Spanish Policy


From the years of Charles II onwards the Spanish empire had constantly been on the defensive. Even though the dynasty changed by the succession of Felipe V the preservation of the Spanish empire as a 'unity' continued to be the goal of all parties. The fact that both Charles II and Felipe V were weak monarchs also makes it impossible to describe Spanish Policy by the acts of the sovereign. In order to focus on the parts most relevant for this site I think it proper to start the description of Spanish policy starting from the 1670's. That is also the moment that some of the figures relevant to this story start to play an important role on the scene.


The government of Valenzuela 1669 - 1677

The government of Valenzuela was brought about by Don Juan's march on Madrid early in 1669. This march brought the banishment of Nidhardt and formally, a division of power. The adherents of Don Juan got into a new Junta de Alivios that had to introduce reforms, but in the end did not achieve much. On the other hand the Queen Mother and her party soon succeeded in again assuming power while Don Juan José was sent of as Vice Roy of Aragon. Fernando de Valenzuela was the favorite that came into power this turn. Unlike his predecessors he was of low birth, a fact that roused the irritation and jealousy of the higher nobility. His program of government primarily aimed to address the social problems. He wanted to address the unemployment and other problems by performing public works, but also tried to gain the Madrid population by distributing free bread and organizing bull fights. As regards the power struggle he took measures to strengthen the position of the Queen Mother. Valenzuela succeeded in bringing over a lot of people from Don Juan's camp into her party and continued the attacks on the adherents of Don Juan that did not want to rally behind the Queen Mother.

Valenzuela's program for reform failed on all fronts. Furthermore his elevation to the high nobility and the nominations for Charles II's household in 1674-1675 had also antagonized the nobility. Under their encouragement Don Juan entered Madrid under arms on 6 November 1675 and achieved that Charles II was declared to be of age to govern. In fact this did not change much, and Valenzuela continued in government as Charles II's favorite. In December 1676 the nobility however decided that enough was enough, and next to presenting a written protest they took up arms and marched to Madrid. This was enough for the Councils of State and of Castile to decide to imprison Valenzuela, who fled to a convent. Don Juan then entered Madrid on 23 January 1677, took over government and banished Valenzuela to the Philippines. From there Valenzuela would travel to Mexico and die there by falling of his horse.

The government of Don Juan 1677 - 1679

Don Juan's government started out with a strong reaction against all the supporters of the Queen Mother and even had her banished to Toledo. It was marked by the concentration of power in the hands of one person (i.e. Don Juan) and sending rivals to the periphery of the Spanish Empire. It very much wanted to reform the government, but encountered little success. In war Don Juan's government was just as unsuccessful. It ended with an unfavorable peace at Nijmegen in September 1678. As regards the succession it decided on Marie Louise de Orleans as a wife for Charles II on 11 January 1679, a choice which was meant to please Louis XIV, but could not please the 'Austrian' party. Don Juan's policy also disappointed a lot of people who had believed him to rescue the empire. From spring 1679 onwards Don Juan's health seriously began to deteriorate. His success can perhaps best be judged by the fact that after his death on 17 September 1679 the Queen Mother did not have to overcome many problems in order to take up power again.

The government of Medinaceli 1679 - 1685

On the background of Don Juan's failing health the majority of the nobility was not in favor of continuing with a government that centralized power in one person and preferred a government council or Junta de Gobierno. On Don Juan's death in September 1679 the Queen Mother acted quickly and so a Junta de Gobierno was formed with the Duke the Medinaceli as president. This Junta commenced with retributions against the adherents of Don Juan and Portocarrero. The most important mission of this government was to address the economic situation.

