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Fernando VI (September 23, 1713 – August 10, 1759), called the Learned (el Prudente) and the Just (el Justo), was King of Spain from July 9, 1746 until his death. He was the third ruler of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty. He was the son of the previous monarch, Felipe V, and his first wife Maria Luisa of Savoy.

Born at the Royal Alcázar of Madrid, Infante Fernando endured a lonely childhood. His stepmother, the domineering Elisabeth Farnese, had no affection except for her own children, and looked upon Fernando as an obstacle to their fortunes. The hypochondria of his father left Elisabeth mistress of the palace.


Fernando was by temperament melancholic, shy and distrustful of his own abilities. When complimented on his shooting, he replied, “It would be hard if there were not something I could do.” Shooting and music were his only pleasures, and he was the generous patron of the famous singer Farinelli, whose voice soothed his melancholy.


Fernando was married in 1729 to Infanta Barbara of Portugal, daughter of King João V of Portugal and Archduchess Maria Anna of Austria, was a daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I and Eleonor Magdalene of Neuburg. Maria Anna was a sister of Holy Roman Emperors Joseph I and Charles VI. Through her brother Charles, she was an aunt of Maria Theresa, Austria’s only queen regnant.

Beginning of the reign

When he came to the throne, Spain found itself in the War of the Austrian Succession, which ended without any benefit to Spain. He started his reign by eliminating the influence of his stepmother and her group of Italian courtiers. As king he followed a steady policy of neutrality in the conflict between France and Britain and refused to be tempted by the offers of either into declaring war on the other.

Prominent figures during his reign were Marquis of Ensenada, a Francophile; and José de Carvajal y Lancáster, a supporter of the alliance with Great Britain. The fight between both ended in 1754 with the death of Carvajal and the fall of Ensenada, after which Ricardo Wall became the most powerful advisor to the monarch.

The most important tasks during the reign of Ferdinand VI were carried out by the Marquis of Ensenada, the Secretary of the Treasury, Navy and Indies. He suggested that the state help modernize the country. To him, this was necessary to maintain a position of exterior strength so that France and Great Britain would consider Spain as an ally without supposing Spain’s renunciation of its claim to Gibraltar.

Church relations were really tense from start of the reign of Felipe V because of the recognition of Charles of Austria as the King of Spain by the pope. A regalist policy was maintained that pursued as much political as fiscal objectives and whose decisive achievement was the Concord of 1753. From this the right of universal patronage was obtained from Pope Benedict XIV, giving important economic benefits to the Crown and a great control over the clergy.

King Fernando VI helped create the Royal Academy of the Fine Arts of San Fernando in 1752. The noted composer Domenico Scarlatti, music teacher to Queen Barbara, wrote many of his 555 harpsichord sonatas at Fernando VI’s court.

During the War of the Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War, Spain reinforced its military might.

The main conflict was its confrontation with Portugal over the colony of Sacramento, from which British contraband was transferred down the Río de la Plata. In 1750 José de Carvajal helped Spain and Portugal strike a deal. Portugal agreed to renounce the colony and its claim to free navigation down the Río de la Plata.

In return, Spain ceded to Portugal two regions on the Brazilian border, one in the Amazon and the other to the south, in which were seven of the thirty Jesuit Guaraní towns. The Spanish had to expel the missionaries, generating a conflict with the Guaraní people that lasted eleven years.

The conflict over the towns provoked a crisis in the Spanish Court. Ensenada, favorable to the Jesuits, and Father Rávago, confessor of the King and members of the Society of Jesus, were fired, accused of hindering the agreements with Portugal.


During his last year of reign, Fernando VI was rapidly losing his mental capacity and he was held in the Villaviciosa de Odón castle until his death on 10 August 1759. That period of time between August 1758 and August 1759 is known in Spanish historiography as the year without a king, due to the absence of the royal figure as ruler.

The cause of the disease is still debated. Some authors suggest that the king suffered a depressive episode. The death of his wife Barbara, who had been devoted to him, and who carefully abstained from political intrigue, broke his heart. Between the date of her death in August 1758 and his own on August 10, 1759, he fell into a state of prostration in which he would not even dress, but wandered unshaven, unwashed and in a nightgown about his park.

Other opinion is that Fernando VI suffered a rapidly progressive clinical syndrome where behavioral disorganization with apathy and impulsivity, loss of judgment, and epileptic seizures of right frontal lobe semiology were predominant. This semiology is highly suggestive of a right frontal lobe syndrome. As the couple had no children, Fernando VI was succeeded as King by his half-brother as King Carlos III.