Skip to main content

Charles III of Spain (1716–1788)

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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Charles III of Spain (1716–1788)." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . 24 Apr. 2019 <>.

"Charles III of Spain (1716–1788)." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . (April 24, 2019).

"Charles III of Spain (1716–1788)." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . Retrieved April 24, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.