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Charles IV of Spain

Charles IV and his queen Maria Luisa, from The Family of Charles IV by Goya

Charles IV (November 11, 1748 - January 20, 1819) was King of Spain from 1788 until his abdication in 1808.

Early life

Charles was the second son of Charles III and his wife Maria Amelia of Saxony. He was born at Portici, while his father was king of the Two Sicilies. His elder brother was passed over for the throne as mentally retarded and epileptic. Charles had inherited a great frame and immense physical strength from the Saxon line of his mother. When young he was fond of wrestling with the strongest countrymen he could find. He was considered by many to be intellectually torpid and quite credulous. On the other hand, his wife, Maria Luisa of Parma, was widely seen (including by the painter Francisco Goya) as a vicious and coarse woman who thoroughly dominated the king.

During his father's lifetime he was led by her into court intrigues which aimed at driving the king's favourite minister, Floridablanca, from office, and replacing him by Aranda, the chief of the "Aragonese" party.


After he succeeded to the throne in 1788 his one serious occupation was hunting. Affairs were left to be directed by his wife and her lover Manuel de Godoy.

Although Godoy both cuckolded him and with the queen essentially took over his office, the king showed him lifelong favour. When terrified by the French Revolution he turned to the Inquisition to help him against the party which would have carried the reforming policy of Charles III much further. But he never took more than a passive part in the direction of his own government. He simply obeyed the impulse given him by the queen and Godoy.

He had a profound belief in his divine right and the sanctity of his person. He thought it very important to seem a very powerful monarch, although his kingdom was treated as a mere dependence by France and his throne was dominated by the queen and her lover.


When he was told that his son Ferdinand was appealing to the emperor Napoleon against Godoy, he took the side of the favourite. When the populace rose at Aranjuez in 1808 he abdicated on March 26 to save the minister.

He took refuge in France, and when he and Ferdinand were both prisoners of Napoleon’s, he was with difficulty restrained from assaulting his son. Then he abdicated in favour of Napoleon. He accepted a pension from the French emperor and spent the rest of his life between his wife and Godoy. He died at Rome on January 20, 1819.


Preceded by:
Charles III of Spain
List of Spanish monarchs Succeeded by:
Joseph Bonaparte

Initial text from a
1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. Please update as needed.