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From the Emperor’s Desk. Instead of focusing on the political aspects of his reign I will focus on his personal life.

Felipe IV (April 8, 1605 – September 17, 1665) was King of Spain and (as Felipe III) King of Portugal. He ascended the thrones in 1621 and reigned in Portugal until 1640. Felipe IV is remembered for his patronage of the arts, including such artists as Diego Velázquez, and his rule over Spain during the Thirty Years’ War.


Felipe IV was born in Royal Palace of Valladolid, and was the eldest son of Felipe III of Spain and Portugal and his wife, Archduchess Margaret of Austria, 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.

In 1615, at the age of 10, Felipe was married to 13-year-old Elisabeth of France, she was the eldest daughter of King Henri IV of France and Navarre and his second spouse Marie de’ Medici.

Although the relationship between Felipe and Elisabeth does not appear to have been close; some have even suggested that Olivares, his key minister, later deliberately tried to keep the two apart to maintain his influence, encouraging Felipe to take mistresses instead.

Felipe had seven children by Elisabeth, with only one being a son, Balthasar Carlos, who died at the age of sixteen in 1646. The death of his son deeply shocked the king, who appears to have been a good father by the standards of the day. Elisabeth was able to conspire with other Spanish nobles to remove Olivares from the court in 1643, and for a brief period she held considerable influence over Felipe; by the time of her death, however, she was out of favour, following manoeuvering by Olivares’ successor, Luis de Haro.

Felipe IV remarried in 1649, following the deaths of both Elisabeth and his only legitimate heir. His choice of his second wife, his niece, Infanta Maria Anna, second child of Maria Anna of Spain and her husband Ferdinand (1608-1657), who became Holy Roman Emperor in 1637.

Infanta Maria Anna was guided by politics and Felipe’s desire to strengthen the relationship with Habsburg Austria. They were married on October 7, 1649. Maria Anna bore him five children, but only two survived to adulthood, a daughter Margarita Teresa, born in 1651, and the future Carlos II of Spain in 1661 – but the latter was sickly and considered in frequent danger of dying, making the line of inheritance potentially uncertain.

Perceptions of Felipe IV’s personality have altered considerably over time. Victorian authors were inclined to portray him as a weak individual, delegating excessively to his ministers, and ruling over a debauched Baroque court. Victorian historians even attributed the early death of Baltasar Carlos to debauchery, encouraged by the gentlemen entrusted by the king with his education.

The doctors who treated the Prince at that time in fact diagnosed smallpox, although modern scholars attribute his death to appendicitis.

Historians’ estimation of Felipe IV gradually improved in the 20th century, with comparisons between Felipe IV and his father, Filipe III, being increasingly positive – some noting that he possessed much more energy, both mental and physical, than his diffident father.

Felipe IV was idealised by his contemporaries as the model of Baroque kingship. Outwardly he maintained a bearing of rigid solemnity; foreign visitors described him as being so impassive in public he resembled a statue, and he was said to have been seen to laugh only three times in the course of his entire public life.

Felipe IV certainly had a strong sense of his ‘royal dignity’, but was also extensively coached by Olivares in how to resemble the Baroque model of a sovereign, which would form a key political tool for Felipe throughout his reign.

Felipe IV was a fine horseman, a keen hunter and a devotee of bull-fighting, all central parts of royal public life at court during the period.

Privately, Felipe appears to have had a lighter persona. When he was younger, he was said to have a keen sense of humour and a ‘great sense of fun’. He privately attended ‘academies’ in Madrid throughout his reign – these were lighthearted literary salons, aiming to analyse contemporary literature and poetry with a humorous touch.

A keen theatre-goer, he was sometimes criticised by contemporaries for his love of these ‘frivolous’ entertainments. Others have captured his private personality as ‘naturally kind, gentle and affable’.

The Catholic religion and its rituals played an important part in Felipe’s life, especially towards the end of his reign. Depressed by events across his domains, he became increasingly concerned with religious affairs. In particular, Felipe paid special devotions to a painting of the Nuestra Señora del Milagro, the Virgin of Miracles; the painting was said to miraculously raise and lower its eyes in response to prayer.

During the emergency of 1640–1643, Felipe appears to have had a crisis of faith. Felipe IV genuinely believed the success or failure of his policies represented God’s favour or judgement on his actions. The combination of the revolts, the French advances and the loss of his trusted favourite Olivares appears to have deeply shaken him.

Felipe IV, as a lover of the theatre, has been remembered both for the ‘astonishing enthusiasm’ with which he collected art. On the stage, he favoured Lope de Vega, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and other distinguished dramatists.

Felipe IV has been credited with a share in the composition of several comedies. Court theatre used perspective scenery, a new invention from Italy not used in commercial theatre at the time.


Felipe IV’s reign, after a few years of inconclusive successes, was characterized by political and military decay and adversity. He has been held responsible for the decline of Spain, which was mainly due to organic causes largely beyond the control of any one ruler.

Felipe IV died broken-hearted in 1665, expressing the pious hope that his surviving son, Carlos II, who was only 4 years old at the time, would be more fortunate than himself. On his death, a catafalque was built in Rome to commemorate his life.

In his will, Felipe IV left political power as regent on behalf of the young Carlos II to his wife Maria Anna, with instructions that she heed the advice of a small junta committee established for this purpose. This committee excluded Juan, Felipe IV’s illegitimate son, resulting in a chaotic powerplay between Maria Anna and Juan until the latter’sdeath in 1679.