Charles III of Spain (1716–1788)

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Charles III of Spain (1716–1788)

Charles III of Spain (b. 20 January 1716; d. 14 December 1788), king of Spain (1759–1788) and Naples and Sicily (1734–1759). Often termed an "enlightened despot," Charles III is chiefly known for the administrative and economic reforms during his reign and for the expulsion of the Jesuits (1767). He brought to the Spanish throne twenty-five years of experience as the king of Naples. Charles was a proponent of royal absolutism whose main concern was the welfare of the state, which he intended to strengthen through domestic reforms, imperial defense, and stringent colonial control. He attempted neutrality in the Seven Years' War but was drawn into the losing side of the conflict by a desire to fortify Spanish land and sea power with a French alliance. In 1779, Charles entered into the war between America and Britain to regain control over the Gulf coast and the Mississippi and destroy British colonial power in Central America. His rewards for this effort were Florida and Minorca.

Charles's domestic and foreign policies were influenced by a succession of enlightened ministers who pressed for varying degrees of reform within a framework of absolute monarchy. His first administration was dominated by such Italians as Leo-poldo de Gregorio Squillace and Grimaldi, who supported the reforms of Campomanes, which infringed on the privileges of the clergy and aristocracy. Initial reforms sparked riots in Madrid and other cities (1766) and led to the dismissal of Squillace, the minister of finance. The count of Aranda dominated the second administration as president of the Council of Castile (1766–1773). Aranda's political rival, the count of Floridablanca, later served as secretary of state (1776–1792) and essentially ran the government during the latter years of Charles's reign.

In centralizing control over colonial affairs, Charles III created new administrative units, reduced the political power of the creoles, expelled the Jesuits, and expanded the army with American-born recruits. However, his increased taxation and new colonial inspections (visitas) were met with rebellions in the early 1780s. These uprisings in turn led to tighter control under the secretary of the Indies, José de Galvéz (1776–1787), who favored the introduction of the intendant system of royal administrators as a link between the districts and the central authorities. In 1765 the crown began to reduce the restrictions on colonial trade so as to expand commerce within the empire, while at the same time reinforcing the Spanish monopoly. By 1789 this system of free trade within the empire encompassed all of Spain's New World colonies.

Despite much talk about increasing state revenues through tax reforms, the reincorporation of noble estates (señoríos), and confiscation of church property, there was little opportunity for structural change during the reign of Charles III. In addition to resistance from privileged groups, the king and his ministers had limited resources and often deferred domestic investment to meet the costs of war.

See alsoGálvez, José de; Intendancy System; Spanish Empire.


Vicente Rodríguez Casado, La política y los políticos en el reinado de Carlos III (1962).

Anthony H. Hull, Charles III and the Revival of Spain (1980).

Javier Guillamón Álvarez, Las reformas de la administración local durante el reinado de Carlos III (1980).

John Lynch, Bourbon Spain, 1700–1808 (1989), esp. pp. 247-374.

Additional Bibliography

Elliott, John. Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 1492–1830. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

Ferández Díaz, Roberto. Carlos III. Madrid: Arlanza Editores, 2001.

Kamen, Henry. Empire: How Spain Became a World Power, 1492–1763. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Sánchez Blanco, Francisco. El Absolutismo y las luces en el reinado de Carlos III. Madrid: Marical Pons, 2002.

Stein, Stanley J. Apogee of Empire: Spain and New Spain in the Age of Charles III, 1759–1789. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Weber, David J. Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

                           Suzanne Hiles Burkholder

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Charles III of Spain (1716–1788)

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