Charles II of Spain

Missing image
Charles II of Spain.

Charles II (Carlos Segundo) of Spain (November 6, 1661November 1, 1700) was king of Spain, Naples, and Sicily, nearly all of Italy, except the Papal States and Venice, and Spain's overseas Empire, stretching from Mexico to the Philippines. Charles was the only surviving son of his predecessor, King Philip IV of Spain (a Habsburg) and his second Queen, Mariana of Austria, another Habsburg. He is known in Spanish history as El Hechizado ("The Bewitched") from the popular belief—a belief which Charles himself subscribed to—that his physical and mental disabilities were caused by "sorcery" rather than the much more likely cause: centuries of inbreeding by the Habsburg family (in which first cousin and uncle/niece matches were commonly used to preserve the dynasty's hold on its multifarious territories; indeed, a common aphorism was that the House of Habsburg achieved more by marriages than by war). His great-great-great grandmother, Juana II, La Loca, mother of the greatest of the Habsburgs, the Spanish King and Holy Roman Emperor, Charles I & V, respectively, became completely insane early in life; a taint of insanity ran through the Habsburgs through much of their history.

Charles II was the last of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty, physically disabled and mentally retarded and disfigured (possibly through affliction with mandibular prognathism). His tongue was so large that his speech could barely be understood. He may also have suffered from the bone disease acromegaly. Charles was sadly weak in mind and body, barely able to walk and speak. He was treated as virtually an infant in arms until he was ten years old.


Charles' unfitness for rule meant he was often ignored and power in the reign became the subject of court intrigues and foreign, particularly French, influence.

His mother was his regent during much of his reign. Though she was exiled by the king's illegitimate brother John of Austria the Younger (not the similarly named Don John of Austria), she returned to the regency after John's death.

During his reign, the decline of Spanish power and prestige that had begun under his incompetent father and grandfather accelerated. Although a peace treaty with Portugal in 1668 ceded the enclave of Ceuta, in North Africa, to Spain, it was little solace for the loss of Portugal and the Portuguese colonies by Philip IV to the Duke of Braganza's successful revolt against more than 60 years of Spanish rule.

In 1679, Charles II married Marie Louise (16621689), daughter of Philippe I of Orlans, the only brother of Louis XIV. He proved impotent and no children were born. Marie Louise became deeply depressed and morbidly obese, and died in 1689, leaving a distraught Charles. He had a second marriage to Maria Anna of Bavaria, a princess of Neuberg and sister-in-law of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. However, this marriage was no more successful than the first. Towards the end of his life Charles became increasingly hypersensitive and strange, at one point demanding that the bodies of his family be exhumed so he could look upon the corpses. He reportedly wept upon viewing the body of his wife, Marie Louise.

By the last two years of his life, he was virtually helpless: he was completely lame, bald, deaf, nearly toothless, and almost blind; he was also prone to epileptic fits. He was also impotent and drooled.

Charles also presided over the greatest Auto de fe in the history of the Spanish Inquisition in 1680. One hundred twenty prisoners were judged and twenty-one were burnt to death. A large, richly adorned book was published celebrating the event. Towards the end of his life, in one of his few independent acts as King, Charles created a Junta Magna (Great Council) to examine and investigate the Spanish Inquisition. The report was so damning to the "Holy Office" (as the Spanish Inquisition was commonly known) that the Inquisitor General convinced the decrepit monarch to "consign the 'terrible indictment' to the flames" (Durants, 1963). When Philip V took the throne, he called for the report; no copy could be found.

Charles II named Philippe de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou as his successor; the acceptance of the Spanish inheritance by Philip's grandfather, Louis XIV of France, provoked the War of the Spanish Succession (17021713) following the death of Charles II, and with him the Spanish Habsburgs, in 1700. The Bourbon dynasty (see House of Bourbon) founded by Philip V still sits on the Spanish throne in the person of Juan Carlos I of Spain (1975–present).


  • The Reformation by Will Durant (1957)
  • The Age of Louis XIV by Will & Ariel Durant (1963)
  • The Spanish Inquisition by Henry Kamen (1997)

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