Charles III (Spain)

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Charles III from Spain
King Charles III from Spain

Charles III ( Spanish  : Carlos Sebastián de Borbón y Farnesio , Italian : Carlo Sebastiano di Borbone ) (born January 20, 1716 in Madrid , † December 14, 1788 ibid) was King of Spain . He ruled from December 29, 1731 to October 3, 1735 as Duke of Parma and Piacenza , from July 3, 1735 to August 10, 1759 as Carlo V of Sicily / Carlo VII of Naples and Sicily and from August 10, 1759 to December 14, 1788 as Carlos III. King of Spain .

Childhood and youth

Jean Ranc: Charles III. as a child , 1722–1723, Museo del Prado, Madrid

Charles III was born on January 20, 1716 in Madrid as the eldest son of Philip V of Spain and his second wife Elisabetta Farnese (Isabel de Farnesio).

At the time of his birth, Charles was only fourth in line to the Spanish throne; the three half-brothers whom Philip V had fathered in his first marriage came before him. He remained healthy and largely unremarkable as a child. Without the pressure of having to prepare immediately to take over the affairs of state, Karl received the wide-ranging humanistic training that was appropriate to his class and particularly enjoyed the hunt.

His mother, a smart, energetic and power-conscious woman, realized that the best prospects for her son's own territory lay in Italy. She herself came from the Farnese family who ruled Parma . The Queen made sure that her son would become thoroughly acquainted with the history, politics and customs of Italy as part of his education.

Although Spain had given its possessions in Italy to the Habsburgs with the Peace Treaty of Utrecht after the end of the War of the Spanish Succession , Elisabeth von Farnese was working hard on a revision.

Cardinal Giulio Alberoni , the Queen's Plenipotentiary, initially wanted to regain Lombardy, Sicily, Naples and Sardinia by force. Although he succeeded in taking Sardinia by surprise in 1717 , the European powers allied against Spain ( war of the quadruple alliance ) and a British fleet defeated the Spaniards at Capo Passero in 1718 .

Now the queen tried diplomatically to reach her goal of placing her son as regent in Italy: in the Treaty of Vienna (1725) negotiated by the Spanish Prime Minister Juan Guillermo Riperdá , the marriage of Charles with the Austrian imperial daughter Maria Theresa was agreed . (This agreement then failed due to the resistance of the British and Dutch, who feared a shift in the balance of power on the continent.) In addition, the Spaniards obtained the approval of Austria that Charles could take over the Duchy of Parma if the ruling Duke Antonio Farnese died childless.

In 1724 Philip V abdicated in favor of his eldest son Ludwig , who however died of smallpox after only seven months on the throne without leaving any descendants of his own. The second son, Philipp Peter, had died in 1719, so that Karl had advanced to the second place in the line of succession, after his half-brother Ferdinand . Philip returned to the throne despite suffering from depression - the queen had even more influence in this second term than before.

Duke of Parma

On January 20, 1731, the Duke of Parma, Antonio Farnese, died on Charles's fifteenth birthday. Charles assumed the inheritance as Duke Charles I and traveled to Parma. His father supported him with an annual pension of 150,000 ducats and several advisers that he had given the son to his side. In October 1731 Charles moved into Parma and began his brief reign there.

In the Polish War of Succession

With the Duchy of Parma, the Spanish expansion efforts in Italy were not yet over. In 1733, Spain concluded the First Family Pact with France , with which Spain sided with France against Great Britain and Austria in the War of the Polish Succession .

The Spaniards aimed primarily at the Kingdom of Naples . Spanish troops conquered Naples in a coup d'état on May 10, 1734, and Charles took control of the kingdom on behalf of his father, the Spanish king. In the Vienna Preliminary Peace of 1735, Austria gave Naples and Sicily to the Spanish Bourbons as secondary school . Charles was crowned King of Naples and Sicily as Charles VII. In return, the Bourbons passed Parma on to the Habsburgs.

King of Naples and Sicily

From the beginning, Karl undertook numerous reforms in the Neapolitan state. He counted on the support of the enlightener Bernardo Tanucci . In 1735 he compiled the country's legislation in a collection of laws, and in 1752 he enacted its own code, the Carolinian Code ( Código Carolino ). The privileges of the large landowners were restricted. Trade restrictions both domestically and for export have been lifted.

