The Hapsburg House has been one of the most powerful Houses of all Europe,  which has ruled throughout the 2nd millennium some of the most important European states as well as their colonies. During the 15th century Charles V used to control reigns and properties from Europe all the way to the Americas. He was the emperor

on whose empire the sun never sets

The Hapsburg Spain, one of the main countries where the House reigned, saw its end on the 1st of November 1700, when its last Charles II of Spain disappeared.

Below: Charles II painted by Juan Carreño de Miranda

Although the luck of having ruled a vast and wealthy empire, Charles II was certainly not remembered as a privileged ruler. He suffered from many conditions and thanks to the modern scientific research it has been possible to prove that those were genetic pathologies (one being the Klinefelter syndrome). It was possible to confirm that everything was linked to genetic shortage caused by the consanguinity of his parents and before them of his grandparents and most of his ancestors.

Philip IV and  Mariana of Austria, parents of Charles, were respectively uncle and nephew whereas Maria Anna of Spain was simultaneously paternal aunt as well as maternal grandmother of Charles. He had 4 great grandparents instead of 8 and 6 great great grandparents instead of 16

The goal of the Hapsburg Family was maintaining the ownership of the extensive amount of lands they were in possess of, but this used to lead to recurring health issues of its members. Charles II of Spain (1661- 1700)  was the final representative of such an inbreeding marital custom.

Below: Charles II as a child

Charles was born 5 days after the death of his brother Philip Prospero, died at the age of 4 due to a form of epilepsy. Although Charles precarious health, his birth was welcomed with immense joy in the realm. Before him, the other brothers Fernando Tomas and Balthasar Charles (in 1646 in his 17’s) died as well so the father Philip IV was desperately looking for a heir to get to the adulthood.

Below: painting of Prince Philip Prospero (brothers of Charles) by Diego Velázquez. On his dress it is possible to catch the amulets used to dispel the diseases

Charles II, when he was born, was the only male children of Philip IV who had survived but since the very beginning he exhibited serious health conditions. The French ambassador wrote to Madrid:

The Prince seems to be extremely weak. He has an eczema herpeticum on his cheeks. His head is utterly covered in scabs. For 2 or 3 weeks there has been a draining under his right ear

Despite the difficulties that would have condemned any child from the common folks, thanks to the loving care and royal protection, Charles hit the adulthood. When he was 4, in 1665, he inherited the immense reign of Spain and his mother, Mariana of Austria, deputised for him for a long period.

Below: Charles II mother, Mariana of Austria, made by Diego Velázquez

The King grew unhealthy. Will and Ariel Durant wrote on their book “The Story of Civilization” that Charles was “short, crippled, epileptic, senil and completely bald before his 35’s”.

Charles II did not say a word before he was 4 and did not learn to walk until his 8 years old

His tutors were terrified to cause him damage while carrying out any type of operation, so they very often would leave him dirty from head to toe. Even his hair, kept long, was never washed. At the age of 10 John of Austria the Younger imposed him to go through general basic cleansing of the body.

Charles II as a teenager represented by Juan Carreño de Miranda. The King was always depicted leaning against some still point as he was not able to walk independently.

Charles was also tortured by repeating headaches, epileptic seizures, flues and several other conditions which granted him the nickname of

el Hechizado – the Bewitched

The King, commenting on the derogatory description said: “many people say that I am bewitched and I sure am so: those are the things that I feel and suffer from”.

Beside the feeble physical health, the sovereign was psychologically weak and sterile. Also, he suffered from mandibular prognathism (progenism), passed into history as “the Hapsburg Chin”, jaw protruding forward from the face creating a discrepancy between the upper and lower dental arches. To complete the picture there was a suspect acromegaly as well as recurring  gastritis and vomit, probably due to a condition to his digestive system.

Below: Charles in his 20’s, painted by Juan Carreño de Miranda

Despite his dramatic conditions, Charles showed signs of lucidity and a deep sensitivity for religion during his whole life. He also appeared as a knowledgeable monarch, managing to put through a policy of tax reduction and improvement of trades within the Spanish borders. His works, however, did not prevent the economic decline of the reign from taking place.

From a conjugal point of view, Charles II got married with Marie Louise d’Orléans, French Princess, and the couple was incredibly close. The two consummated the marriage but the sterility of Charles did not make possible the conception of a hair.

Marie Louise died in 1689 (when she was only 27) due to a peritonitis caused by a fall from a horse

Below: Marie painted by Pierre Mignard

Charles, bewitched by the health conditions but also by his lost love, fell in a deep state of depression. Forced by the circumstances to look for a heir, he quickly managed to set up a new union, this time with Maria Anna of Neuburg. The family history of the woman was a guarantee of fertility.

Naturally even with Maria Anna no hair was achieved

Below: Maria Anna painted by Robert Gabriel Gence

The King and the Queen had many economical problems too, to the point that the woman had to sell the jewels of her dowry in order to pay for the debts of her husband. In the meantime the lineage matter was still a burden to the reign: at that point it was clear that the sovereign would have not provided any heir.

The life at the court became rather stressful with the Queen Mother and the New Queen constantly arguing. Charles II appointed Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria as a successor but he prematurely died too, reopening the legacy question.

The two factions against each other were the French and the Austrian one,  wanted to equally split Spain and its colonies. After having interviewed the pope, Charles nominated as his universal hair Philip V, grandson of the French King Louis XIV and of his sister Maria Theresa of Spain.

The situation appeared far from being sorted, and in fact the question about the succession led to a 14 years long war (War of the spanish Succession). When Philip V took over, the Spanish empire seemed drastically reduced: it was now lacking of Italy, the Netherlands, Gibraltar, and Menorca, all lands which had been divided between Austria and Great Britan.

Charles II meets the death

In 1698, 2 years before the end, the King interrogated an exorcist who confirmed the doubts: Charles was under a curse casted by the Queen and the followers of the Austrian House. The second wife of Charles, Maria Anna plotted to demonstrate how the exorcist friar Alvarez Arguelles was an imposter, so she eventually impisoned him.

Below: marble bust of Charles II, made by Paul Strudel in 1695. It is visible the “Hapsburg Chin”. Picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons

The King’s conditions continued to worsen all the way to the 1700, year in which the situation appeared to be desperate. It was impossible to keep track of flu, oedemas, epileptic seizures, spasms as well as the weak intestine.

It was clear that Charles was about to die

The cures they did to him were the ones from that era: they used to place pigeons just murdered on his head and warm animal entrails on top of his own stomach. The sovereign did not improve so by the end of September he asked to exhume the corpses of his relatives.

Next to the perfectly preserved body of his first wife, Charles cried all night long

By the end of October he was bedridden. His agony lasted the whole month then, on the 1st November 1700 an apoplexy took him away.


According to the book titled “Enfermedades de Los Reyes de Espana”, written by the Spanish writer Pedro Gargantilla, the doctor who performed the autopsy reported:

He did not have a single drop of blood; his heart was as big as a grain of pepper; he had 3 big kidney stones; his lungs were corroded; his gut was rotten and cancerous; his head watery

Even though the description about the autopsy is an overstatement of that epoque, probably pushed even further by the rumors about the curse, Charles II was the last king of the Great Kingdom of Spain, which after him finished to be a worldwide power.

The end of the Hapsburg dynasty in Spain was caused by their inbreeding policies, which from one side allowed them not to disperse their fortunes, but from the other enormous health problems to its members.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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