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Charles IV of Spain (1748–1819)

Charles IV of Spain (1748–1819)

Charles IV of Spain (b. 12 November 1748; d. 19 January 1819), king of Spain (1788–1808). Charles IV had neither experience nor interest in government when he came to the throne. Although he began his rule with ministers inherited from his father, he soon handed the reins of government to Manuel de Godoy, whose rapid rise to power earned him widespread unpopularity in both Spain and the colonies. Distracted by revolutionary events in France, Charles and Godoy presided over the demise of the old regime while doing little to acknowledge or avert it.

War and the threat of state bankruptcy determined Charles's foreign and domestic policy. The Spanish monarch's decision to intercede on behalf of his cousin, the king of France, led to war (1793–1795), a subsequent alliance with France (1796), and costly conflicts with England (1796–1802 and 1804–1808). In the Indies, what was left of the Spanish monopoly eroded during the reign of Charles IV with the legalization of neutral trade.

Quests for further sources of state revenue dominated domestic policy during the reign of Charles IV. The few reforms generated by the crown's fiscal needs were lost amid the demands of wartime conditions and did little to improve Godoy's popularity. Opposition to him as the court favorite ultimately manifested itself in aristocratic support for the king's heir, Ferdinand VII, and in a revolt at Aranjuez (1808) demanding that Charles abdicate in favor of his son. Shortly thereafter, Napoleon I lured Charles and Ferdinand to France, where he forced them to abdicate in favor of his brother, Joseph Bonaparte.

See alsoFerdinand VII of Spain; Spanish Empire.


Carlos Corona, Revolución y reacción en el reinado de Carlos IV (1957).

John Lynch, Bourbon Spain, 1700–1808 (1989).

Additional Bibliography

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

La Parra López, Emilio. Manuel Godoy: La aventura del poder. Barcelons: Tusquets, 2002.

Portillo Valdés, José M. Crísis Atlántica: Autonomía e independencia en la crísis de la monarquía Hispana. Madrid: Marcial Pons, 2006.

Rodríguez, Jaime E. O. The Independence of Spanish America. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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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