The Course of Mexican History

By Michael C. Meyer; William L. Sherman et al. | Go to book overview
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14
The Bourbons Restructure
New Spain

EARLY BOURBON REFORMS

The nadir of Spain’s fortunes by the late seventeenth century was nowhere better exemplified than in the person of the king himself. Inheriting the throne in 1665 at age four, Charles II was feeble in mind as well as body and was even in maturity clearly incompetent to rule. This wretched king, called in all kindness El Hechizado, “the Bewitched,” sought desperately in off moments to hang himself with his bedclothes. His retainers, in dubious service to the nation, put a stop to that. He was, after all, the monarch; and so his idiosyncrasies were accommodated by an indulgent people. While exorcists tried to drive out his devil, advisers made policy of sorts.

Charles was the last of the Spanish Hapsburgs, and there was justifiable concern over the matter of succession. Despite two marriages, the king did not sire an heir. Who, then, would rule the Spanish empire after his anticipated early demise? While Spaniards weighed their fate with apprehension, others in Europe schemed to exploit the situation. Then, as now, there was considerable intermarriage among the various royal families of Europe, and relatives floated their pretensions to the Spanish throne. In the end the Austrian and French factions emerged as the two strongest claimants, and their diplomats maneuvered for years. To the exasperation of almost all concerned, Charles II refused to die. Finally, as his days grew short, he named as his successor Philip of Anjou, a grandson of Louis XIV of France. Charles joined his ancestors in 1700, and a new dynasty, the line of Spanish Bourbons, began with the rule of Philip V (1701–46). The Austrian party and their allies contested Philip’s crowning during the long War of the Spanish Succession (1701–13), but the final outcome saw the Bourbons established in Spain.

Philip inherited a ruined Spain, a country wracked by foreign wars and internal revolts. The economy was in shambles, and the demoral

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