There is little doubt that this government of Medinaceli was the weakest yet. It depended heavily on the Council of State and all government posts were occupied by the higher nobility. It is therefore not surprising that the administration and economy of Castile suffered a total breakdown in the beginning of the 1680's 1). Apart from the actions of the current government this situation had been caused by excessive taxation and especially the introduction in the decades before of money containing less silver that its face value (Vellon). This had led to massive inflation, and deflationist measures taken in 1680 led to the disappearance of money from the economy and a large number of bankruptcies. (The fact that Catalonia and Valencia which had their own monetary systems were doing far better suggests that this practice of minting Vellon was the prime reason for the problems). Finally the economic crisis brought the resignation of Medinaceli in 1685.

The first government of Oropesa 1685 - 1691

The government of Oropesa is marked by the appearance of another class of men on the scene. These were educated people descending from the professional classes (lawyers, craftsmen, merchants etc.) Oropesa had been an adherent of the Queen Mother but in his government program he was the heir of Don Juan's government and made serious efforts to reform the administration and economy. The achievements of his government should be judged against the possibilities which it had. It seems that his government brought about a revival of the economy. Oropesa also succeeded in cutting taxes and curbing government expenditure. After 1686 the monetary situation in Castile was stabilized and soon after his government the minting of Vellón was stopped completely (1693). It can be said that unlike previous governments his government did achieve something palpable on the basis of which others could have continued 2).

Oropesa's government saw the death of Charles II's first wife Marie Louise de Orleans on 12 February 1688 (or 1689). The only 'natural' solution to the absence of an heir to the throne was of course to find another wife for Charles II. Due to renewed French aggression the 'Austrian' party at court (that opted for a confrontation with Louis XIV) and the 'peace' party (that wanted to appease Louis XIV) came to the same conclusion. All parties agreed upon Marianne of Neubourg, a sister of empress Leonora. The reasons for picking this specific candidate were that she was agreeable to the 'Austrians', that one expected this strong personality to stand up against the Queen Mother and that she was from a fertile family. I also guess that the Austrian successes against the Turks did instill some courage in the Spanish elite to fight Louis XIV again. The wedding ceremony of Marianne of Neuborg took place by proxy in Germany on 28 august 1689.

January 1689 saw the official appointment of the Count of Oropesa as leader of the government, and also the appointment of el condestable de Castilla, the marquis de los Vélez and others. It was a pity for Spain that he would soon be driven from government.

Mariann of Neubourg takes charge 1691 - 1696

The marriage with Maria Anna of Neubourg was effectuated on her arrival in Valladolid on 4 May 1690. She was not satisfied with the government. She had Oropesa (26 June 1691), San Juan, Manual Lira, Valladares, Villahermosa, Alba and Portocarrero chased from government. As a replacement she brought in the dukes of Infantado, Pastrana, Montalto, Balbases, the marquis de Villafranca and the counts of Aquilar, Mancera, Fuensalida Melgar and the condestable de Castilla. Probably the most important of this new 'Austrian' party was the Countess of Berlipsch, Camarera Mayor of the queen. Other foreigners connected to her were her two secretaries Godefredo and Enrique Wisser, her confessor Rehim, Baron Lancier, Galli, the royal doctor Christian Geleen and somewhat more distantly the new Imperial ambassador Count Lokowitz and George of Hessen Darmstadt.

The French invasion of Catalonia

Louis XIV was however not intent on giving this 'Austrian party' an easy time at court, and in 1690 a French army attacked Catalonia, quickly occupying Olot and Vic. The Marquis de Los Vélez had been kind of responsible for the financial side of the reform program and was of course hindered by this invasion. The Bankruptcy decree of 16 January 1691 can be seen as a sign that reforms are difficult in war time. In August 1692 it was then decided to institute a Junta of ways and means, but this could not prevent a second state bankruptcy being declared at 28 November 1692. Meanwhile the French got a great result with the capture of Rosas (May 1693). This of course reinforced the opponents of the Austrian party that were for peace with France. Louis XIV did propose peace in 1694 but his demands (Bourbon succession in Spain, cession of the Spanish Netherlands) were so high that the Spanish decided to fight on. The loss of Girona (July 1694) and the French advance across the Ter resulted in the French having captured Vilobi; Palamos; La Selva; Hostalric and Girona by December 1694.

