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

Ferdinand the Sixth

A.D. 1746-1749

Ferdinand the Sixth, the second son of Philip the Fifth, was the next king. He was thirty-eight when he was crowned, and was the husband of a Portuguese princess named Barbara, who was so plain that, when he first saw her, be was for sending her back to her father, but so bright and good that after he knew her he came to adore her. Like his father, Ferdinand was subject to fits of low spirits and melancholy, and these were the means of procuring him the service of a most useful minister. For on one occasion, when the king had been many days in bed crying, and refused to get up, or to wash himself, the queen secretly introduced into the next room the famous singer Farinelli, who sang so melodiously that Ferdinand started up, ordered the sweet singer to be brought before him, and asked him what reward he wanted for giving him such exquisite delight.

Farinelli, who knew why he had been sent for, answered: "Nothing, except that your majesty will get up, wash yourself and dress, and go out for a walk."

Ferdinand could not part with him, and the singer became one of his chief advisers till he died. He was an honest, worthy fellow, gave good advice, and never took a bribe, which was considered extraordinary at Madrid.

Other good advisers whom the king drew round him were an old Spanish grandee named Carvajal, who was such a miracle of honesty that he considered a compliment a crime; and a peasant who is known by the name of Ensenada, and who, I suspect, bright as he was, was not so stiff-necked on the subject of bribes. His real name I do not know. When he was called into the king's counsels he was made Marquis of Ensenada, which in Spanish means "In himself, nothing."

This was very humble, no doubt; but I do not find that after he was well seated in power he was remarkable for humility.

These three men now undertook to cure the evils under which Spain had been suffering ever since the middle of the reign of Philip the Second. And I confess it fills me with astonishment to see how much they accomplished, considering the ignorance of the people, the helplessness of the king, and the power of the Church.

They reduced the taxes on food and other things so that the people could pay them without starving. They put a stop to the stealing of public money by those who undertook to collect the taxes. They built roads and improved the harbors; they encouraged the establishment of factories; they stimulated ship-building; they repealed the laws which had driven foreign trade from Spanish ports; they saw to it that the king paid his debts; they regulated the expenses of government in proportion to its income, so that there was something over every year, and when Ferdinand died there was a large sum in the treasury. They punished corrupt judges with severity, and rewarded pupils at the colleges who showed proficiency in learning; finally, they destroyed the power of the pope in Spain. Under Philip the Second he appointed twelve thousand priests to serve in Spain; at the close of Ferdinand's reign he had only the right of appointing fifty-two. There were still one hundred and eighty thousand priests in Spain, and they still owned half the kingdom. But a reckoning was at hand.

In 1754 Carvajal died, worn out with faithful work. Two years afterwards Ensenada was detected in assuming power which did not belong to him, and was dismissed. France and England were at war. It was in 1756 that the English General Braddock, under whom Washington was serving, was defeated by the French at Fort Duquesne. Each nation tried to get Spain into the war on its side, and if it had not been for the firmness of Queen Barbara, one of them would probably have succeeded. She said Spain had had enough of war; what money the people earned they wanted for themselves.

The heart of this noble woman was broken by the terrible disaster which befell her native city of Lisbon, in Portugal, on November 1st, 1755. On that dreadful day the people had hardly got out of their beds when they heard a rushing sound, as of underground thunder; then, in an instant, the earth began to shake from side to side, and the strongest houses to totter and fall; then the waters of the river flowed out to sea, leaving the bottom bare, and sweeping out into the ocean every craft that floated; then, after the lapse of perhaps a minute or two, the waters returned in a wave fifty feet high, and drowned every living creature in its path. It is said that in the space of six minutes, fifty thousand people lost their lives, including many friends and relations of the Queen of Spain.

She roused herself from the shock to furnish food and clothing to those who had lost everything by the earthquake. But, this done, her despair returned. Her health gradually declined, and on August 27th, 1758, she died.

Her husband, who was passionately attached to her, could not get over his grief. At times his paroxysms frightened his friends; he seemed to be going mad, like Charles the Second. He would not eat; he could not sleep; he would not speak when spoken to. Just a year after his wife's death he breathed his last.

He left a country which, in comparison with what it had been, was prosperous and happy; which shows you that the condition of a kingdom does not always depend on the quality of its king.

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