Advertisement

history For Members

The one thing to know about each of Spain's 'crazy' kings and queens

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
The one thing to know about each of Spain's 'crazy' kings and queens
Jailed by Napoleon (Fernando VII), mentally and physically challenged due to generations of inbreeding (Carlos II) and exiled under the pretence of being a 'nympho' (Isabel II). Spanish royal family history is certainly very...colourful.

Which Spanish king thought he was a frog? Who was a reputed sex addict? Understanding Spanish history can be tough, so we've broken it down into the most important and quirky trivia you need to know about each Spanish king and queen.

Advertisement

Isabel I and Fernando V of Castilla (The Catholic Monarchs): They paid for Columbus' 'discovery' of America and united Spain
The first monarchs of post-Moorish Spain, Isabel and Fernando unified Spain after the Reconquista, ordered the expulsion of the Jews and the Moors and funded Christopher Columbus's alternate journey to what the explorer thought were the Indies. Fernando was the ruler of the Kingdom of Aragón and Isabel of Castilla, meaning that their marriage united these two huge areas, encompassing much of modern-day Spain.

Juana I of Castilla (The Mad) and Felipe I of Castilla (The Handsome): She probably wasn't crazy and he may have been poisoned
Daughter of Isabel and Fernando, Juana was known as La Loca and kept prisoner for 46 years at Tordesillas Palace due to an alleged mental disorder, which was quite possibly a strategic excuse by power-hungry relatives. Felipe V didn't fare much better. His death at aged just 28 was so sudden that the rumour spread that his father-in-law had poisoned him.

Carlos I (The Emperor): The 'Caesar' who was born in a latrine 
The second son of Juana I and Felipe I had some rather 'humble beginnings', as his mother unknowingly gave birth to him in a latrine in the Belgian city of Gent. He was however to become the Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria, King of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands and Duke of Burgundy, showcasing how Spain was a world force at the time. 

Felipe II (The Prudent): He had loads of kids and took over Portugal
Felipe II of Spain had 11 recognised offspring, but it's more likely to have been at least 15 when factoring in his affairs. He obviously wasn't called The Prudent because of his propensity to father children, but rather because he is said to have thought through every decision carefully, including annexing Portugal to Spain when the neighbouring country's king died without leaving heirs. 

Felipe III (The Pious): Aloof and a gambler

Third in line to the throne, Philip III's two older siblings died leaving him unwillingly in charge when his father passed in 1598. Despite his nickname suggesting he had no vices, some historical records have him down as a gambler who lost lots of money to his courtesans when playing cards. Felipe III placed all important affairs in the hands of the Duke of Lerma at a time when Spain had economic problems and its fingers in many pies: Naples, Portugal, Sicily and Milan to name a few.

Advertisement

Felipe IV (The Great or the Planet King): Art lover and witness to declining empire
His other nickname was the 'Gob-smacked King', given that the notorious facial features that were a product of decades of Habsburg inbreeding were starting to show. 'The Planet King' nickname was either due to astrological reasons or because of the size of the Spanish empire at the time, as Felipe wasn't exactly a traveller (he never left Spain). Although he was a patron of some of Spain's greatest ever artists - Velázquez and Lope de Vega included - his 44-year reign is generally not considered to have been a successful one as Spain lost clout on the world stage.

Carlos II (The Bewitched): Famously inbred
Google "inbreeding among royals" and most of the images will be of poor Charles II of Spain and his bizarre facial features, including the so-called 'Habsburg Jaw' (which explains his nickname). The last monarch of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty was mentally and physically challenged, and crucially infertile. With his death in 1700, the War of Spanish Succession began.

 

Felipe V (The Courageous): He thought he was a frog

The founder of the current Bourbon dynasty suffered from depression and hallucinations and actually believed he was a frog, croaking and jumping throughout the palace. He also refused to change his clothes and wash for fear of being poisoned through new ones. Despite this, he ruled for 46 years with a break of just 229 days.

Luis I (The Beloved or The Liberal): Short and not-so-sweet reign 
Luis I had one of the shortest reigns in Spanish history lasting only 229 days until he died aged just 17.  

