Being named Carlos was not really a good thing if you were a Spanish Hapsburg – well with the exception of the first, namely Carlos I of Spain. But this Carlos was not really Spanish. Yes, his mother was Spanish – the woman known to history as Juana la Loca or Joanna the Mad – but his father was that drop-dead gorgeous prince, Felipe the Handsome, and he was no more Spanish than I am.
Our first Carlos was brought up in Flanders by his powerful aunt, Margaret of Austria. He spoke Flemish as his first tongue, considered Ghent his hometown, and made something of a mess of things when he visited Spain for the first time in 1517, at which time he was but seventeen and already ruler of over close to twenty different kingdoms, principalities, dukedoms – what have you. All these titles and fiefdoms had mostly been amassed by a series of smart marriages, slowly but safely propelling the Hapsburgs from relative obscurity to the upper echelons of European ruling families.
Carlos I went on to become a skilled and powerful ruler, a mover and shaker, a Holy Roman Emperor, a man who spent most of his time travelling from one dominion to the other, among which Spain figured as relatively important, but not the most important. And as I said, Carlos I was not Spanish, never really learnt to speak proper Castilian, and was rather depressed by all these dour, excessively pious Spanish Grandees that made up the Spanish court.
However, Carlos I must be considered a success – maybe even the success among the Spanish Hapsburgs. The man was born, he lived, amassed more countries and powers than anyone else, managed to pass on his kingdom and empire to his son and brother respectively, and spent the last two years of his life more or less eating himself to death after he’d abdicated. More of Carlos I, I think, in a future post.
Instead, today we’re going to talk about his descendants and namesakes, starting with Don Carlos, Carlos I’s grandson.
Now, Carlos I married a first cousin, a princess of Portugal. By all accounts this was a happy marriage, and it also produced a son, Felipe II (Philip II to those of you less comfortable with Spanish names), who was to inherit his father’s Spanish kingdom.
Felipe also married a first cousin, yet another Portuguese princess. In this case, he and his wife shared Juana la Loca as a common grandmother, and this, it turned out, was not an entirely good thing.
Felipe’s wife, Maria Manuela, presented him with a son. Joyous shouts of welcome, church bells clanging – the little Portuguese had done her duty, and now the Hapsburg line was safely cemented on the Spanish throne. That the mother died four days later was neither here nor there – well, maybe for Felipe II, who by all accounts was an affectionate husband to at least three of his four wives.
The little baby was named Carlos after his grandfather. He was a weak baby, somewhat deformed physically, but managed to survive infancy. At the age of fourteen he was betrothed to Elizabeth Valois, princess of France. That marriage was never to be. Instead, a recently widowed Felipe (marriage nr 2) married his son’s intended – there were political reasons for this. Don Carlos was not so happy, putting it mildly – but there were other princesses out there, and by now the young man was revelling in his status as Prince of Asturias, i.e. the recognised heir to the Spanish throne.
Not everyone was as thrilled. His father was clearly worried, as his son showed signs of mental instability – flaying horses alive and barbecuing living hares was not, in Felipe’s considered opinion, an indication of a healthy mind. And then there was that nasty incident when Don Carlos fell down the stairs, a trepanation saving him from death. This primitive brain surgery did not improve either Don Carlos’ temper or mental health.
Supposedly, he started contemplating murdering his father – or if nothing else, to flee to the Netherlands and join the rebels, there to carve himself an independent kingdom. Things came to a head in 1668, and Felipe saw no option but to lock his son away. Don Carlos died six months later, and there were all sorts of lurid rumours about Felipe killing his own son, the first building block in the so called Black Legend round the evil Spanish Hapsburgs . Modern historians tend to dismiss this as ludicrous – general opinion is that Don Carlos died of natural causes.
For Felipe, his son’s mental instability and subsequent death was a catastrophe. By now, Felipe II was forty years old, and all he had were daughters. No heir to the throne, no future Hapsburg king. But things would sort themselves (or not, seeing as to do so Felipe lost his beloved wife, Elizabeth of Valois) and Felipe’s fourth wife – and niece – presented him with several sons, one of whom would survive childhood and become Felipe III.
Felipe III is not one of the most impressive Hapsburg kings. Come to think of it, after Felipe II, none of them are impressive – at all. This may, of course, be a consequence of all that intermarrying. Anyway, what Felipe III does have going for him is his affection for his wife (and cousin) Margaret of Austria. This lady died doing her duty and presented the king with an entire nursery of babies – and even better, this time there was an heir and a spare – hang on, even two spares, as Margaret was survived by three sons and three daughters.
The eldest of these boys was destined to become the next king, Felipe IV. The second was Don Carlos, and just like that defunct namesake and uncle of his, there were certain concerns regarding his mental health – or maybe it was just a matter of the young man being somewhat erratic. He was also, at least on paper, a potentially very important person, seeing as Felipe IV had as yet no heir to his body. This caused disgruntled noblemen to flock round Don Carlos, hoping to use him to oust Felipe IVs favourite, the somewhat grasping and megalomanic Duke de Olivares. Don Carlos was not interested in politics, but both his royal brother and Olivares had him under close surveillance, worried that the malcontents might use this rather innocent young man for their own purposes.
