Philip V "El Rey Animoso" of Spain (1683-1746) was a grandson
of Carlos II's half-sister, Marie Thèrèse,
and Louis XIV "the Sun King" of France.
From his father's side Philip had inherited the insatiable sexual appetite
of the Bourbons1. His mother was a Wittelsbach and from her he inherited melancholia, at times amounting to madness, and an indulgence in long periods of seclusion, which have marked some members of that family from generation to generation.
In 1700 his illustrious grandfather placed young Philip on the vacant Spanish throne. His accession was contested by the Austrian Archduke Charles (1685-1740) in the War of the Spanish Succession.
The continual physical possession of a woman was a necessity to Philip, but he combined it with an abnormally scrupulous conscience, so that he spurred inappropriately and continuously from his confessor's closet to his wife's bed. When Philip had married his first wife, the 14-year-old Marie Louise of Savoy (1688-1714), she kept him waiting for two nights to teach him an early lesson. Nevertheless, she momentarily diverted him from his serious routine, inducing him to play games like 'hide and seek' and the 'cuckoo game'. His first separation from her during his Italian campaign in 1702 put a severe strain upon both his physical and mental health, but the conscious Philip refused to take a mistress. He rushed back to Spain to become - in the eyes of most observers - the slave of his wife. Philip kept Marie Louise at his side day and night to such an extent that their bodily functions were made to synchronise. However, four pregnancies, the strain of the war years, the agonies, the sleepless nights and the icy rooms proved too much for Marie Louise. Doctors filed pompously past the dying Queen and examined her from a distance, because etiquette forbade them to touch the Queen. Philip V was both the most affectionate and the least considerate of husbands; until the last minute he wanted to enjoy those delights, which he could not know again for a long time, without sinning. He had to be torn from her deathbed2.
The widower shut himself up in the palace of Medina Coeli. He wept and waited eagerly to replace Marie Louise, for his health could no more be satisfied with his celibate life than his conscience would permit him a mistress. Philip's sexual and psychological peculiarities were well known in diplomatic circles and as soon as Marie Louise died the chancelleries of Europe set to work to find a new Queen of Spain. After seven months Philip married Elisabeth Farnese of Parma (1692-1766)
Spain had lost all her Italian possessions through the Treaty of Utrecht, and - since Philip had sons by his first wife - it was the aim of Elisabeth Farnese to regain these for her children. In due course she obtained the throne of Naples and Sicily for her eldest son, Charles3, and the Duchies of Parma and Piacenza for her second son, while a third son would become archbishop of Toledo at the age of 12. She reigned by the rule of favourites and the first was the Italian Julio Alberoni, who had recommended her to the King.
Philip increasingly fell victim to a deep melancholia from which it was difficult to arouse him. The first serious attack occurred in 1717, when Alberoni reported symptoms of hysteria verging on madness.
In January 1724 Philip V astonished everybody when he announced his decision to abdicate in favour of his eldest son, Louis I (1707-1724). His melancholia, low self-esteem and religious scruples made Philip believe that he was incapable of ruling well. Possibly, he felt obliged to withdraw and live a life of retreat in preparation of eternity. At the moment of his abdication he said: "Thank God I am no longer a King, and that the remainder of my days I shall apply myself to the service of God and to solitude". However, in August the 17-year-old Louis died suddenly from smallpox and Elisabeth Farnese persuaded Philip to resume the crown.
Philip's day, like that of his grandfather the Sun King, was well ordered. From the early 1730s, he imposed an eccentric timetable on the court,
Periodically, Philip V was afflicted by fits of manic depression. He was seriously ill in the spring of 1727, at times lethargic, sometimes passionate and excitable, acting violently towards his doctors. At times, he lost his head completely, biting his arms and hands; at night he screamed, shouted and sang. When the Queen tried to curb his religious devotions, he responded by violent abuse and beatings. The Queen was covered in bruises, while the King screamed and sang and bit himself. He suffered from delusions, believing that he could not walk because his feet were of different size. For a while, he believed he had turned into a frog. He spent entire days in his bed in the middle of his excretions, refusing to have his hair or toenails cut or his beard shaved. Pen and paper were kept out of his reach, because an impulsive abdication was feared 4.
For a time Philip V returned to a semi-normal life, allowing himself to be shaved for the first time in 8 months. By August 1732 he once more retired to bed. He would not even rise to have his meals and was again careless of his appearance; he didn't change his clothes in nineteen months. He refused to see ministers or sign documents, leaving Spain without government. In the Spring of 1733, Ferdinand (1713-1759), a son of Philip's first marriage, managed to persuade Philip to be shaved and to have his linen changed. That summer his depression changed into the frenzied activity of mania. Fearing Ferdinand's influence, Elisabeth Farnese persuaded Philip to issue an order forbidding Ferdinand
Copyright © 1996-2006 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved.
1 When Madame de Maintenon was seventy-five
and Louis XIV was seventy, she told her confessor that it tired her very much to make love
with him twice a day. "These painfull occasions", she said,
were really too much for her.
2 Philip did not attent his wife's funeral; he was out hunting.
3 In addition Charles became King of Spain in 1759.
4 In 1728 Philip managed to get hold of pen and paper and send a note to the president of the council of Castile announcing his abdication, but Elisabeth Farnese recovered the note in time.