Advertisement

Fernando VI (The Prudent or The Just): Just as mad as his father
The fourth son of Felipe V became increasingly erratic and depressed throughout his reign culminating in what's known as 'the year without a king' before his death from 'melancholia'. It is thought he was probably also bipolar, he couldn’t sleep, barely washed, bit people in the royal court, danced publicly in his underwear and pretended he was a ghost.

Carlos III (The Politician): The man behind the Spanish lottery and flag
The third son of Felipe V to reach the throne, Charles III was determined to restore Spain's position on the world stage, with middling success. He set up Spain's national lottery as a way of filling the royal coffers, enforced Spanish over other languages in the Iberian peninsula and chose the red-yellow-red flag Spain has to this day.

Carlos IV (The Hunter): A hobbyist more than a king

Charles IV of Spain ascended the throne shortly before the outbreak of the French Revolution, which ultimately marked his unstable reign. He entrusted the ruling of Spain to politician Manuel Godoy, instead losing himself in his hobbies for most of the day: music, hunting, craftsmanship and art. It's no surprise that his wife María Luisa is said to have confessed to a friar that none of Carlos's heirs were actually his.

Advertisement

Fernando VII (The Desired or The Felon): He was overthrown and imprisoned by Napoleon
Two months after Ferdinand occupied the Spanish throne in 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded and took over and put the young king behind bars in France. When the Spanish populace rose up against the French invaders, he regained his crown from 1814 to 1833.

José I (The Intruder): He was Napoleon's brother
Known as José I Bonaparte or José Napoleon I, he was a French politician, diplomat, lawyer, and older brother of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was given the Spanish throne by his sibling in 1808 but offered to abdicate on four occasions.

Advertisement

Isabel II (The Queen of Sad Destinies or The Chaste Queen): A reputed nymphomaniac
Isabel took the throne upon the death of her father when she was just three years old, with her mother acting as regent during her childhood. She has often been portrayed as not being the sharpest tool in the shed and a nymphomaniac, but these claims were most likely embellished by political adversaries. When she was forced to abdicate and into exile in Paris, she allegedly said "I was kicked out of Spain because I had lovers". Her husband Francisco de Asís de Borbón was known to be homosexual, even though they had 12 children together.

Amadeo I (The Knight King or The Elect): An Italian prince who grew fed up of Spain
The only Spanish monarch from the House of Savoy, Amadeus was born in Turin in Italy and was elected by the Spanish courts to be king in 1870 after they dethroned Isabel II. As soon as he reached power, his main political ally Spanish Prime Minister Juan Prim was murdered, marking the tone for three years of instability and turmoil which led Amadeo to gracefully turn down the crown of this "deeply troubled" country as he put it, and cause the first Spanish Republic to be proclaimed. 

Advertisement

Alfonso XII (The Pacifier): He helped repair the monarchy...and he liked sardines
Son of the dethroned Isabel II, the crown returned the House of Borbón with Alfonso XII. His ten-year reign gave hope of a stable constitutional monarchy in Spain. Alfonso died aged just 27 from tuberculosis. That didn't give him much time to do anything that memorable, but he did famously love Málaga's skewered sardines, known as espetos.

Alfonso XIII (The African): His reign was followed by fascism
After the death of his father, Alfonso Junior was King of Spain from his birth until the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic, but had to wait to officially take the throne when aged 16. His reign was rife with social and political problems with ultimately led to the fascist Primo de Rivera dictatorship. He got his nickname 'The African' due to Spain's 1920s Rif War for colonial rule over northern Morocco, which anti-monarchists blamed him for. 

Juan Carlos I: The Rascal?
The father of Spain's current king. Despite being lauded for supporting Spain's Transition into democracy after Franco's dictatorship, he abdicated in favour of his son Felipe VI after a botched elephant hunting trip in Botswana and a number of ongoing financial scandals. He now lives is self-imposed exile in Abu Dhabi. Juan Carlos was not given a sobrenombre (nickname) by the public, but he did choose to call his sailboat Bribón, which means "rascal" in Spanish. Coincidence? 

Felipe VI: Spain’s current squeaky clean king 
Tall, handsome, level-headed, he speaks seven languages - German, English, French, Basque, Catalan, Galician and Spanish. Since being crowned in 2014, Spain's King Felipe has done a great job in restoring the damage done to the Spanish monarchy by his father, with not a single controversy making front page news.

More

Comments

Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also