Portocarrero tries to topple Marianne of Neubourg

The result of the disasters on the front and the ineffectiveness of the government was that the opposition to the Austrian party got more strength. In 1694 it succeeded in having the Council of Castile demanding first the resignation and expulsion of the members of the Austrian party and secondly the convocation of the Cortes before the king to take place in December 1694. In January 1695 the council of State also met, and in it Portocarrero 3) again demanded the same measures. He was supported by the Marquis de Villafranca, the Duke of Montalto and the Count of Monterrey. The 'Austrians' were defended by the duke of Rioseco and the Condestable. When this did not lead to any results Portocarrero wrote a few memorandums to Charles II that finally made the king move. The measures taken were however not those desired by the cardinal. In stead Antonio Carnero was sacked form the Despacho Universal, Montalto was sacked as president of the council of the Indies, Medina Sidonia was sacked from Aragon and Portocarrero had to hand over command of some troops that were in Madrid. The struggle was closed with Portocarrero leaving court and Hessen Darmstadt marching into Madrid with some regiments. Charles II did however give in somewhat by expulsing some members of the Austrian Party, and in particular Wisser.

The succession problem becomes a crisis June 1696 - February 1699

Queen Marianne of Neuburg thus ruled supreme for a while a Madrid. The death of Queen Mother Marianna of Austria on 16 May 1696 did not change that. On 13 June the health of Charles II was however that feeble that the council of state met to confer about his succession. With a Bourbon succession not acceptable to William III, and an Austrian succession not acceptable to Louis XIV, the party of the late queen mother (Vélez, Astorga, Osuna, Pastrana) tipped the scales in favor of a Bavarian succession. And so a will in favor of Joseph Ferdinand of Bavaria was drawn up and signed by Charles II. The hand of Portocarrero was clearly visible by the fact he was to be president of the regency council. All his was of course not to the liking of the Austrian party, but riots in Madrid made it unable to act for a while.

Appointing the Bavarian candidate of course did not end the war with France. The unending series of Spanish defeats in this conflict culminated in the loss of Barcelona to Vendome in 1697. Plans to bring Archduke Charles into Spain would come to nothing and the financial situation did not improve either. The war would finally end with the peace of Rijswijk on 20 September 1697. The power struggle at court continued, and resulted in another confirmation of the 'Bavarian' testament on 30 November 1698. The fact that Portocarrero got command of all troops in Madrid seemed only to confirm the victory of the 'Bavarian' faction.

Attempts by Marianne of Neubourg and Darmstadt to annul this testament came to nothing. In October 1698 Portocarrero and Oropesa joined forces to stabilize the situation. This meant that Oropesa got to lead his second government, which was dominated by the peace party (Marquis de Cifuentes, Ronquillo, Ariza, Lira and Oretia) . Had Joseph Ferdinand lived for two more years there can be little doubt that the succession problem would have been ended and war averted.

Final struggle for the crown February 1699 - November 1700

Portocarrero seizes power

When news of the death of Joseph on 6 February 1699 had reached Madrid the final struggle for the succession started, it would be concluded by the death of Charles II on 1 November 1700. Cardinal Portocarrero was the first to act, and his immediate goal was the removal of Oropesa and the peace party from government 4). As allies in this coup d´état Portocarrero had the Marquis de Leganés, the count of Monterrey, the Count of Benavente, Ronquillo, Arias, Urraca, Ubilla, Villafranca, Pastrana, Quintana, Medina Sidonia and the French ambassador Harcourt. Due to steep increases in the prices of food heavy riots erupted in Madrid on 28 April 1699. The conspirators decided to profit from these and had their agents guide elements of the population to attack the houses of the government members 5). These had to flee for their lives and, because the nobility saw in Portocarrero the only person that could protect it, he was appointed to lead the government.

