His youth was depressed. His father's second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, was a managing woman, who had no affection except for her own children, and who looked upon her stepson as an obstacle to their fortunes. The hypochondria of his father left Elizabeth mistress of the palace. Ferdinand was married in 1729 to Maria Magdalena Barbara, daughter of John V of Portugal. The very homely looks of his wife were thought by observers to cause the prince a visible shock when he was first presented to her. Yet he became deeply attached to his wife, and proved in fact nearly as uxorious as his father.
Ferdinand was by temperament melancholy, 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." As king he followed a steady policy of neutrality between France and England, and refused to be tempted by the offers of either into declaring war on the other. In his life he was orderly and retiring, averse from taking decisions, though not incapable of acting firmly, as when he cut short the dangerous intrigues of his able minister Ensenada by dismissing and imprisoning him.
Shooting and music were his only pleasures, and he was the generous patron of the famous singer Farinelli, whose voice soothed his melancholy. 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 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. The memoirs of the count of Fernan Nuñez give a shocking picture of his death-bed.
A good account of the reign and character of Ferdinand VI will be found in vol. iv. of Coxe's Memoirs of the Kings of Spain of the House of Bourbon (London, i8f 5). See also Vida de Carlos III, by the count of Fernan Nuñez, ed. Pd. Morel Fatio and Don A Paz y Melia (1898).
This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Philip V of Spain
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Charles III of Spain