Charles III of Spain Biography

Charles III, also known as Charles VII and Charles V, was a King of Spain who ruled from 1759 to 1788. He was the Duke of Parma and Piacenza and married Princess Maria Amalia of Saxony, with whom he had 13 children. Charles was a proponent of enlightened absolutism and implemented various reforms during his reign, including advancements in science, trade, agriculture, and military strength. He is widely regarded as one of the most successful rulers of his time, leading Spain into the modern age.

Quick Facts

  • Born Country: Spain
  • Died on: December 14, 1788
  • Place of death: Madrid, Spain
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Maria Amalia of Saxony (m. 1738–1760)
    • Father: Philip V of Spain
    • Mother: Elisabeth Farnesis
    • Siblings: Duke of Parma, Ferdinand VI of Spain, Luis of Spain; Count of Chinchón, Philip
    • Children: Charles IV of Spain, Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies, Francisco Javier of Spain, Infanta María Isabel of Spain, Infanta Maria Josefa of Spain, Infante Antonio Pascual of Spain, Infante Gabriel of Spain, Infante Philip; Duke of Calabria, Maria Anna de Borbón, Maria Isabel Ana de Borbón, Maria Isabel de Borbón, Maria Josefa Antoinetta de Borbón, Maria Luisa of Spain, Maria Teresa de Borbón, Philippo Anton di Borbone; Duc de Calabre
  • Ancestry: Spanish Italian, Italian Spanish
  • City: Madrid, Spain
  • More Facts:
    • Awards: Knights of the Order of the Holy Spirit, Knight in the order of Saint-Michel, Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece

Childhood & Early Life

Born on January 20, 1716, in Royal Alcazar of Madrid, Spain, Charles III was the son of Philip V of Spain, born after his half-brothers Louis I of Spain, Infante Felipe of Spain, and Ferdinand VI of Spain. Charles also had five full younger siblings, Mariana Victoria of Spain, Philip of Spain, Maria Teresa of Spain, Louis of Spain, and Maria Antonia of Spain, all of whom made it to adulthood.

Marriage & Issue

Charles was initially supposed to get married to Philippine Elisabeth, the daughter of Philippe d’Orléans, duc d’Orléans. They became betrothed in 1720/1721, but it was later called off. Charles eventually married Princess Maria Amalia of Saxony. On May 8, 1738, Maria was married to Charles by proxy (her brother Frederick Christian of Saxony standing on behalf of Charles). Maria and Charles met for the first time on 19 June at Portella, Naples. Although it was an arranged marriage, the couple grew very close over time. A skilled rider, Maria often went hunting with her husband. Furthermore, she took part in state affairs and loved participating in political issues. She also had a pivotal role in the construction of Caserta Palace. Charles and Maria had 13 children.

The Duke of Parma & Piacenza

On February 26, 1731, Antonio Farnese, the Duke of Parma, passed away without producing or naming an heir. At that time, Antonio’s widow, Enrichetta d’Este, was believed to have been pregnant. Many doctors inspected the duchess multiple times, but none of them confirmed that she was pregnant. Because of this, the Second Treaty of Vienna formally named Charles the Duke of Parma and Piacenza on July 22, 1731. Count Carlo Stampa controlled the duchy and was made the lieutenant of Parma under Charles. Charles adopted a new style during this period, HRH Don Charles of Spain (or Borbón), Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Infante of Spain. As he was still underage, his maternal grandmother, Dorothea Sophie of Neuburg, served as his regent. Charles ruled the duchies until October 1735.

The King of Naples & Sicily

From May 1734 to October 1759, he was the King of Naples as Charles VII and King of Sicily as Charles V. The Spanish had won the kingdom from the Austrians, and Charles, who was not his father’s heir, moved to Naples to rule the kingdom. The Neapolitans loved him because of this, as he was the first king in over two centuries to actually live there. Before him, the kingdom had been administered by viceroys. In 1759, Charles’ son Ferdinand succeeded him as the king of both Naples and Sicily.

The King of Spain

Philip died in July 1746, and his son and Charles’ older half-brother Ferdinand VI became the king of Spain. Ferdinand passed away in August 1759 without fathering a child. As a result, on August 10, 1759, Charles ascended the Spanish throne as Charles III. He ardently believed that the purpose of his life was to bring about drastic reforms in Spain. Although his love for hunting was nearly fanatical, his frugality and administrative capabilities earned him admirers both among his subjects as well as foreign observers. His deep religious Catholic convictions were reflected by his virtuous personal life and enduring loyalty to the memory of his wife, who passed away in 1760. Charles’ focus on the implementation of the royal authority has led some scholars to call him a tyrant. He had a gift for appointing the right people in the right positions and thus constantly improving his administration.

Reforms and Legacy

One of Charles’ main objectives was to ensure that Spain maintained its global influence as a colonial power. He was afraid that if Britain won the Seven Years’ War against France, it would disturb the balance among the colonial powers. As a result, he entered Spain into the Family Compact with France—both empires had kings belonging to branches of the Bourbon family—in August 1761. The coalition eventually lost, and Charles had to cede Florida to Britain. Charles ushered in radical reforms on the domestic front as well. His ecclesiastical policy was centered on his belief that the church should serve under the crown. He also imposed restrictions on the Inquisition and ordered the removal of the entire Jesuit order, whom he believed to be the cause of violence in Spain and its colonies from the empire. Charles sought to bring about changes that would categorically improve the industry and trade. By the time of his death, the Spanish Empire had become a thriving commercial entity in which all of its subjects and main ports could participate. However, foreigners were still not allowed to conduct business in Spanish territories. Charles achieved only limited success with his agrarian policy. Despite this, farmers who produced cotton became wealthy, as the cotton industry experienced unprecedented growth.

Death & Legacy

Charles passed away on December 14, 1788, at the Royal Palace of Madrid at the age of 72. He was interred at the Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain. He was succeeded by his son, Charles IV of Spain. With Charles at the helm, Spain emerged as a nation rather than a group of kingdoms and territories with the same ruler. His actions led to the country obtaining its national anthem and flag, as well as a proper capital. He also undertook the construction of a network of roads that connected various parts of the country to Madrid. Charles is the direct ancestor of the current King of Spain, Felipe VI.

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