In 1738 Karl married the Saxon princess Maria Amalia . Although the marriage was arranged for political reasons, Maria Amalia and Karl got on well. The Queen took an active part in the politics of the country and was involved in essential government decisions.

In 1741, Naples concluded a concordat with the church , according to which church goods also had to pay taxes and duties, even if only half the rate.

For the reign of Naples and Sicily, he had the construction of the Palace of Caserta begin. Through his mother's inheritance, he came into possession of the Farnese collections , which were initially placed in the Palazzo Reale in Naples. Under his rule, the first excavations of Roman buildings began in Pompeii and Herculaneum .

During the War of the Austrian Succession , Naples initially remained neutral under Charles, also on the advice of Queen Maria Amalia. It was feared that the British naval presence in the Mediterranean could endanger shipping and the ports of the kingdom. It was not until 1744 that Naples took the side of France and Spain, but without intervening in the war or being affected by the results. For the Bourbon dynasty, however, the Peace of Aachen (1748) turned out to be favorable: Karl's brother Philip received the title of Duke of Parma from the Austrians. The Spanish Queen Elisabeth had reached her goal: she had provided both sons with Italian states.

In 1746 Karl's brother Ferdinand succeeded his late father on the Spanish throne. As long as he had no children, Karl was the next heir to the throne.

Karl and Maria Amalia had thirteen children, seven of whom reached adulthood. The eldest son, Philipp Anton, suffered from epilepsy and was therefore excluded from the line of succession. He received the title of Duke of Calabria and died unmarried and childless. The dynastic line was to be continued with the second son, Karl . The Crown Prince was of healthy stature but of moderate intelligence, and Charles III. kept him away from all state duties.

Ferdinand VI died on August 10, 1759, and Karl inherited as Karl III. the royal throne. His youngest son, Ferdinand , was to succeed him to the Neapolitan throne - but since he was only eight years old in 1759, Bernardo Tanucci took over the official duties as regent. Prince Karl followed the king to Spain and, as the Spanish Crown Prince, became Prince of Asturias .

King of Spain

Coat of arms of Charles III.

When Charles took control of Spain, he was 43 years old and had ruled for 28 years. So he brought much more experience to the table than his predecessors. This did not meet with approval everywhere, especially since he challenged the conservative Spanish state apparatus with his enlightened reform ideas.

Karl also had to adapt. The Spanish court with its rigid ceremonies appeared gloomy and ascetic in comparison to the cosmopolitan baroque court life that had reigned at the Court of Miracles in Naples.

Reform efforts

Charles III ruled in the sense of "enlightened despotism" (span. Despotismo Ilustrado ) as an absolutist monarch, who at the same time incorporated ideas of the Enlightenment and among other things promoted education and suppressed the influence of the church. In terms of personnel, Charles III. some trusted advisors, but initially he ensured continuity, for example by keeping Prime Minister Ricardo Wall in office.

With his advisors, Karl set about introducing comprehensive reforms and giving Spain a boost to modernization. He could not count on the support of the nobility - the high-ranking families insisted in their orientation on hierarchy by origin and put their energies primarily on preserving their position and their privileges. In contrast, the bourgeoisie saw the reforms as an opportunity to position themselves and to achieve demanding positions despite low origins.

Karl no longer gave key positions - such as those of viceroys in the colonies - exclusively to representatives of the noblest families, but also gave sons from the lower nobility a chance if they had proven themselves in the military and administration.

Economic and financial policy

In the spirit of mercantilism , he had state manufactories founded in the mother country and some colonies (such as in Cuba ).

Public finances suffered from the enormous national debt that Spain had accumulated since the time of Charles V. The finances should be restructured through increased export earnings and a modern and consistently pursued tax policy. This continued the efforts that Zenón de Somodevilla y Bengoechea had already begun under Philip V. In 1760, the Junta de Catastro was set up, an authority that was supposed to record the property and assets of the Spaniards in order to enable a uniform and comprehensive tax assessment.

