International Rivalry and the East
Texas Missions, 1689–1714
The last third of the seventeenth century would test the effectiveness of Spanish imperial policy in the Americas. Symptomatic of the problem was a malaise of leadership rooted in the king himself, for on September 17, 1665, a four-year-old sickly child who was mentally subnormal and afflicted with rickets ascended the Spanish throne. Charles II was the tragic product of incestuous marriages that had linked the Hapsburg families of Spain and Austria for nearly two centuries. Seven of the king’s eight great-grandparents were direct lineal descendants of one woman, the psychologically unstable Spanish queen Juana la Loca (14791555). Charles, known in history as el Hechizado (the Bewitched), was incapable of either ruling or fathering an heir. In fairness to the Spanish crown, the national economy, especially during the “tragic decade” (1677–1687), experienced calamities of “biblical proportions”—prolonged drought, crop failures, decimated livestock herds, sharp agricultural price increases, and epidemic disease. Spain during Charles II’s reign (1665–1700) has often been viewed as a corpse, picked over by internal parasites and foreign marauders. This conventional picture is no doubt overdrawn, because the country began a slow, painful upturn in the 1680s.1
Recovery, however, would take decades. By 1695 the moribund Spanish government felt obliged to auction the highest positions in the viceroyalties of Mexico and Peru to office seekers within the ranks of the wealthy nobility. To make matters worse, Spain was a pawn in the ambitions of the French king, Louis XIV. The first three wars of the Sun King made France and Spain almost constant enemies.2
That enmity was also evident in North America, and it had important implications for Spanish Texas. With the death of Charles II in 1700, Louis XIV maneuvered his grandson, the Duke of Anjou, onto the Spanish throne as Philip V. This union of Spain and France under the same ruling family created a preponderance of Bourbon power in Europe, as well as in America.