In power Portocarrero of course started with another reorganization of personnel. Oropesa was permanently banished, and Portocarrero became president of the Council of Castile and the Council of Aragon. Monterrey became president of the Indies, Leganés and the Marquis de la Quintana entered the Council of State and Ubilla entered the Despacho. Count Aguilar and the Almirante were fired. The first major issue this new government had to handle was the arrival of the news about the partition treaty that arrived in the beginning of June. For Portocarrero it was now time to bring forward an idea that he and some others already had for some time 6): This was to have Charles II succeeded by a Bourbon candidate. Of course this would for a while give France a lot of influence in Spain, but the proponents of this strategy assessed (correctly) that in the long run Spain was just too big to become a French satellite. It would also oblige Louis XIV to guard the integrity of the Spanish empire, and rid Spain of having to fight endless wars against him. This idea was of course supported by French gold, but not that foolish considering that the Sea Powers only started to support the Habsburgs after Louis XIV had foolishly provoked them. In a session of the Council of State of 6 June Portocarrero, Saint Esteban and Fresno proposed Philippe de Anjou (or Felipe V) as candidate, and this proposal got a majority and led to a secret resolution.

Sensible policy now called for keeping this secret a secret, and keeping the international community in suspense for as long as possible. This because in case Vienna got convinced that Felipe V would get on the throne it would no doubt ratify the partition treaty, as long as Vienna did not it would be easier for Louis XIV to break it on the ascension of Felipe. There was only one nasty problem left, and that was the signature of Charles II on the resolution to make Felipe V his heir.

The second partition treaty

The fact that Louis XIV and William III signed a new partition treaty on 3 March 1700 can only be seen as a mark of how low Spanish prestige had sunk at the time. The Council of State and Portocarrero did not take clear decisions and in view of Charles II's refusal to sign a testament it couldn't. Coincidentally of purposedly, this may also have been the only sensible course to sabotage the execution of the partition treaty.

Charles II's health now began to deteriorate seriously. By the middle of September he could not retain any food, and on 28 September he received the last rites. The Council of State and Portocarrero now seriously began to press Charles II for a testament, because without one the Spanish Empire would surely face dismemberment. The task of securing a testament was handed to Portocarrero, who continued to pursue the fatally ill king to make one. That same month the Council also decided to initiate actions to remove Darmstadt and his German regiments from Catalonia

In a Council of State session on 1 October Portocarrero presented a testament. With the approval of this council he went to the king that very same day and according to some he prosecuted the king till he signed it. Others say that Charles II had for his own reasons already decided on Philippe de Anjou, and or just wanted to wait till the last possible moment to sign a testament. Anyway Charles II made Philippe d'Anjou his heir by signing his testament on 2 October 1700. The Council of State wanted to keep the signing of the testament a secret, but that very same day someone sent a letter to inform Darmstadt and the queen was informed on 4 October (sic!). On 29 October Portocarrero got a new success when he got a letter from Charles II that made him regent when Charles II lost consciousness or died. That same day a Junta de Gobernación was formed as required by the testament. It consisted of: Portocarrero, the Grand Inquisitor Baltasar de Mendoza, Count Frigiliana, the Count of Benavente and Ubilla as secretary of the Despacho. Part of the first measures taken by this Junta were the appointment of Manuel Arias as President of Castile and the duke of Montalto as president of Aragon. King Charles II died on 1 November 1700.

