Charles II of Spain was just 38 years old when he died, on November 1, 1700. In fact, his health had been so poor throughout his life that it was surprising he lasted as long as he did. The historians Will and Ariel Durant, in their magisterial series The Story of Civilization, once said he was “always on the verge of death, but repeatedly baffled Christendom by continuing to live.”
Born in 1661 in Madrid, Charles was fathered by King Phillip IV of Spain. Phillip had been on the throne for forty years and was already 56 when his son was born. His first wife, Elisabeth of France, had borne Phillip seven children, only one of whom was a boy – a potential heir – but he died aged 16. Elisabeth had died two years earlier, in 1644.
Charles’ mother was Phillip’s second wife, Mariana of Austria, whom the King had married in 1646. Mariana was also Philip’s niece, and bore him five children. Disturbingly by modern standards, intermarriage between blood relatives was commonplace among members of the Habsburg dynasty, who ruled several European kingdoms. Their idea of keeping it all in the family was rather literal.