Gateway to the Classics: A Child's History of Spain by John Bonner
A Child's History of Spain by  John Bonner

Charles the Second

A.D. 1665-1700

The next king in order was Charles the Second, who was three years old when he came to the throne. During his minority his mother was regent; and she took as her adviser the grand-inquisitor, a German Jesuit named Nitard, whom the people hated. They thought the right man to be at the head of affairs during the king's childhood was his half-brother Don Juan, whose mother was an actress. Of this Don Juan his father, Philip the Fourth, had thought a good deal, had made him prior of an abbey and general of an army; but the queen-regent disliked him, and between him and the Jesuit Nitard it was war to the knife.

After much effort Don Juan succeeded in rousing the sleepy Spanish nobles, and getting them to follow him to the queen-regent to demand the expulsion of Nitard. Said the queen:

"Very well, let him go."

And she got the pope to make him a cardinal, and put in his place a pretty boy from Granada, whose name was Valenzuelo, and whose calling was that of a page. As you may imagine, neither Don Juan nor the Spanish nobles thought that a page was much of an improvement on a Jesuit as a royal favorite; they laid plots against Valenzuelo as they had against Nitard, and when King Charles came of age, at fourteen, they persuaded him to appoint his brother, Don Juan, prime-minister. The pretty boy had just time to make his escape to the monastery of the Escurial.

Don Juan was hot after him with a party of troopers. They tracked him to the monastery. He had crawled behind the wainscot of an empty room, but after lying hid there for several hours, while he could hear the troopers tramping round with their big boots and clattering with their swords and spurs, the closeness of the air overcame him, he lost consciousness, and when Don Juan came up he found the man he was hunting in a dead faint. They sent for the barber, and had him bled, which brought him to. After which they packed him off to the Philippine Isles, bidding him never more show his face in Spain.

Then Charles became king in name, his brother, Don Juan, king in reality, and the queen-regent nobody. This did not last very long. A whisper crept round that the king wasn't quite right in his mind. To set him right, everybody said that the thing to do was to get him a wife; so they married him to pretty Marie Louise of France. I do not know why Don Juan should have objected to the marriage, but he did, and when it was celebrated in spite of him, he went home and died, and the old queen-mother returned to court. Meanwhile the king was certainly very queer, so queer that his loving wife Marie Louise couldn't make him out, and worried herself into a consumption of which she died.

People then said that his queerness arose from his having married the wrong woman, and they married him again—this time to an Austrian princess. But the Austrian could not understand her husband any better than the Frenchwoman had; she had no children, and she brooded and fretted and cried a good deal.


The Monastery at the Escurial

The trouble with the king was that he believed he was bewitched, or possessed of a devil. In those old days, you know, people generally believed in witchcraft and devils; I think I have heard of the banging of some witches in Massachusetts. King Charles was satisfied that there was a devil inside him which gave him excruciating pain, and put all sorts of wrong thoughts into his head. If he had been a common man, I think the Inquisition would have treated his case with a little torture and a warm fire at a stake. As he was a king, the priests tried to exorcise him with holy water, relics, and powerful preaching.

The poor sick man was set on a stool, and a loud-voiced monk hectored and bullied him, crying:

"Come out, Beelzebub! avaunt, Sathanas. Aha! "Tis thou, Nebul! Come out, thou villain Abaddon! Ha! Belial, thou knave! Thou canst hear the sound of my voice, eh? I exorcise thee! Get thee behind me!"

While he thus roared, the monk would splash the king's face with holy water, and shake him violently as though there was really some creature inside his body who had to be shaken out of his mouth. You will be less surprised than the monks were that these remedies did not do the king the least good, but, on the contrary, made him more nervous and depressed in spirit than ever. Finally, it was determined to adopt still stronger measures.

In the vault of the Escurial lay the bodies of Charles's ancestors, as far back as the first of his name. He went down into the dark and damp chamber of death, where the great black crucifix stood, where spiders built their webs, and bats flew whirring from air-hole to air-hole, and he ordered the covers of the coffins to be unscrewed. Then he gazed long and earnestly at the faces of the dead, some of which were falling into dust, while others were still fresh as if they had died but yesterday. When he came to the coffin of his first wife, Marie Louise, whom he had really loved, he noticed that her face was mild and tranquil. Overcome by the sight, he shrieked:

"Marie Louise, I will soon be with thee."

And he rushed out of the vault into the open air, quite mad. A few days afterwards the died.

In his reign Spain had sunk into a shocking condition. Every business had been ruined except religion. When Philip the Second came to the throne there were sixty thousand looms running at Seville. In the time of Charles the Second there were but three hundred. Under Philip the Second, Toledo had fifty woollen factories; under Charles the Second, there were but thirteen, the Moriscoes having transferred the business to Tunis, in Africa; under Philip the Second, everybody all through Europe wore Spanish gloves; under Charles the Second, no gloves were made in Spain. At Burgos and Segovia the streets were deserted, and most of the houses empty.


Court of the Evangelists, in the Escurial

At Madrid and in the neighborhood people starved. At the convent doors the monks furnished a bowl of broth and a piece of bread to all applicants; even soldiers crowded in with the beggars to get their share. At times in Madrid, bread riots cost many a life; one day five women were stifled to death in scuffling for bread at the door of a bake-house; the police, who could not get their pay, joined the vagabonds and lived by robbery.

I suppose there never was before or since an example of a nation so thoroughly ruined by bad government as Spain presented in the year 1700.

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