Ferdinand, Prince of Asturias

Ferdinand of Austria, Infante of Spain, Prince of Asturias (4 December 1571 in Madrid 18 October 1578 in Madrid), son of Philip II of Spain and his fourth wife Anna of Austria.

Prince of Asturias
Portrait by Sánchez Coello, c.1575
Born4 December 1571
Madrid, Spain
Died18 October 1578(1578-10-18) (aged 6)
Madrid, Spain
FatherPhilip II of Spain
MotherAnna of Austria
ReligionRoman Catholicism


Ferdinand was the second son born to Philip. He was preceded by Don Carlos, who was born to Phillip's first wife Maria Emanuela of Portugal. But by the time Ferdinand was born in 1571, his older brother, mentally unstable and unfit for government, had been dead for three years.

For Philip the illness and death of his firstborn were a source of great concern in regard to the succession. After Don Carlos, he had not had other sons by either of his following two marriages, but only two daughters from the third wife, Elisabeth of Valois, who had then died in childbirth just like Maria Manuela (his second wife Mary I of England died childless): Isabella Clara Eugenia and Catherine Michelle.

To thank God for the birth of the long-awaited son, prisoners were released - as commemorated in Titian's painting, Philip II Offering Don Fernando to Victory.

Paternal affection

After Ferdinand, four more children were born: Carlos Lorenzo in 1573, Diego in 1575, Philip in 1578 and Maria in 1580, whose birth led to Anna's death from heart failure. Due to their parents' government commitments, but also the habits of the era, the children lived and grew apart from their parents. Furthermore, Philip and Anna's awareness of the very high infant mortality rate of the time may have created a sort of indifference to their children. It is possible that they were afraid of forming a close bond with their children, only for them to die later, leaving them devastated.

In spite of the Black Legend in which Philip was portrayed as a monster, he was a very caring and affectionate father. He bought dolls, miniatures and toys for his children, and during his stay in Portugal between 1581-82, he wrote to the older girls regularly in letters still preserved, to enquire after their health and education. When he returned from Portugal, he brought many candies and jams with him.

Illness and death

In the summer of 1578, while he was in the town of Galapagar, Ferdinand became seriously ill with dysentery. The doctors found themselves unable to agree on the best treatment to be administered, and the king, who was in Madrid and kept constantly updated on his condition, advised that his son eat tortillas. Slowly he recovered but then relapsed three days later and died. He was six years old.

The title Prince of Asturias was then passed to his younger brother Diego, but four years later he died of smallpox.

His younger brother, Phillip, the Infante Felipe, was the only one of Anna's children to survive infancy, and in 1598, he succeed his father as Philip III of Spain.


Spanish royalty
Preceded by
Prince of Asturias
Succeeded by


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