A regent is “a person appointed to administer a state because the monarch is a minor, is absent or is incapacitated.”
Mariana of Austria was born on 24 December 1634 as the daughter of Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor and Maria Anna of Spain. At the age of 11, Mariana was betrothed to Balthasar Charles, Prince of Asturias, but he died just three months at the age of 16. Philip IV of Spain was now left without a male heir, and he was conveniently widowed too. He decided to marry Mariana, who was also his niece, himself. Their age difference was 30 years. They were married on 7 October 1649 and spent their wedding night at El Escorial. It was not to be a happy marriage. Philip did not allow her any influence on the government, and she threw herself into religion.
Of their five children, only two would live to adulthood. Her eldest daughter Margaret Theresa would go on to marry her own uncle, Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. Her only surviving son, Charles was born on 6 November 1661. He was born physically and mentally disabled, most likely due to the many years of inbreeding. His tongue was very large, and he drooled. When Philip IV died on 17 September 1665, their son was just three years old. Mariana acted as regent for her son, and she would continue to do so for most of his life, due to his illnesses. Her son remained weak, by the age of six, he could stand alone, but he could still not walk. She was deeply affected by her daughter’s death in 1673.
Her son was officially declared to be of age in 1675, although Mariana attempted to have him sign a document to extend the regency for two more years.
In 1677, Mariana was forced from Madrid by John of Austria the Younger, who was an illegitimate son of Philip IV and thus Charles’ half-brother. She had always regarded him as the possible leader of a civil war against her regency. She was convinced he would come to murder her. Mariana wrote to her son,
“My son and my life, as the hour of my departure has come, my love does not allow me to be parted from you in this way without telling you with how much despair I part from you without seeing you, and I assure you, although this solace is denied me, that there can never lack me in me a mother’s duty, so great is the love I bear for you. I give you my blessing, praying God to grant all you desire, and hoping you, for the love you have for me, will always mind those things which will bring me greater consolation.”
She lived in Toledo for a while but returned to Madrid upon John’s death in 1679.
Her son married Marie Louise of Orléans, but their marriage remained childless. When Marie Louise died under mysterious circumstances in 1689, there were rumours that she had been poisoned on the orders of Mariana. Charles remarried to Maria Anna of Neuburg, but this marriage also remained childless.
In March of 1696, she finally permitted doctors to examine a lump she had noticed in her breast, which by then was the size of a baby’s head. Fortunately for her, they decided not to operate. Instead, she received “medicine” that made her feverish and she vomited often. Mariana died on 16 May 1696, holding the crucifix of Pope Pius V. Fifty thousand masses were to be said for her soul.
Her line died out just four years later, and the succession to the throne of Spain was eventually settled on the heirs of Anne of Austria, Queen of France, Charles’ aunt. Charles’ life is aptly described as,
“We are dealing with a man who died of poison two hundred years before he was born. If birth is a beginning, of no man was it more true to say that in his beginning was his end. From the day of his birth they were waiting for his death.”
His parents’ uncle-niece marriage had brought final biological destruction to the Spanish Habsburgs. 1