Charles III (Spain) (1716–1788; Ruled 1759–1788)
CHARLES III (SPAIN) (1716–1788; ruled 1759–1788)
CHARLES III (SPAIN) (1716–1788; ruled 1759–1788), king of Spain. Born in Madrid on 20 January 1716, Charles III died in the same city on 14 December 1788. The son of Philip V of Spain (ruled 1700–1724, 1724–1746) and Isabella Farnese of Parma (1692–1766), he was duke of Parma (1731–1735) and king of Naples (1734–1759) before becoming king of Spain (1759–1788). Following family tradition, Charles III spent his first seven years under women's care (Isabel Ramírez, María Antonia de Salcedo) and afterward under the supervision of court noblemen appointed by his parents. During childhood he received training in geography, history, military strategy, mathematics, and foreign languages (French, Italian dialects). More than studying, he enjoyed hunting, shooting, and making small objects from wood and ivory. His relationship with his parents was close despite frequent absences and separations, according to their own testimonies in private letters that started when Charles was four years old and continued for almost forty years. The letters also reveal the enormous influence and inspiration of his parents on his religiosity, political priorities, and selection of a spouse (Amalia of Saxony). A prudent and sober reformist spirit inspired his government rather than revolution and change, as was also the case with other European kings and queens of the eighteenth century.
Charles III relied on his own judgment much more than did previous Spanish kings, who had relied on powerful ministers. Foreign policy was the greatest priority of his government because of his mother's influence, but above all because Spain was a world colonial power. Alliances with France, however, brought wars with Great Britain, and Spain lost territories (including Florida) and imperial strength during Charles's reign.
Charles III appointed pragmatic ministers whose missions were to reinforce the crown, improve the economy, and maintain a peaceful social order to achieve a strong and stable country from which they would obtain political strength and wealth. In the first seven years of Charles's government, Italians served as the ministers of war, state, and finance, with Leopoldo di Gregorio, marquis of Squillace, and the marquis of Grimaldi as the outstanding figures above the ministers Charles inherited from his half brother Ferdinand VI (ruled 1746–1759). Fiscal reforms, the rise in prices following the introduction of free trade in grain, proposals to disentail properties of privileged sectors of society, and the law forbidding men to wear traditional broad hats and long capes aroused opposition against the Italian ministers. Sectors of the nobility, the clergy, and thousands of people from Madrid and other Spanish cities initiated riots in 1766 and generated fear of social upheaval and disorder. To restore internal stability and peace, Charles III dismissed his Italian ministers, expelled the Jesuits from Spain and the colonies (1767), and sought a new team of ministers from a group of universitytrained Spanish lawyers, among them Pedro Rodríguez Campomanes y Perez (1723–1802), JoséMoñino y Redondo, count of Floridablanca (1728–1808), and JosédeGálvez (1729–1787), who functioned as a team. With his new ministers, Charles III undertook reforms in administration, ecclesiastical policy, and some aspects of commercial and agrarian policies.
First, traditional royal councils were replaced with ministers who regularly met in a council of state, independent councillors were introduced into municipal governments of towns and villages, and the French system of intendants was implemented in the colonies to reinforce the crown's direct control. The final aim of administrative reforms was to impose the power of the crown at all administrative levels in Spain and its colonies and reduce to some extent the autonomy of high aristocrats, municipal councils, and viceroys.
The subordination of the church to the Bourbon monarchy was a second major goal of Charles III. Consequently he required royal authorization for the introduction of papal documents, expelled the Jesuits from all Spanish territories in 1767, and reduced the power of the Inquisition.
Economic reforms were less successful than administrative and religious reforms. The reduction of institutional obstacles to free trade in grain in the peninsula and to free trade between cities of the Spanish Empire (1765–1778) did little to change structural limits to sustained economic growth. Mercantilist policies and privileges were the rule in Spain as in most other European countries, and they imposed similar limits to the growth of domestic and international trade. On the other hand, hunger, bad crops, and privileged ownership and distribution of land remained the norm in rural Spain. The entailed land of the nobility, the clergy, the municipal councils, and the crown, mayorazgos, manos muertas, comunes, and realengos respectively, a fundamental obstacle to increased agricultural productivity, was never seriously questioned or reformed.
Charles III and his ministers reinforced the power of the crown and rationalized imperial administration as no other ruler had before in Spain. However, they left the traditional social order intact.
Carlos III y la Ilustración. 2 vols. Madrid, 1988–1990.
Domínguez Ortiz, Antonio. Carlos III y la España de la Ilustración. Madrid, 1988.
Herr, Richard. The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain. Princeton, 1958.
Hull, Anthony H. Charles III and the Revival of Spain. Washington, D.C., 1980.
Lynch, John. Bourbon Spain, 1700–1808. Oxford, 1989.
Paloma FernÁndez PÉrez
Known as an enlightened despot, Charles III (1716-1788) was king of Spain from 1759 to 1788. His reign was marked by economic progress and political stability and is usually considered one of the greatest in Spanish history.
The son of Philip V of Spain and his second wife, Elizabeth Farnese of Parma, Charles III was born in Madrid on Jan. 20, 1716. His education was excellent—at the age of 4 he wrote a letter in French to his parents—and during his youth he developed a great interest in the arts and a consuming passion for the hunt.
Since Philip V had had two sons, Louis and Ferdinand, by his first wife, Elizabeth felt that Charles and her other children stood no chance of inheriting the throne of Spain. Therefore she looked for thrones for them in Italy. Through her influence Charles was recognized as Duke of Parma in 1731 and as king of Naples and Sicily in 1736 after the War of the Polish Succession.
Charles proved a successful and popular king in Italy. He surrounded himself with able advisers and did much for his kingdom. He was also influenced by the ideas of enlightened despotism then current in the Italian peninsula. In 1738 Charles married Maria Amalia of Saxony. After bearing five daughters, in 1747 she gave birth to Philip, who was an idiot. But in the following year their second son and heir, Charles, was born. A third son, Ferdinand, was born in 1751.
When Philip V died in 1746, he was succeeded by his son Ferdinand VI (Louis had died earlier). Ferdinand had no children, and on his death in 1759 Charles, his half brother, became king of Spain. The new monarch renounced the throne of Naples in favor of his third son, Ferdinand. Not long after his accession Maria Amalia died, and Charles never married again.
When he arrived in Spain, Charles was a vigorous and healthy man of 43, eager to pursue a policy of active royal statesmanship. Assisted by able and dedicated ministers such as the Count of Arenda and the Count of Floridablanca, he introduced a series of reforms that strengthened the authority of the Crown. He asserted the monarchy's power over the Church by expelling the Jesuits from Spain in 1767. Charles brought about a general economic expansion, implemented important changes in the educational system, and modernized Spain's military forces.
Charles signed the Family Compact in 1761 with France, which led to Spain's involvement in the Seven Years War. In the Treaty of Paris of 1763 Spain lost Florida but was ceded Louisiana. In 1779 Charles was drawn into war with England in the American Revolution; by the Treaty of Paris of 1783 Spain recovered Florida.
Charles's internal and colonial reforms greatly benefited Spain. He died on Dec. 14, 1788, and was succeeded by his son Charles IV.
In English, Joseph Addison, Charles the Third of Spain: The Stanhope Essay (1900), is not entirely satisfactory. Far more useful and scholarly is the Spanish work by Enrique de Tapia Ozcariz, Carlos III y su época: Biograffa del siglo XVIII (1962). For a brief account of Charles and his reign see Charles Petrie, The Spanish Royal House (1958). □