Regent Portocarrero November 1700 - January 1701

The job of the Junta de Gobernación was to facilitate an easy transfer of power to Felipe V, and above all to avert an international or civil war that could lead to the disintegration of the Spanish empire. With an eye to strengthening the internal unity of Spain Portocarrero included moderates of the 'Austrian' party in his government. By the end of November the Junta was composed of: Portocarrero, Mancera, Frigiliana, Villafranca, Montalto, Monterrey, Fresno, Saint Esteban, Fuensalida, Medina Sidonia and Montijo. The subsequent flow of events proved that the Junta was not competent to accomplish this. While the whole of Europe was eager for information about the succession the Junta lost precious time in deliberations about who should be informed first leading to a situation where non of the European powers was informed officially. It was only on the 15th of November that the Spanish ambassador at Versailles made an official communication to Torcy which led to Louis XIV accepting for his grandson on 16 November.

What the elite of Spain really wanted from Felipe V was the continuation of the political system that favored the nobility and the convocation of the Cortes of Castile and Aragon, but the first communications from Versailles were by Louis XIV, not by Felipe V. Louis XIV made his intentions quite clear when he demanded his ambassador to be a member of the Junta and the Council of State. The Junta's response was that it reigned by the testament of Charles II, and that such a decision could only be made by Felipe once he became a ruling king by arriving on Spanish soil and taking the oaths on the laws of the kingdom. In this the Junta got its way as it continued to rule on the basis of the testament and excluded the French ambassador. For their part Louis XIV and Felipe V did not accept the idea that Felipe first had to swear, but could not do much against the attitude of the Junta. In December 1700 and January 1701 the whole of Europe (except the emperor) had accepted the testament, and so it seemed that the succession project would come to a happy end. In Italy tensions then started when Imperial troops seemed to menace Milan. The Junta reacted by sending reinforcements and a special envoy, at which on 10 January the Queen Widow ordered the governors of Napels and Milan not to let these enter. The Junta then reiterated the order, and on 17 January ordered the Imperial ambassador Harrach to leave Spain.

First rule by Felipe V January 1701-

On 18 January 1701 Felipe V entered Spain at Irun. He next went to Madrid, where he arrived on 18 February 1701. That very night he formed his first government, that was a junta of Portocarrero, Harcourt, Arias and Ubilla. They next went to Toledo for the king to get unctioned and for him to swear the royal oaths. This made Felipe V King in Castilia, but not in the other parts of the empire. In Milan and in the Spanish Netherlands Vaudemont and Max Emanuel would prove loyal to Felipe V, and troubles in Naples were overcome without much effort. Catalonia was a different matter however, here Darmstadt, who was no longer obeying the central government, and his German troops were a danger. To counter this the Count of Palma (a relative of Portocarrero) was named as new Vice Roy, but Darmstadt only left Barcelona on 29 April 1701. It was clear Felipe V was now recognized as king in the whole of his empire. (This description of Spanish Policy ends here because the rest should be in the timeline section)


Even before the described period Spain was a state that combined a weak ruler with the worst aspects of the French and Austrian constitutions. Like France the king was absolute, but it did not have France's professional and effective administration. Like Austria it still clung to employing the high nobility in administration, but it did not have Austria's stände. Especially in Castile this led to diverse governments composed of a malintentioned or at least incompetent aristocracy that was not checked by the population. This had led to chaos in the administration, finance, monetary situation, economy, army and navy. The fact that this situation continued despite all attempts at reform can be explained by the fact that the powerful nobility was not prepared to change the constitution. As regards the succession its idea was to continue this 'Habsburg' system under a Bourbon ruler. Soon it discovered that to achieve this it should have chosen for Charles III, but by then Felipe V was on the throne and was reforming Spain to a Bourbon model.


In general this description is based on the works of John H. Elliot and the thesis of Izquierdo.

1) Compare Elliot Page 423
2) Compare Elliot Page 430
3) See Izquierdo for the role Portocarrero played as the dominant figure in Spanish politics from about 1695 onward.
4) See Izquierdo's chapter 4.2.1 El año 1699: El golpe de estado contra el gobierno de Oropesa
5) There is a description of these riots by Vicente Bacallar y Sanna
6) Izquierdo says Portocarrero first got this idea during his government in Sicily