Charles IV of Spain Biography

Charles IV was king of Spain from 1788 to 1808, but his ineffectual reign was brought to a sudden end when he abdicated and was deposed by Napoleon.


Charles IV was born on November 11, 1748, in Portici, in the Kingdom of Naples (Italy). At age 40, he became king of Spain—a role that would prove to be far too large. With the French Revolution under way, Charles essentially turned the government over to his wife and her lover, and Spain was soon pitted against the revolutionaries. Eventually forced to abdicate the Spanish throne to his son, Ferdinand VII, Charles and Ferdinand were both deposed by Napoleon. Ferdinand VII was reinstalled in 1813, and Charles died in Rome in 1819.


Early Years

Originally Carlos Antonio Pascual Francisco Javier Juan Nepomuceno Jose Januario Serafin Diego, Charles IV of Spain was born on November 11, 1748, in Portici, in what was then the Kingdom of Naples (Italy). The second son of Charles III, Charles IV would ascend the Spanish throne in place of his older brother, Don Felipe (Philip of Naples and Sicily), who was seen as mentally unfit.

Charles IV was a well-built young man with great physical strength, but his strength was not matched in the intellectual realm, and he would be known as a weak, although benign, leader when he became king in 1788, at age 40.

The Spanish Throne and the French Revolution

When Charles became king, the French Revolution was just under way. The tumultuous times needed another strong leader after his father's level-headed reign, but they wouldn't find one in Charles IV. Charles's wife and first cousin, Maria Luisa of Parma, was more than happy to step into an ad hoc leadership role, however.

A vicious woman, Maria Luisa ruled Charles completely; his banal demeanor was completely overtaken by her aggressive, course nature. While Charles busied himself with hunting, his wife and her lover, Manuel de Godoy, directed the king's affairs in his stead.

Charles's enduring lack of leadership led him to entrust his affairs to a shadow government run by Godoy, and by 1792, Godoy was fully in charge. Charles lived in fear of the French Revolution, and his government, under Godoy, sided with the First Coalition against Revolutionary France. This marked Spain's entrance into the French Revolution (1793) and led to a French invasion of Spain in 1794, which was ended the following July by the Peace of Basle and later the Treaty of San Ildefonso. The latter treaty created an alliance between Spain and France against England, but 10 years later, in 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte would again take French troops into northern Spain.

Napoleon occupied the Spanish land that he conquered, and Charles saw a coup on the horizon. Charles soon tried to flee to the United States, but he was stopped and forced to abdicate the Spanish throne by supporters of his son, Ferdinand, in March 1808.

Abdication of the Throne

A few months after Charles turned the throne of Spain over to his son (who had thus become Ferdinand VII), Napoleon tricked them both into a meeting at Bayonne, France, where he forced them to jointly abdicate. Napoleon then installed his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as the new king of Spain, and Charles and his family were held captive in France. The French were exiled in 1813, however, and Charles IV's son once again became Ferdinand VII of Spain, returning with his family to Spain, in 1814.

Charles IV eventually settled in Rome, where he died on January 20, 1819.

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