In 1765 he had the strict grain tax abolished, making it easier to sell and transport this staple food. Trade restrictions have also been eased or lifted in other areas.

In the financial sector, he had the monetary system standardized, and he founded a state bank, the Banco de San Carlos, a forerunner of the national bank, which was used to finance the Spanish wars from then on.

In addition, the Lotería Nacional was created as a source of income. Although all these measures had an effect, the state budget was not reorganized, since at the same time the more active role in foreign policy on France's side meant that Spain repeatedly had to finance wars against Great Britain, which cost money on the one hand and revenue on the other - for example from the colonies - diminished.

Social policy

In the spirit of enlightened absolutism, Spain under Charles III. for the first time systematic efforts of a kind of social policy. Orphanages and hospitals were established. Vagrants and beggars were taken off the streets by hiring them to serve in the Spanish Navy.

To improve public order, he banned the carrying of firearms and gambling in public.

Hat riot

The Spaniards reacted mixedly to the numerous reform projects of their king. After two hundred years of clerical conservatism under the Habsburgs, the efforts of Philip V, and even more so of Charles III. a challenge.

A curiosity that may be considered symptomatic of the resistance that the reforms provoked was the Madrid hat revolt of 1766. Leopoldo de Gregorio , marqués de Esquilache , one of the king's confidants, had forbidden the wearing of the traditional wide-brimmed sombrero with a long coat - and instead decreed that men had to wear a short coat and a three-cornered hat. The people of Madrid revolted against this compulsion to dress in French fashion, with a revolt that was put down militarily. Angry Madrid ravaged the house of Prime Minister Jerónimo Grimaldi .

Church politics and expulsion of the Jesuits

Under Charles III. the rights of the church were massively curtailed. While the Roman Catholic Church with its orders was closely interwoven with the secular government and carried out many judicial and educational tasks in its own sovereignty, Charles restricted the powers, made church goods subject to tax and limited the influence of the priests.

The climax of this policy was the decision in 1767 to dissolve the Jesuit order , whose unauthorized actions had led to discontent and conspiracy theories elsewhere, in Spain and all Spanish colonies, to confiscate its property and to drive out the Jesuits. The leading force in Spain was Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea, conde de Aranda , the chairman of the Castile Council.

Domestic politics

Domestically, the reforms strengthened the position of citizens in Spanish municipalities. The office of a procurador (German: deputy) was created who could file complaints against municipal officials on behalf of the citizens. In addition, for every municipality with more than 2,000 inhabitants, a four-member citizen representative was elected, which could also appeal against the administration.

For the Spanish army, the tactics of the Prussian army were adopted, which under Frederick the Great was probably the most modern of the time.

Foreign policy

In terms of foreign policy, Charles III said goodbye. of the cautious, neutral stance that Ricardo Wall for Ferdinand VI. had represented. Through Ambassador Grimaldi, Spain concluded the Third Family Pact with France, which immediately led to Spain's entry into the Seven Years War .

In Spain this had no effect, the war between Spain and Great Britain took place mainly overseas. In 1762 the English took possession of Havana in Cuba , a strategically important station on the transatlantic route between Spain and its colonies , with little difficulty . The Philippines also fell into English hands. In the Peace of Paris in 1763 , Great Britain received the French territories of North America, with the exception of Louisiana (colony) , which went to Spain. In return, Spain ceded Florida to the British. Cuba and the Philippines remained Spanish.

In 1776 the British had to defend their North American colonies against the aspirations of American settlers for independence . The question for Spain was whether it should actively support the Americans against the British. Prime Minister Grimaldi was among those who advocated Spanish participation in the war. Proponents hoped that a weakened Britain would finally give up Gibraltar and Menorca . King Charles III and other ministers feared that the urge for independence from the European mainland could spill over to the Spanish possessions in America. The decision was made against direct military intervention. But Spain supported the Continental Army with money and allowed the Americans to use the Spanish ports in America. In the Peace of Paris (1783) England had to recognize the independence of the USA ; With this agreement, Spain got Florida and Menorca back from the British. Gibraltar of course remained British and remains so to this day.

