Ferdinand VI of Spain (1713-1759), Philip V's son and successor, suffered from a similar mental illness as his father. He was moody, uxorious, suspicious and irresolute, and he went about daily in apprehension of a sudden violent death.
His ugly wife, Barbara of Portugal (1711-1758), was also neurotic and subject to melancholia, but she was indispensible to her husband. Her death finally drove Ferdinand to complete lunacy.
Ferdinand was born on September 23, 1713, in the Bourbon Royal Family, as the 3rd surviving son of Philip V of Spain (1683-1746) and Maria Luisa of Savoy (1688-1714). His birth weakened his mother’s already delicate health, and she died the following February. His father's second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, completely ignored Ferdinand, caring only for her own children. Ferdinand's elder brothers, Luis and Philip, died respectively in 1724 and 1719, leaving Ferdinand Crown Prince of Spain. In 1728, Ferdinand’s prestige increased for a while, when his father had a severe episode of mental illness and an impulsive abdication was feared. Elizabeth Farnese, however, was continually inciting animosity between Ferdinand and her own eldest son, Carlos (1716-1788). As a result, Ferdinand developed a neurotic and reserved character.
Ferdinand married at the age of 15, and it was thought by many that he had to sacrifice his feelings to diplomacy in marrying the 17-year-old, pockmarked Maria Teresa Barbara of Portugal (1711-1758). At the first sight of his bride-to-be, Ferdinand had made a terrible face, but soon he came to be very fond of his wife and by 1732 he depended completely upon her. Barbara’s mouth was large and her lips were thick. She had much spirit, vivacity, and understanding and expressed herself gracefully. Unfortunately
The couple's position at court was very precarious. Ferdinand and Barbara were shunned by the entire court, and they were not allowed to leave their quarters, except for important official ceremonies, like the ceremonial transfer of an urn with the remains of a medieval King Ferdinand to a silver tomb in the cathedral of Seville in May 1729. When Philip’s madness returned in the summer of 1732, Ferdinand was included in a regency council. Philip refused to talk, except to say a few words to his wife and to Ferdinand. His silence, he said, was because he was really dead and, therefore, could not speak. In the Spring of 1733, Ferdinand finally managed to persuade Philip to be shaved and to have his linen changed. That summer, Philip’s depression changed into the frenzied activity of mania.
Ferdinand VI “el Discreto” (to the right) was proclaimed King of Spain and the Indies on August 10, 1746, at the age of 32. It was said that "Queen Barbara had succeeded Queen Elizabeth". The new King was of no particular ability, but Spain at least had a King born in Spain and served by Spaniards. While being Crown Prince, his domineering stepmother had always excluded Ferdinand VI from policy making and kept him out of public affairs. The French ambassador reported: “He is in no way acquainted with affairs in general or particular”. Luckily, Ferdinand had the wisdom to recognise his limitations and put affairs in the hands of his wife and able ministers. Barbara of Portugal was no Elizabeth Farnese; she strongly supported the diplomacy of neutrality. The new conjuncture of peace, reform and good luck placed unprecedented revenue at Ferdinand's disposal. He designated large sums for charity, as in the hot summer of 1750, when he cancelled taxes in drought-stricken Andalucía, and in 1755, after the Lisbon earthquake. He
Alas, Ferdinand's magnanimity did not stop Elizabeth Farnese from complotting against him, so he sent her in retirement to San Ildefonso. There, she eagerly awaited the moment that Ferdinand should die and her son Carlos could succeed to the Spanish throne.
Ferdinand VI was good-natured, shy, indolent, hesitant and irresolute. Regularly, he had terrible rages, followed by melancholic moods and a complete loss of self-confidence. Ferdinand found respite from his depressions in plays and the opera. He founded the Academia de San Fernando de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Besides the arts, Ferdinand, like all Bourbons, was also interested in the hunt. Usually, the animals were driven together for a royal slaughter. Following a good day’s hunting, the Spanish court would retire to the riverside for a musical evening. The monarchs relaxed under a red velvet pavilion with silver trim. Among the boats on the river were ships in the shape of
Queen Barbara had a love for ostentation and luxury and became extremely corpulent. Since her youth, she had been trained by the composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) and as a result she could sing with merit, play the harpsichord and even compose. Scarlatti had followed her to Spain, where he became the court music master. Barbara and Ferdinand were also patrons of the castrate-singer Farinelli (1705-1782, to the left). He had earlier been employed by Elizabeth Farnese and Philip V, but he had always remained on friendly terms with the heir to the throne. The royal couple liked to sail from Aranjuez down the river Taag with Farinelli singing for them.
Ferdinand was also influenced by his confessor, Francisco Ravágo. During his reign, the role of the Spanish Inquisition was diminished, but the old Habsburg censorship laws were reinstated in 1752.
On July 16, 1748, part of the Summer Palace of Aranjuez burned down. Ferdinand had it rebuild with a special room included for small opera performances. During Ferdinand’s reign, three royal astronomical observatories were founded. The mines both in Spain and America were reopened with a royal share in the profits. Roads and irrigation were improved and the state finances were reorganised, increasing the revenues.
In 1750, Ferdinand arranged the marriage of his youngest half-sister, Antonia (1729-1785), to Victor Amadeo, heir to the throne of Sardinia2. Ferdinand’s youngest half-brother, Luis Antonio (1727-1785), had been appointed Archbishop of Toledo at the age of 12. In 1754, Ferdinand indulgently let him relinquish his ecclesiastical dignities for the pleasures of the flesh. Ferdinand also paid off the exorbitant expenditures of his half-brother Felipe (1720-1765)3, who was finally recognised as Duke of Parma in 1748.
Barbara of Portugal (to the right) spent much of her time in a state of neurosis. Like her husband, she went about daily in fear of sudden death, which her corpulence and asthmatic tendency may have encouraged. She was also fearful that, if her husband died before her, she would be plunged into poverty. In reality she accumulated a fortune far in excess of her own needs and
So close had the royal couple become, that the loss of his wife drove Ferdinand to complete lunacy. Having never considered any woman other than his ugly wife, he was thrown into a frenzy by suggestions of remarriage. He abandoned the capital and settled in the monastery of Villaviciosa, refusing to see anyone or sign official documents. For days, he would not speak, at other times he screamed, threw things, and stuck out at his entourage
Ferdinand became a danger to himself and others. He imagined that his body was being destroyed from within. His fits of rage were increasingly violent, often banging his head against the wall. After an outbreak like that, he would collapse and become inert. In his rare, lucid intervals he would only discuss his illness. For a time, he refused to lie down, because he imagined that he would die, if he did so. Then, he begged for poison, tried to commit suicide with a pair of scissors and tried to hang himself with knotted napkins and draperies. He would go without sleep for ten days on end, wandering wildly around his apartments without any covering but his nightshirt, and then for days he would refuse to leave his bed, “making in his bed all his excrement, which he threw at those who served him”. He did not want
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