1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles II. (King of Spain)

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CHARLES II. (1661–1700), king of Spain, known among Spanish kings as “The Desired” and “The Bewitched,” was the son of Philip IV. by his second marriage with Maria, daughter of the emperor Ferdinand III., his niece. He was born on the 11th of November 1661, and was the only surviving son of his father’s two marriages—a child of old age and disease, in whom the constant intermarriages of the Habsburgs had developed the family type to deformity. His birth was greeted with joy by the Spaniards, who feared the dispute as to the succession which must have ensued if Philip IV. left no male issue. The boy was so feeble that till the age of five or six he was fed only from the breast of a nurse. For years afterwards it was not thought safe to allow him to walk. That he might not be overtaxed he was left entirely uneducated, and his indolence was indulged to such an extent that he was not even expected to be clean. When his brother, the younger Don John of Austria, a natural son of Philip IV., obtained power by exiling the queen mother from court he insisted that at least the king’s hair should be combed. Charles made the malicious remark that nothing was safe from Don John—not even vermin. The king was then fifteen, and, according to Spanish law, of age. But he never became a man in body or mind. The personages who ruled in his name arranged a marriage for him with Maria Louisa of Orleans. The French princess, a lively young woman of no sense, died in the stifling atmosphere of the Spanish court, and from the attendance of Spanish doctors. Again his advisers arranged a marriage with Maria Ana of Neuburg. The Bavarian wife stood the strain and survived him. Both marriages were merely political—the first a victory for the French, and the second for the Austrian party. France and Austria were alike preparing for the day when the Spanish succession would have to be fought for. The king was a mere puppet in the hands of each alternately. By natural instinct he hated the French, but there was no room in his nearly imbecile mind for more than childish superstition, insane pride of birth, and an interest in court etiquette. The only touch of manhood was a taste for shooting which he occasionally indulged in the preserves of the Escorial. In his later days he suffered much pain, and was driven wild by the conflict between his wish to transmit his inheritance to “the illustrious house of Austria,” his own kin, and the belief instilled into him by the partisans of the French claimant that only the power of Louis XIV. could avert the dismemberment of the empire. A silly fanatic made the discovery that the king was bewitched, and his confessor Froilan Diaz supported the belief. The king was exorcised, and the exorcists of the kingdom were called upon to put stringent questions to the devils they cast out. The Inquisition interfered, and the dying king was driven mad among them. Very near his end he had the lugubrious curiosity to cause the coffins of his embalmed ancestors to be opened at the Escorial. The sight of the body of his first wife, at whom he also insisted on looking, provoked a passion of tears and despair. Under severe pressure from the cardinal archbishop of Toledo, Portocarrero, he finally made a will in favour of Philip, duke of Anjou, grandson of Louis XIV., and died on the 1st of November 1700, after a lifetime of senile decay.

The best picture of Charles II. is to be found in Les Mémoires de la tour d’Espagne of the Marquis de Villars (London, 1861), and the Letters of the Marquise de Villars (Paris, 1868).