At the death of Charles the Second, three princes—two grandsons of Philip the Fourth, and one grandson of Philip the Third—claimed the throne of Spain. Charles decided that one of the grandsons of Philip the Fourth—Philip of France—should succeed him, and as in this he was backed by King Louis the Fourteenth of France, the young man was duly crowned; whereupon the two other candidates made war upon him. This contention is known in history as the War of the Spanish Succession; almost every power in Europe took part in it.
It lasted thirteen years, and at the end of it Philip was acknowledged King of Spain. But he lost Sicily, which went to the Duke of Savoy; his Italian possessions, which went to the Emperor of Germany; and Gibraltar, which went to the English. Thus Spain was reduced from being the foremost power in Europe almost to the second rank. But I am not sure that the loss was not a real gain, for the long war, during which the soil of Spain was overrun by a multitude of foreigners, had the effect of waking the Spanish spirit, and rousing Spaniards to something of their old manhood.
It did not rouse the king. He was a poor, weak creature, who always wanted a woman to lead him. When he was crowned king, at the age of seventeen, he married Marie Louise of Savoy, who was fourteen; and to take care of the two children, Louis the Fourteenth of France gave them a governess in the person of Madame Orsini, who was a wily intriguer. The young king spent most of his time in bed, and would not let his wife out of his sight; while the two young people were chattering and playing games, Madame Orsini, with the assistance of a man named Orri, and financiers whom Louis the Fourteenth had sent to advise her, governed the kingdom.
At Mid-day in the Sun.
The Frenchmen made improvements in the government, and put the finances in better order. Notwithstanding the war, there was not so much poverty as there had been under Charles the Second, and business showed a tendency to pick up. Madame Orsini was a good Catholic, but she was not so much in love with the Church as to let the priests take everything that was in sight; she put a stop to the operations of the Inquisition. When the fortunes of war went against him, Philip would have abandoned the struggle, and gone to Mexico or Peru; but his little wife, strongly backed up by Madame Orsini, restored his courage by her brave words, and put life into him.
One day, unluckily for him, she died. Then he fell into a deep depression, went to bed, and would not get up, and would see no one. Madame Orsini was in despair. In her tribulation she sent for an Italian priest of her acquaintance, and sought his counsel. His name was Alberoni; he was a man of cunning and vigor. Said he to Madame Orsini:
"The thing to do with the king is to get him another wife."
Madame agreed, and they two ran over on their fingers all the princesses in Europe, one after another. At last, Alberoni said, in an indifferent tone, that there was a fat little girl at Parma, who had been brought up on Parmesan butter and Parmesan cheese, and who had not a thought beyond her embroidery; she would work under Madame Orsini's thumb, if she were made Queen of Spain. Madame thought that would be just the right kind of girl for Philip to marry. So she sent Alberoni over to Parma to marry her by proxy, and bring her back to Spain. Her name was Elizabeth, or Isabella, Farnese.
The new queen lost no time in crossing to Spain, where King Philip was waiting for her, and journeyed to Madrid. At the last station on the way, Madame Orsini met her, and welcomed her in the name of the king. The young lady turned upon the old one, and in a voice of fury asked how she dared present herself before her in such a dress. Madame Orsini tried to explain and apologize, but Elizabeth would listen to nothing. Calling an officer, she bade him arrest the old lady, and carry her out of Spain that very night. It was bitter weather, the ground was covered with snow, and Madame Orsini had no cloak, and was in evening dress: but the officer's orders were clear. He drove her to the frontier without a stop, except to change horses, and landed her in France. She was never heard of again in Spain—she who had ruled the country with a rod of iron.
Next day Elizabeth met Philip and married him.
And now, my dear," said she, "I think we shall have peace."
On the Road to the bull-fight.
She appointed Alberoni prime-minister, and Spain soon saw that she had made a wise choice. The pope hastened, at Elizabeth's request, to create him a cardinal. He really did much for Spain. He put the finances in order, so that there was a little money in the treasury; he restored some industries; he put the army and navy on a better footing; he regulated the trade with the Spanish colonies. But Queen Elizabeth, who was a restless, ambitious woman, insisted on recovering the territory Spain had lost by the War of the Succession; under her orders, Spain declared war against nation after nation. They at last combined against her, and at every point the Spanish armies were beaten. Finally, she sued for peace, but for a long time she did not seem able to come to an agreement as to the terms.
She had in her service a Parmesan servant whose name was Laura; she put on the queen's shoes and stockings, and was the only person who saw her alone. This Laura, who was in the pay of Italy and France, whispered to her while she was tying her shoe one morning that peace could be made, and good offices found for the members of the queen's family, if Alberoni were dismissed. That night—it was December 4th, 1719—she spent several hours discussing affairs quite pleasantly with the cardinal and the king. Next morning a secretary entered the cardinal's chamber before he was up, and handed him a letter, dismissing him from office, and ordering him to leave Madrid within a week.
Then peace was arranged. But the king fell back into his old fits of melancholy, and could not be got out of bed. He moped and mourned, until one day he rose, dressed himself, and startled everybody by following the example of his ancestor Charles the First, abdicating the throne, and retiring, not to a convent, but to the palace of San Ildefonso. His son Philip, who was sixteen, was crowned king in his stead. This did not last long. The boy king took smallpox and died of it; whereupon his father, saying that there was no rest for him anywhere, again took his seat on the throne.
He reigned for twenty-one years more. They were years of intrigue and fitful wars, which resulted in nothing but a waste of lives and money. One personage loomed up in them whom it may be worth your while to remember.
This man's name was Ripperda; he was born in the Low Countries, but was of Spanish descent. In early life he settled in Holland and became a Protestant, because most of the Dutch were Protestants. After the overthrow of Alberoni he got himself appointed Dutch minister to Spain; and he then became a Catholic again. He now persuaded Queen Elizabeth to employ him in trying to revive the industries of Spain. He succeeded in planting a woollen factory, and perhaps some others. But he was ambitious, and took no rest till he became ambassador, and, finally, prime-minister. It was his misfortune that he talked too much; he betrayed the secrets of the Spanish court, was detected, and imprisoned in the fortress of Segovia. Here he would have probably ended his days, but for a servant-girl who had fallen in love with him. She managed to get him out of jail, and became with him a wanderer on the face of the earth. He fled in turn to Portugal, England, the Low Countries, Russia, and Morocco—where he became a Moslem. But everywhere the implacable vengeance of Elizabeth followed him, and he was driven out of country after country. At last he hid himself in a small seaport on the Adriatic, where he changed his religion once more, and died in the Roman Catholic faith.
Philip the Fifth was conversing with his wife on July 9th, 1746, when he was struck by a sudden fit of apoplexy, and died before a priest or doctor could be got. He was not so bad a monarch as some of his predecessors; under him knowledge made some progress in Spain, and poverty was not as wide-spread as it had been. He was at heart a Frenchman, and at this time the French were more intelligent than the Spaniards.
After his death his angry wife retired to an obscure home in Spain, and was never heard of more.