Charles III of Spain

Charles III (Charles Sebastian; Spanish: Carlos Sebastián; Italian and Neapolitan: Carlo Sebastiano; Sicilian: Carlu Bastianu; 20 January 1716 – 14 December 1788) was King of Spain (1759-1788). He also was Duke of Parma and Piacenza, as Charles I, (1731-1735); King of Naples, as Charles VII, and King of Sicily, as Charles V (1734-1759). He was the fifth son of Philip V of Spain, and the eldest son of Philip's second wife, Elisabeth Farnese. A proponent of enlightened absolutism and regalism, he succeeded to the Spanish throne on 10 August 1759, upon the death of his childless half-brother Ferdinand VI.

Charles III
Portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs, c. 1761
King of Spain
Reign10 August 1759 – 14 December 1788
PredecessorFerdinand VI
SuccessorCharles IV
King of Naples and Sicily
Reign15 May 1734 – 6 October 1759
Coronation3 July 1735, Palermo Cathedral
PredecessorCharles VI
SuccessorFerdinand IV & III
Duke of Parma and Piacenza
Reign29 December 1731 – 3 October 1735
PredecessorAntonio Farnese
SuccessorEmperor Charles
Born20 January 1716
Royal Alcazar of Madrid, Spain
Died14 December 1788(1788-12-14) (aged 72)
Royal Palace of Madrid, Spain
(m. 1738; died 1760)
Spanish: Carlos Sebastián de Borbón y Farnesio
Italian: Carlo Sebastiano di Borbone e Farnese
FatherPhilip V of Spain
MotherElisabeth Farnese
ReligionRoman Catholicism

In 1731, the 15-year-old Charles became the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, as Charles I, following the death of his childless grand-uncle Antonio Farnese. In 1738 he married Princess Maria Amalia of Saxony, daughter of Augustus III of Poland, who was an educated, cultured woman. The couple had 13 children, eight of whom reached adulthood, including Charles, heir to the Spanish throne. Charles and Maria Amalia resided in Naples for 19 years. He gained valuable experience in his 25-year rule in Italy, so that he was well prepared as monarch of the Spanish Empire. His policies in Italy prefigured ones he would put in place in his 30-year rule of Spain.[1]

As King of Spain, Charles III made far-reaching reforms to increase the flow of funds to the crown and defend against foreign incursions on the empire. He facilitated trade and commerce, modernized agriculture and land tenure, and promoted science and university research,. He implemented regalist policies to increase the power of the state regarding the church. During his reign, he expelled the Jesuits from the Spanish Empire.[2] He strengthened the Spanish army and navy. Although he did not achieve complete control over Spain's finances, and was sometimes obliged to borrow to meet expenses, most of his reforms proved successful in providing increased revenue to the crown and expanding state power, leaving a lasting legacy.[3] In the Spanish Empire his regime enacted a series of sweeping reforms with the aim of bringing the overseas territories under firmer control by the central government, reversing the trend toward local autonomy, and gaining more control over the Church. Reforms including the establishment of two new viceroyalties, realignment of administration into intendancies, creating a standing military, establishing new monopolies, revitalizing silver mining, excluding American-born Spaniards (criollos) from high civil and ecclesiastical offices, and eliminating many privileges (fueros) of clergy.[4]

Historian Stanley Payne writes that Charles III "was probably the most successful European ruler of his generation. He had provided firm, consistent, intelligent leadership. He had chosen capable ministers....[his] personal life had won the respect of the people."[5] John Lynch's assessment is that in Bourbon Spain "Spaniards had to wait half a century before their government was rescued by Charles III."[6]