Childhood & Early Life
Charles II was born on November 6, 1661, in Madrid, to Philip IV of Spain and his second wife, Mariana of Austria, who were uncle and niece. Charles was the only child born to Philip IV. He was given the title of the “Prince of Asturias,” which meant he was the heir to the Spanish throne.
All eight of his great-grandparents were descendants of Joanna and Philip I of Castile, making it a weird case of incest and inbreeding. The impact of such inbreeding had its effect on Charles II.
However, his half-sister Margaret did not show any disabilities, although she was also part of the same inbred environment. He was born with an elongated head and a jaw that later came to be known as “Habsburg jaw.”
The front rows of his teeth could not meet, making it quite difficult for him to eat or speak. He also had a lot of mental deficiencies, and his childhood was full of physical diseases that only got worse with time.
He was breastfed until the age of 5 or 6. He was unable to speak until the age of 4 and was unable to walk until he was 8 years old.
He suffered from countless diseases and ailments, such as dental and bronchial infections, measles, chicken pox, rubella, smallpox, intestinal issues, hematuria, and epileptic seizures.
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His father died in 1665, when Charles was only 3 years old. He left a will, according to which Charles was supposed to be a major at 14.
Charles’s father was fond of appointing his favorites or “validos” in his administration, such as the Count-Duke of Olivares. This system was finally dismissed in 1675, when Charles was legally qualified to rule the kingdom.
His mother argued that Charles was not physically or mentally fit to ascend to the throne. Although Charles refused to sign the agreement about the postponement of his majority, she persuaded him to agree while she continued her rule as the Queen Regent.
In 1675, after attaining majority, Charles, under the influence of his half-brother, Juan José, who had returned from exile, adopted the old rule of force by arms. The government experienced some growth after this, but unfortunately, Juan died in 1679.
Following Juan’s death, Charles had to go back to his mother and continued to stay under her control until her death in 1696. The king of Spain, who was only remembered for his ill health and blamed for the decline of the Spanish Empire, only reigned but never ruled.
His power was only exercised by others. When Charles II ascended to the throne, he was faced with the Portuguese Restoration War and the War of Devolution with France.
With the intention of putting an end to both the wars, major treaties were signed. The ‘Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle’ was signed with France in 1668 and the ‘Treaty of Lisbon’ restored the Crown of Portugal, ending the war with the Portuguese empire. Before the signing of the treaties, the Spanish Crown had already declared bankruptcy and had reduced Spain’s military.
However, the French came back to start a war with Spain after the beginning of the Franco-Dutch War in 1672. The war had originally begun with the Netherlands, while Spain was dragged into it by the French, leading to an absolute loss of Spain’s economy.
Notably, Charles ended the war by signing the ‘Treaties of Nijmegen’ when he was not satisfied with the previously signed ‘Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle’ and ‘Treaty of Lisbon.’ Wars such as the War of the Reunions that lasted from 1683 to 1684 and the ‘Nine Years’ War’ that began in 1688 destroyed the rest of Spain’s wealth.
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Moreover, Charles’s first wife, Marie Louise, passed away in 1689, followed by his mother in 1696. His next wife ruled the nation in the name of Charles.
The Nine Years’ War came to an end after the ‘Treaty of Ryswick’ was signed in 1697. It was a result of two exhausted nations and King Louis’s need to have a contest over the Spanish throne.
However, everyone knew that the ‘Treaty of Ryswick’ was nothing but a pause to the animosity that was brewing among the nations. At a time when Spain needed a strong leader, Charles II proved to be a weak one.
There was a lot of chaos about the succession of the throne 3 years before his death. Charles II was clearly dying of various diseases and had not fathered any children due to his apparent impotency.
Nonetheless, Charles was determined to save the integrity of his territory. However, he failed. He went bald at the age of 35, a few years before he died. Nations such as France, Britain, Austria, and Portugal were waiting to grab Spain and finally had the chance to do so.
According to his will, Louis XIV's grandson, Philip of Anjou, was crowned the king of Spain on November 16, 1700. He came to be known as Philip V of Spain.
However, his coronation was not accepted by the British and the Dutch. This led to the War of the Spanish Succession. Spain was finally ready to grab other English nations.
The War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701. The war finally ended with the ‘Treaty of Utrecht’ of 1713 and the ‘Treaty of Rastatt’ and the ‘Treaty of Baden’ of 1714.
The ancient dynasty of Habsburg was destroyed and replaced by the victorious Austria. Charles II of Spain is, however, remembered by historians for his mere survival.
Family & Personal Life
Charles II died without leaving an heir, although he had been married twice: first at the age of 18 and then at 29. In 1679, he married French princess Marie Louise of Orléans, the eldest daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, who was distraught at the news of her marriage with the king.
During her time in Spain, she spent her days weeping. She also claimed that Charles suffered from premature ejaculation but she was made unpopular for not bearing a child.
After 10 years of struggle, Marie died in 1689, without giving Charles an heir. Charles married Maria Anna of Neuburg, daughter of Philip William, in August 1989, 6 months after the death of his first wife.
She had a strong family background of fertility but she, too, remained childless. Charles’s autopsy revealed that he was impotent and had a single testicle.
Charles II of Spain died on November 1, 1700, before his 39th birthday. By then, he had turned bald and could barely speak. He had lost his teeth, and his eye sight was failing.
People had started to believe that their king was bewitched and he was exorcised to rid him of his demons. Exorcists and nuns were hired to free him from evil, but it seemed inbreeding had poisoned him.
Following Charles’s death, the physician who examined his body stated that there was not a single drop of blood left in his body and that his heart was the size of a peppercorn. He also said that Charles’s lungs had corroded, his head had nothing but water in it, and his intestines were rotten.
John Langdon-Davies summarized the truth: “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.”