Felipe V (December 19, 1683 – July 9, 1746) was King of Spain from November 1, 1700 to January 14, 1724, and again from September 6, 1724 to his death in 1746. Felipe V instigated many important reforms in Spain, most especially the centralization of power of the monarchy and the suppression of regional privileges, via the Nueva Planta decrees, and restructuring of the administration of the Spanish Empire on the Iberian peninsula and its overseas regions.
Philippe was born at the Palace of Versailles in France as the second son of Louis, Grand Dauphin, the heir apparent to the throne of France, (son of Louis XIV) and his wife Maria Anna Victoria of Bavaria, known as the Dauphine Victoire. He was a younger brother of Louis, Duke of Burgundy, the father of Louis XV of France. At birth, Philippe was created Duke of Anjou, a traditional title for younger sons in the French royal family. He would be known by this name until he became the King of Spain. Since Philippe’s older brother, the Duke of Burgundy, was second in line to the French throne after his father, there was little expectation that either he or his younger brother Charles, Duke of Berry, would ever rule over France.
In 1700, King Carlos II of Spain, the last Habsburg to rule Spain, died childless. His will named as successor Philippe, grandson of Charles’ half-sister Maria Theresa, the first wife of Louis XIV. Upon any possible refusal, the Crown of Spain would be offered next to Philippe’s younger brother, the Duke of Berry, then to the Archduke Charles of Austria, later Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI. Philippe had the better genealogical claim to the Spanish throne, because his Spanish grandmother and great-grandmother were older than the ancestors of the Archduke Charles of Austria.
However, the Austrians maintained that Philip’s grandmother had renounced the Spanish throne for herself and her descendants as part of her marriage contract. The French claimed that it was on the basis of a dowry that had never been paid.
After a long Royal Council meeting in France at which the Dauphin spoke up in favor of his son’s rights, it was agreed that Philippe would ascend the throne, but he would forever renounce his claim to the throne of France for himself and his descendants. The Royal Council decided to accept the provisions of the will of Carlos II naming Philippe, King of Spain, and the Spanish ambassador was called in and introduced to the new king. The ambassador, along with his son, knelt before the new King Felipe V and made a long speech in Spanish, which Felipe did not understand.
On November 2, 1701, the almost 18-year-old Felipe V married the 13-year-old Maria Luisa of Savoy, as chosen by his grandfather King Louis XIV. She was the daughter of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy, and his wife Anne Marie d’Orléans, Felipe’s first cousin once removed. The Duke and Duchess of Savoy were also the parents of Princess Marie Adélaïde of Savoy, Duchess of Burgundy, Felipe’s sister-in-law. There was a proxy ceremony at Turin, the capital of the Duchy of Savoy, and another one at Versailles on September 11.
Felipe V’s accession in Spain provoked the 13-year War of the Spanish Succession, which continued until the Treaty of Utrecht forbade any future possibility of unifying the French and Spanish crowns while confirming his accession to the throne of Spain. It also removed the Spanish Netherlands and Spanish-controlled Italy from the Spanish monarchy.
Shortly after the death of Queen Maria Luisa in 1714, the King decided to marry again. His second wife was Elisabeth of Parma, daughter of Odoardo Farnese, Hereditary Prince of Parma, and Dorothea Sophie of the Palatinate. At the age of 22, on 24 December 1714, she was married to the 31-year-old Felipe V by proxy in Parma. The marriage was arranged by Cardinal Alberoni, with the concurrence of the Princesse des Ursins, the Camarera mayor de Palacio (“chief of the household”) of the king of Spain.
On January 14, 1724, Felipe V abdicated the throne to his eldest son, the seventeen-year-old Luis, for reasons still subject to debate. One theory suggests that Felipe V, who exhibited many elements of mental instability during his reign, did not wish to reign due to his increasing mental decline. A second theory puts the abdication in context of the Bourbon dynasty.
The French royal family recently had lost many legitimate agnates to diseases. Indeed, Felipe V’s abdication occurred just over a month after the death of Philippe II, the Duke of Orléans, who had been regent for Louis XV of France.
The lack of an heir made another continental war of succession a possibility. Felipe V was a legitimate descendant of Louis XIV, but matters were complicated by the Treaty of Utrecht, which forbade a union of the French and Spanish crowns. The theory supposes that Felipe V hoped that by abdicating the Spanish crown he could circumvent the Treaty and succeed to the French throne.
In any case, Luis died on August 31, 1724 in Madrid of smallpox, having reigned only seven months and leaving no issue. Felipe was forced to return to the Spanish throne as his younger son, the later Fernando VI, was not yet of age.
During Felipe V’s second reign, Spain began to recover from the stagnation it had suffered during the twilight of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. Although the population of Spain grew, the financial and taxation systems were archaic and the treasury ran deficits. The king employed thousands of highly paid retainers at his palaces—not to rule the country but to look after the royal family. The army and bureaucracy went months without pay and only the shipments of silver from the New World kept the system going. Spain suspended payments on its debt in 1739—effectively declaring bankruptcy.
Felipe V was afflicted by fits of manic depression and increasingly fell victim to a deep melancholia. His second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, completely dominated her passive husband. She bore him further sons, including another successor, Carlos III of Spain. Beginning in August 1737 his affliction was eased by the castrato singer Farinelli, who, became the “Musico de Camara of Their Majesties.” Farinelli would sing eight or nine arias for the king and queen every night, usually with a trio of musicians.
Felipe V died on July 9, 1746 in El Escorial, in Madrid, but was buried in his favorite Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, near Segovia. Fernando VI of Spain, his son by his first queen Maria Luisa of Savoy, succeeded him.