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Carlos, Prince of Asturias, also known as Don Carlos (July 8 1545 – July 24, 1568), was the eldest son and heir-apparent of King Felipe II of Spain. His mother was Infanta María-Manuela of Portugal, daughter of João III of Portugal and Catherine of Austria, Infanta of Castile and Archduchess of Austria, Catherine was the posthumous daughter of King Felipe I by Queen Joanna of Castile. Catherine was born in Torquemada and named in honor of her maternal aunt, Catherine of Aragon.


Carlos was born at Valladolid on July 8, 1545, the son of the double first cousins Felipe II of Spain and Infanta María-Manuela of Portugal. His paternal grandfather, Emperor Charles V, was the reigning king of Spain. Carlos’s mother María died four days after the birth of her son from a haemorrhage she had suffered following the birth.

The young Infante Carlos was delicate and deformed. He grew up proud and willful and, as a young adult, began to show signs of mental instability. Many of his physical and psychological afflictions may have stemmed from the inbreeding common to his family, the House of Habsburg, and the royal houses of Portugal (House of Aviz) and Spain.

Carlos had only four great-grandparents instead of the maximum of eight, and his parents had the same coefficient of co-ancestry (1/4) as if they were half siblings. He had only six great-great-grandparents, instead of the maximum 16; his maternal grandmother and his paternal grandfather were siblings, his maternal grandfather and his paternal grandmother were also siblings, and his two great-grandmothers were sisters.

In 1556, Emperor Charles V abdicated and retired to the Monastery of Yuste in southern Spain, leaving the Spanish holdings of his empire to his son, who became King Felipe II, who was Carlos’s father. The former emperor died in 1558, and the following year, Prince Carlos was betrothed to Elizabeth of Valois, eldest daughter of King Henri II of France. However, for political reasons, and for his father’s mistrust on Carlos’s temper, Elizabeth of Valois instead married his father, King Felipe II, in 1560.

The health of Carlos was always weak. At age 14 he fell ill with malaria, which provoked severe deformations in his legs and spinal column. In 1561 the doctors of the court recommended him to move permanently to Alcalá de Henares for his health, as the climate was milder. Carlos constantly complained about his father’s resistance to giving him positions of authority.

Finally, the King gave him a position in the Council of Castile and another in the Council of Aragon. This only made Carlos more furious, since both organisations were important but ultimately consultative. He showed no interest in the councils or in familiarising himself with political matters through them.

Three other brides were then suggested for the Prince: Mary I, Queen of Scots; Margaret of Valois, youngest daughter of Henri II of France; and Archduchess Anna of Austria, who was later to become Felipe II’s fourth wife, and was a daughter of Felipe’s cousin, Emperor Maximilian II and Felipe’s sister Maria. It was agreed in 1564 that Carlos should marry Anna. His father promised him rule over the Low Countries in 1559, before his accident, but Carlos’s growing mental instability after it, along with his demonstrations of sadism, made his father hesitate and ultimately change his mind, which enraged Carlos further.

In 1562, he suffered a serious head injury falling downstairs while chasing a serving girl. The prince was close to death, in terrible pain and suffering delusions. After trying all sorts of remedies, including doctors of all types, healers, and even the relics of Diego de Alcalá, his life was saved by a trepanation of the skull, performed by the eminent anatomist Andreas Vesalius.

After his recovery, Carlos became even wilder, more unstable in his temper and unpredictable in his behaviour. His father was forced to move him away from any position of power. He took a dislike to the Duke of Alba, who became the commander of Felipe’s forces in the Netherlands, a position that had been promised to Carlos.