From then on, Spain acted more independently of foreign policy. Prime Minister José Moñino y Redondo , Count of Floridablanca , represented Spain's political interests and no longer blindly followed France. In 1779 Spain concluded an alliance with Portugal, which as a British ally had been enemies with Spain for many years. As the culmination of this reconciliation, the Spanish princess Charlotte Joachime of Spain (a granddaughter of Karl) married the Portuguese heir to the throne Johann in 1786 .

In 1782, Spain signed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire to keep shipping safe in the Mediterranean in general and between Spain and its holdings in North Africa ( Melilla , Ceuta and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera ) in particular.

Attempts to achieve an equalization with Morocco were less successful . In 1762 Spain had signed a trade treaty with Morocco. But this did not protect the Spaniards from continued pirate attacks in the western Mediterranean. In 1774, Moroccan soldiers attacked the Spanish enclaves on the coast several times . King Karl and Prime Minister Grimaldi then ordered a large-scale punitive expedition with over 18,000 soldiers against Algiers , which took place under the command of General Alejandro O'Reilly of Irish descent . The Spanish attempt to land was repulsed, 5,000 men died - that was almost a third of the Spanish army. The rest had to retreat defeated. Prime Minister Grimaldi resigned.

Under Prime Minister Count Floridablanca, Spain reached an agreement with Morocco in 1782, followed by treaties with the rulers of Tripoli , Tunis and Algiers in 1786 .

Colonial policy

Since the conquest of the American colonies, Spain's colonial policy has primarily focused on moving valuable goods - preferably gold and silver - from the colonies to Spain. The work in mining and plantations in Central and South America was largely done by serfs and slaves. The routes of goods were strictly regulated and all decisions were centralized. Offices and posts were assigned at the top to the sons of the highest-ranking families, and often sold at a lower level. The colonial system was inflexible and inefficient, yields plummeted, and corruption and mismanagement took their part.

Karl appointed Manuel de Amat y Junyent the viceroy of Peru . He sent Joaquín de Montserrat to New Spain . He knew both from the time of the campaigns in Italy against Austria. Both had the task of carrying Karl's reform course into the colonies.

The defeats of the Spaniards against the British in the Seven Years' War (British occupation of Havana and the Philippines) showed Karl that the need for reform in civil and military administration was even more urgent than expected. After an employee of Grimaldi at the embassy in Paris, José de Gálvez y Gallardo , had already presented him with a memorandum on the state of the Spanish colonies in 1760, he sent him with extensive powers as a general visitor to New Spain in order to implement fundamental innovations there . Gálvez and Montserrat got caught up in disputes over competence, and Charles replaced the viceroy with Carlos Francisco de Croix , who had been a close confidante even when he was Duke of Parma.

Gálvez, in turn, sent his confidante José Antonio de Areche to Peru to carry out Charles' reforms there in the same role as general visitor. Similar to Gálvez, Areche also got into a conflict of jurisdiction with the viceroy, Manuel de Guirior since 1774 , who opposed a planned tax increase. The king replaced him with Agustín de Jáuregui , who already as governor of Chile had energetically and consistently implemented the reform policy.

After Gálvez's return to Spain in 1771, Charles made him Colonial Minister. Gálvez now rearranged the entire Spanish colonial empire in the spirit of the king. In South America, a new viceroyalty was established, the viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata . In Mexico, the newly settled provinces in the north as Provincias Internas were separated from the responsibility of the New Spanish Viceroyalty. Following the French model, Intendencias were set up as subordinate administrative units that took on many administrative and judicial tasks that were previously located in the viceroys' offices.

The trade routes were expanded, and new ports for transatlantic shipping were approved in America and Europe. Trade restrictions fell, and for the first time the colonies were allowed to exchange goods with one another.

His administrative reforms of the Spanish colonial empire in Latin America were intended to increase the income from the overseas colonies and to consolidate political control. Charles III but contributed fundamentally to the wars of independence that broke out at the beginning of the 19th century through the resentment it generated.

