, , , , , ,

Archduchess Maria-Anna (December 24, 1634 – May 16, 1696) was Queen of Spain from 1649 until her husband and uncle, Felipe IV, died in 1665. She was then appointed regent for their three-year-old son Carlos II, and due to his ill health remained an influential figure until her own death in 1696.

Archduchess Maria-Anna of Austria

Her regency was overshadowed by the need to manage Spain’s post-1648 decline as the dominant global power, internal political divisions and the European economic crisis of the second half of the 17th century. The inability of her son Charles to produce an heir led to constant manoeuvring by other European powers, which ultimately ended in the 1701 to 1714 War of the Spanish


Archduchess Maria-Anna was born on December 24, 1634 in Wiener Neustadt, second child of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (1608-1657), who became Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor in 1637, and Infanta Maria-Anna of Spain, daughter of King Felipe III of Spain and Archduchess Margaret of Austria.

Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor, father of Maria-Anna

Infanta Maria-Anna of Spain, mother of Maria-Anna

Maria-Anna’s grandmother, Archduchess Margaret of Austria, was the daughter of Archduke Charles II of Austria and Maria Anna of Bavaria and thus the paternal granddaughter of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. Her elder brother was the Archduke Ferdinand, who succeeded as Emperor Ferdinand II in 1619. Also, prior to her Imperial marriage, Archduchess Margaret of Austria was considered a possible wife for Charles, Prince of Wales (future King Charles I) the event, later known in history as the “Spanish Match”, provoked a domestic and political crisis in the Kingdoms of England and Scotland.

Archduchess Maria Anna’s parents, Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor and Infanta Maria-Anna of Spain, had six children, of whom only Maria-Anna and two brothers survived to adulthood; Ferdinand IV, King of the Romans (1633-1654), and Leopold (1640-1705), elected Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, in 1658.


The Habsburgs often married within the family to retain their lands and properties, and in 1646 Maria-Anna was betrothed to her cousin and heir to the Spanish throne, Infante Balthasar-Carlos, Prince of Asturias (1629-1646) The only son of King Felipe IV of Spain (1605-1665) and his first wife, Elisabeth of France (1602–1644). Princess Elisabeth of France was the eldest daughter of King Henri IV of France and his second spouse Marie de’ Medici.

Infante Balthasar-Carlos, Prince of Asturias

On October 5, the eve of second anniversary of the death of Queen Elisabeth, Felipe IV and Infante Balthasar-Carlos attended Vespers that night in her memory. That evening, the prince was ill and the next day, Saturday October 6, he had to stay in bed while the king went to the funeral. The disease, smallpox, spread rapidly, and on Tuesday, October 9, at 8 in the morning, the Archbishop of Saragossa gave him the Last Sacraments. At 9 pm that same day, October 9, Infante Balthasar-Carlos died.

The death of Infante Balthasar-Carlos, Prince of Asturias, three months later left her without a prospective husband and her widowed uncle Felipe IV without an heir.

Felipe IV, King of Spain and Portugal

Two years later, on October 7, 1649, the 44 year old King Felipe IV married his fourteen-year-old niece Archduchess Maria-Anna in Navalcarnero, outside Madrid. Her exclusion from political life meant she focused on religion and education, which society viewed as fitting women’s ‘role’ as nurturers and providers of moral guidance.

Only two of their five children survived to adulthood; in 1666, Margaret-Theresa (1651-1673) married her maternal uncle Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. Maria-Anna’s second daughter, Maria-Ambrosia, lived only fifteen days, followed by two sons, Felipe-Prospero (1657-1661) and Ferdinand-Thomas (1658-1659).

On November 6, 1661, Maria-Anna gave birth to her last child, Infante Carlos, later known as El Hechizado or “The Bewitched”, in the belief his disabilities were caused by “sorcery.” In his case, the so-called Habsburg jaw was so pronounced he spoke and ate with difficulty all his life.

Queen Maria-Anna, Queen of Spain and Portugal

He did not learn to walk until he was eight and never attended school, but foreign observers noted his mental capacities remained intact; others speculated the Regents overstated his defects to retain political control.

It has been suggested Carlos suffered from the endocrine disease acromegaly and a combination of rare genetic disorders often transmitted through recessive genes, including combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis.

However, his elder sister did not appear to suffer the same issues and the authors of the most significant study state it has not been demonstrated (his) disabilities…were caused by…recessive alleles inherited from common ancestors.

Regardless of the cause, Carlos suffered ill health throughout his life, and the Spanish court was split by the struggle between his co-heirs, Louis XIV of France and Emperor Leopold. His death was expected almost from birth; he was “short, lame, epileptic, senile and completely bald before 35,…repeatedly baffling Christendom by continuing to live.”