, rather than increased religiosity. While Charles certainly played a role, its downfall was largely the result of the political struggle over his heir. In 1700, the Inquisitor General, Balthasar de Mendoza, Bishop of Segovia, arrested Charles' 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.[27]

More tangible memorials include Charleroi in modern Belgium and the Caroline Islands, which were named after him in 1666 and 1686 respectively. The municipality of Carolina, Puerto Rico is also named for Charles II.

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. The Crown of Aragon was divided into the Kingdoms of Aragon, Valencia, Majorca, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Principality of Catalonia and Marquisate of Malta.
  2. In an era when many illnesses were poorly understood, poison was often suggested as the cause.
  3. Ironically, Habsburg attempts to apply this principle to Austria would lead to the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740.
  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. Gonzalo 2009, p. 4.
  4. Durant 1963, p. 25.
  5. Onnekirk, Mijers, Rule 2017, pp. 91-108.
  6. Dhondt 2016, p. 3.
  7. Cowans 2003, pp. 26-27.
  8. De Vries 2009, pp. 151-194.
  9. Storrs 2006, pp. 6-7.
  10. Mitchell 2013, pp. 7-9.
  11. Mitchell 2013, pp. 233-234.
  12. Barton, Simon (2009). A History of Spain. ISBN 978-0230200111.
  13. Mitchell 2013, pp. 265-269.
  14. Horne 2005, p. 168.
  15. Onnekirk, Mijers, Rule 2017, p. 97.
  16. Meerts 2014, p. 168.
  17. García-Escudero López 2009, p. 181.
  18. Rommelse 2011, p. 224.
  19. García-Escudero López 2009, p. 182.
  20. Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 384.
  21. Ward & Leathes 2010, p. 385.
  22. McKay & Scott 1983, pp. 54-55.
  23. Hargreaves-Mawdsley 1979, pp. 15-16.
  24. Falkner 2015, p. 96.
  25. 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
  26. Langdon-Davies 1963, p. 3.
  27. Kamen 1965, p. 185.


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
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