1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Charles III. (King of Spain)
CHARLES III. (1716–1788), king of Spain, born on the 20th January 1716, was the first son of the second marriage of Philip V. with Elizabeth Farnese of Parma. It was his good fortune to be sent to rule as duke of Parma by right of his mother at the age of sixteen, and thus came under more intelligent influence than he could have found in Spain. In 1734 he made himself master of Naples and Sicily by arms. Charles had, however, no military tastes, seldom wore uniform, and could with difficulty be persuaded to witness a review. The peremptory action of the British admiral commanding in the Mediterranean at the approach of the War of the Austrian Succession, who forced him to promise to observe neutrality under a threat to bombard Naples, made a deep impression on his mind. It gave him a feeling of hostility to England which in after-times influenced his policy.
As king of the Two Sicilies Charles began there the work of internal reform which he afterwards continued in Spain. Foreign ministers who dealt with him agreed that he had no great natural ability, but he was honestly desirous to do his duty as king, and he showed good judgment in his choice of ministers. The chief minister in Naples, Tanucci, had a considerable influence over him. On the death of his half-brother Ferdinand VI. he became king of Spain, and resigned the Two Sicilies to his third son Ferdinand. As king of Spain his foreign policy was disastrous. His strong family feeling and his detestation of England, which was unchecked after the death of his wife, Maria Amelia, daughter of Frederick Augustus II. of Saxony, led him into the Family Compact with France. Spain was entangled in the close of the Seven Years’ War, to her great loss. In 1770 he almost ran into another war over the barren Falkland Islands. In 1779 he was, somewhat reluctantly, led to join France and the American insurgents against England, though he well knew that the independence of the English colonies must have a ruinous influence on his own American dominions. For his army he did practically nothing, and for his fleet very little except build fine ships without taking measures to train officers and men.
But his internal government was on the whole beneficial to the country. He began by compelling the people of Madrid to give up emptying their slops out of the windows, and when they objected he said they were like children who cried when their faces were washed. In 1766 his attempt to force the Madrileños to adopt the French dress led to a riot during which he did not display much personal courage. For a long time after it he remained at Aranjuez, leaving the government in the hands of his minister Aranda. All his reforms were not of this formal kind. Charles was a thorough despot of the benevolent order, and had been deeply offended by the real or suspected share of the Jesuits in the riot of 1766. He therefore consented to the expulsion of the order, and was then the main advocate for its suppression. His quarrel with the Jesuits, and the recollection of some disputes with the pope he had had when king of Naples, turned him towards a general policy of restriction of the overgrown power of the church. The number of the idle clergy, and more particularly of the monastic orders, was reduced, and the Inquisition, though not abolished, was rendered torpid. In the meantime much antiquated legislation which tended to restrict trade and industry was abolished; roads, canals and drainage works were carried out. Many of his paternal ventures led to little more than waste of money, or the creation of hotbeds of jobbery. Yet on the whole the country prospered. The result was largely due to the king, who even when he was ill-advised did at least work steadily at his task of government. His example was not without effect on some at least of the nobles. In his domestic life King Charles was regular, and was a considerate master, though he had a somewhat caustic tongue and took a rather cynical view of mankind. He was passionately fond of hunting. During his later years he had some trouble with his eldest son and his daughter-in-law. If Charles had lived to see the beginning of the French Revolution he would probably have been frightened into reaction. As he died on the 14th of December 1788 he left the reputation of a philanthropic and “philosophic” king. In spite of his hostility to the Jesuits, his dislike of friars in general, and his jealousy of the Inquisition, he was a very sincere Roman Catholic, and showed much zeal in endeavouring to persuade the pope to proclaim the Immaculate Conception as a dogma necessary to salvation.
See the Reign of Charles III., by M. Danvila y Collado (6 vols.), in the Historia General de España de la Real Academia de la Historia (Madrid, 1892, &c.); and F. Rousseau, Règne de Charles III d’Espagne (Paris, 1907).