Cultural Achievements

During his reign in Spain he initiated important urban development measures, especially in Madrid, where he commissioned public lighting and sewage systems as well as numerous representative buildings (including the Puerta de Alcalá , the Plaza de Cibeles and the building that is now the Museo del Prado ) . These construction activities earned him the nickname “the best mayor of Madrid”.

Under his rule in Spain, the country experienced an economic boom, which led to a considerable increase in population from 6 million to 10.5 million.

Death and inheritance

Charles died in Madrid in December 1788 and was buried in the Pantheon of Kings of the El Escorial Monastery. His son took over the throne as Charles IV .


Louis XIV , King of France (1638–1715)
Louis de Bourbon Dauphin of France (1661–1711)
Maria Teresa of Spain (1638–1683)
Philip V King of Spain (1683–1746)
Ferdinand Maria , Elector of Bavaria (1636–1679)
Maria Anna of Bavaria (1660–1690)
Henriette Adelheid of Savoy (1636–1676)
Charles III King of Spain (1716–1788)
Ranuccio II Farnese (1630-1694)
Odoardo II Farnese (1666-1693)
Isabella d'Este (1635–1666)
Elisabetta Farnese (1692–1766)
Philipp Wilhelm , Elector Palatinate (1615–1690)
Dorothea Sophie of the Palatinate (1670–1748)
Elisabeth Amalie of Hessen-Darmstadt (1635–1709)

Marriage and offspring

On June 19, 1738, Karl married Princess Maria Amalia of Saxony , a daughter of Friedrich August II , with whom he had the following children:

  • María Isabel (1740–1742)
  • María Josefa (* / † 1742)
  • María Isabel (1743–1749)
  • María Josefa (1744–1801)
  • Maria Ludovica (1745–1792) ⚭ 1765 Leopold II. Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation
  • Felipe Antonio (1747–1777) Duke of Calabria
  • Charles IV (1748–1819) King of Spain ⚭ 1765 Maria Luise von Bourbon-Parma (1751–1819)
  • María Teresa (1749-1750)
  • Ferdinand I (1751–1825) King of the Two Sicilies ⚭ 1768 Maria Karolina of Austria (1752–1814)
  • Gabriel Antonio (1752–1788) ⚭ Maria Anna of Portugal (1768–1788)
  • María Ana (1754–1755)
  • Antonio Pascal (1755–1817) ⚭ Maria Amalia de Borbón (1779–1798)
  • Francisco Javier (1757–1771)

In honor of Maria Amalia, on the day of the wedding, on July 6, 1738, he founded the January Order .

The Spanish admiral Federico Carlos Gravina (1747-1806) is said to have been a son of Charles.


Literature and Sources

  • Raffaele Ajello:  CARLO di Borbone, re di Napoli e di Sicilia. In: Alberto M. Ghisalberti (Ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 20:  Carducci-Carusi. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 1977.
  • Horst Pietschmann: Karl III. (1759-1788) . In: Walther L. Bernecker , Carlos Collado Seidel , Paul Hoser (eds.): The Spanish Kings. 18 historical portraits from the Middle Ages to the present day . Beck, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-406-42782-0 , pp. 158-180.
  • Alexandra lattice man: the economization of political thought. Naples and Spain under the sign of the reform movements of the 18th century under the rule of Charles III. Franz Steiner Verlag, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-515-09254-8 , ( contributions to economic and social history 113), (also: Hamburg, Univ., Diss., 2008).
  • Roberto Fernández Díaz: Los Borbones: Carlos III. (1759-1788) . In: La Monarquía Hispánica . ( Cervantes Virtual [accessed September 7, 2015]).
  • Biography (spanish)
  • Biography (spanish)


  1. ^ Hugo Rodolfo Ramírez Rivera: La Compañía de Jesús y la propaganda satírica iconográfica contra el Rey Don Carlos III de España, 1769-1772. Antecedentes and documentos. In: Anuario de Historia de la Iglesia en Chile. ISSN  0716-1662 . Vol. 5 (1987), pp. 33-46.

Web links

Commons : Charles III. (Spain)  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Ferdinand VI. King of Spain
Charles IV
Antonio Farnese Duke of Parma
Charles II
Charles VI King of Naples
Ferdinand IV.
Charles VI King of Sicily
Ferdinand IV.