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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, believed to be the result of inbreeding, 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'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
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 Philip's 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 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.

Philip and Mariana were uncle and niece, making their son their great-nephew and first-cousin respectively; all eight of his great-grandparents were descendants of Joanna and Philip I of Castile. The impact of this inbreeding is not fully understood, while his elder sister Margaret Theresa did not appear to have the same issues.[2]

Charles has been the subject of various studies on the impact of inbreeding, which have 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.[3] However, another study states that "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."[4]

Regardless of their 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."[5] 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 noted his mental capacities remained intact.[6]

Background; the decline of Spanish powerEdit

When Charles became King in 1665, the Spanish Empire or 'Monarchy' remained an enormous global confederation in terms of territory, but decades of war drained resources and ended Spain's supremacy in Europe. The 1568–1648 Eighty Years' War with the Dutch, the 1635–1659 Franco-Spanish War and other conflicts devastated finances, while Spain was forced to accept an independent Dutch Republic in 1648.

The Kingdom of Spain comprised the two Crowns of Castile and Aragon, each with very different political cultures and traditions.[a] 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] Feuds 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 was largely intact.[9]


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

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, in reality his frequent ill-health meant power was often exercised by others. This resulted in bitter internal struggles for control of government, the long feud between his mother and illegitimate half-brother John of Austria the Younger being especially damaging.

Charles' father Philip had established the system of employing personal favourites or "validos" when he appointed the Count-Duke of Olivares in 1621. Mariana simply followed this precedent, the difference being that as they had been put in office by 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.[b]

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

On Charles' accession, his administration had to end the long-running Portuguese Restoration War and settle the War of Devolution with France. The Spanish Crown declared bankruptcy in 1662 and 1666 and reducing Spain's 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.[10] 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.

Marie Louise, Charles' French first Queen.

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.

Maria-Anna, Charles' pro-Austrian second wife

Having spent so many years achieving power, John's administration failed to live up to expectations, one of its few achievements being stabilising 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.

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.[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.[11]

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.[12]

The SuccessionEdit

Attempts at offspringEdit

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.[13] 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.

Europe in 1700

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.[14] 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.[15]

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

Succession disputeEdit

Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria.

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.[d]

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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.


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

Toward the end of his life, Charles's fragile health deteriorated; 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 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."[21]

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."[22]


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.[e] 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.[23]

More tangible memorials include Charleroi in modern Belgium and the Caroline Islands, which were named after him in 1666 and 1686 respectively.[citation needed]



King Charles II as played by Michael Boisvert, is a minor character of the short-lived historical fantasy series Young Blades from January to June 2005.




  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. ^ Modern assessments of Mariana tend to reflect contemporary views that a woman without a husband was almost unnatural and 'favourite' often gets interpreted as lover. John did no better when he finally achieved power in 1678.
  3. ^ In an era when many illnesses were poorly understood, poison was often suggested as the cause.
  4. ^ Ironically, Habsburg attempts to apply this principle to Austria would lead to the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740.
  5. ^ 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, Henry (2001). Philip V of Spain: The King who Reigned Twice. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08718-7.
  2. ^ Callaway, Ewen (2013). "Inbred Royals show traces of natural selection". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2013.12837. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  3. ^ Callaway, Ewen (19 April 2013). "Inbred Royals Show Traces of Natural Selection". Nature News. doi:10.1038/nature.2013.12837. Retrieved 7 July 2016.
  4. ^ Gonzalo, Alvarez, Ceballos, Francisco; Quintero Celsa (2009). "The Role of Inbreeding in the Extinction of a European Royal Dynasty". PLOS ONE. 4 (4): e5174. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0005174. PMC 2664480. PMID 19367331.
  5. ^ Durant, Ariel, Durant, Will (1963). Age of Louis XIV (Story of Civilization). TBS Publishing. ISBN 0207942277.
  6. ^ Onnekink, David (ed) Mijers, Esther (ed), Rule, John (2017). The Partition Treaties, 1698-1700; A European View in Redefining William III: The Impact of the King-Stadholder in International Context. Routledge. pp. 91–108. ISBN 978-1138257962.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Jon Cowans (2003). Modern Spain: A Documentary History. U. of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 26–27. ISBN 0-8122-1846-9.
  8. ^ de Vries, Jan (2009). "The Economic Crisis of the 17th Century" (PDF). Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies. 40 (2): 151–194. Retrieved 7 April 2018.
  9. ^ Storrs, Christopher (2006). The Resilience of the Spanish Monarchy 1665-1700. OUP Oxford. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0199246378.
  10. ^ Barton, Simon (2009). A History of Spain. ISBN 978-0230200111.
  11. ^ Onnekink, David (ed) Mijers, Esther (ed), Rule, John (2017). The Partition Treaties, 1698-1700; A European View in Redefining William III: The Impact of the King-Stadholder in International Context. Routledge. pp. 91–108. ISBN 978-1138257962.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Meerts, Paul Willem (2014). Diplomatic negotiation: Essence and Evolution. Leiden University dissertation. p. 168.
  13. ^ García-Escudero López, Ángel, Arruza Echevarría A, Padilla Nieva and R. Puig Giró1, Padilla Nieva, Jaime, Puig Giró, Ramon (2009). "Charles II; from spell to genitourinary pathology". History of Urology. 62 (3): 181.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Rommelse, Gijs (2011). Ideology and Foreign Policy in Early Modern Europe (1650–1750). Routledge. p. 224. ISBN 978-1409419136.
  15. ^ García-Escudero López, Ángel, Arruza Echevarría A, Padilla Nieva and R. Puig Giró1, Padilla Nieva, Jaime, Puig Giró, Ramon (2009). "Charles II; from spell to genitourinary pathology". History of Urology. 62 (3): 182.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Ward, William, Leathes, Stanley (1912). The Cambridge Modern History (2010 ed.). Nabu. p. 384. ISBN 1-174-38205-8.
  17. ^ Ward, William, Leathes, Stanley (1912). The Cambridge Modern History (2010 ed.). Nabu. p. 385. ISBN 1-174-38205-8.
  18. ^ McKay, Derek, Scott, HM (1983). The Rise of the Great Powers 1648–1815 (The Modern European State System). Routledge. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0-582-48554-1.
  19. ^ Hargreaves- Mawdsley, HN (1979). Eighteenth-Century Spain 1700–1788: A Political, Diplomatic and Institutional History. Macmillan. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-333-14612-3.
  20. ^ Falkner, James (2015). The War of the Spanish Succession 1701–1714 (Kindle ed.). 96: Pen and Sword. ISBN 978-1-4738-7290-5.
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ Langdon-Davies, John (1963). Carlos; the King Who Would Not Die. Prentice Hall. ASIN B0006AYR3A. OCLC 1117405.
  23. ^ Kamen, Henry (1965). The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (2014 ed.). Yale University Press. p. 185. ISBN 0300180519.


  • 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 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