In 1627, Felipe IV fell seriously ill. Major crisis, as there was no heir – even if the queen was yet again pregnant. The Duke of Olivares was faced with the rather terrifying prospect of seeing Don Carlos crowned as king – and Don Carlos actively disliked Olivares. So, in panic, Olivares drew up the strangest document, whereby, should the king die, things were to remain status-quo until the unborn infant had seen the light of the day. If the child was a boy, the queen and Don Carlos were to act as his protector, the government to remain firmly in Olivares’ hands. If the child was a girl, it was decided from the beginning that this little princess was to marry her uncle, Don Carlos (so as to keep him sweet and happy) ASAP, but until then, Olivares remained in control.
Fortunately, the king recovered. Even more fortunately from Olivares’ perspective, some years later a male son was born, Baltasar Carlos. (Who would die young. His father would then go on to marry his son’s intended bride, Mariana of Austria who was also his niece and cousin and…At present, this was all in the future.) And some years after that, Don Carlos died, under somewhat unclear circumstances. Some, of course, claimed Olivares had poisoned him. Whether true or not, the fact is that Don Carlos died in July of 1632. He was 24 years old and is essentially remembered for Velázquez’s magnificent portrait of him – and for being mentioned in a number of poems decrying his death.
And then, finally, we come to that most tragic of the Hapsburg Carloses, namely Carlos II. Born in 1661, his birth was clouded by grief, as his parents had just recently lost their little boy, Prince Prospero. Felipe IV was by now a man marked by loss. His eldest son, Baltasar Carlos, died at sixteen, his second wife had presented him with one son after the other who died young. Felipe IV felt old – was old – and now all that was left was this little boy, already from the beginning showing signs of grave mental and physical impediments. Felipe IV, who was very pious, resigned himself to all this being God’s will.
In 1665, Felipe IV died, and Carlos became king at the age of four. At the time, he was incapable of walking or talking, was still in diapers, and in general the people around him despaired – he had the wits of a canary. Not entirely true, thank heavens, because as the boy grew he managed to learn to speak – and walk. His mother was like a protective lioness when it came to her boy and did all the ruling in his stead.
Carlos grew up, nicknamed El Hechizado, the Bewitched. He was a lost cause as a king, but hope is the last thing to leave us human beings, and so Carlos’ mother initiated a frenzied look for a suitable bride for her son, someone with whom to beget a healthy heir. One would have thought not a single conscientious father would have considered giving their daughter in marriage to a man with such obvious afflictions, but royal marriages had little to do with affection, far more to do with politics, which is why a French princess was chosen as Carlos IIs bride.
Marie Louise of Orleans was attractive, witty, spirited. Carlos II fell utterly in love, and while there were no children, this was not due to lack of trying. Marie Louise is said to have commented that while she was no longer precisely a virgin, she doubted if things ever went far enough for there to be children. Of course, as per the Spanish it was Marie Louise’s fault there were no babies. This caused a lot of pressure on the poor princess, who also had to cope with living in more or less splendid isolation – court protocol forbade anyone touching the queen, and her French attendants had been dismissed shortly after her arrival.
Marie Louise died in 1689 after ten years of marriage. Carlos II was beside himself – Marie Louise had been kind and patient, had tried her best to be a good, supportive wife. Queen Mariana hastened to find a new wife, preferably one as docile as Marie Louise. This new bride had to be fertile, because if Carlos did not leave heirs of his body the Spanish would very soon be ruled by a FRENCH king – and seriously, what could be worse than that? (Why a French king, you may wonder. Felipe IV had a daughter, Maria Teresa, who married Louis XIV. Should Carlos II produce no heirs, his closest relatives were the descendants of Maria Teresa.)
Poor Carlos was soon married again – and this new wife of his had no kind words, no patience with this fool who was her husband. Maria Anna of Neuberg was cruel and grasping, stole work of arts and had them sent back to her brother, and in general was a class A bitch, terrorising her husband.
In 1700, Carlos II died, some days shy of his 39th birthday. His had been a life plagued by infirmities, both physical and mental. With Carlos, the Hapsburg dynasty in Spain came to an end – in with Carlos I, out with Carlos II. In the intervening 184 years, Spain had gone from a restless amalgamation of minor kingdoms to a huge Empire, its dominions spreading through the Americas to the Filippines and beyond. In that same timespan, the formerly so vibrant and viable Hapsburg bloodline had degenerated from the powerful presence of Carlos I, to the simple-minded fool who died, unhappy and unloved, in the Alcázar of Madrid on 1 November 1700. Sic transit Gloria mundi, one could say…