Even as a child, Philip became the object of a dynastic union intended to underpin the rapprochement with France, a Great Power that was now growing in strength and influence.
At the age of eleven he was betrothed to the ten-year-old Isabelle of Bourbon (1603–1644), daughter of King Henry IV. The marriage produced a son, Balthasar Charles (1629–1646), a feeble child who died at the age of sixteen, and six daughters, of whom only one was to survive childhood.
This daughter, Maria Teresa (1638–1683), was heiress to the Spanish crown and thus much-courted. Rivalry for her hand developed between the Austrian Habsburgs and the French Bourbons. France was ultimately victorious, and Maria Teresa was married to Louis XIV. In the nuptial contract Maria Teresa waived her claims to the Spanish throne. However, contentious issues in this contract provided the pretext for French attacks on the Spanish Netherlands.
The Sun King’s Spanish wife was overshadowed by her husband. At the court at Versailles she was not allowed any real political influence. Maria Teresa bore her husband six children, of whom only one son, the grand dauphin Louis (father of Philip of Anjou, later king of Spain) survived. Colourless and devout, Maria Teresa bore Louis’s numerous and openly acknowledged extra-marital relationships with fortitude. His mistresses had the status of concubines and exercised great influence at court.
Even after Maria Teresa’s death in 1683, Louis’s marriage formed the basis for France’s claim to the Spanish throne, as the last Spanish Habsburg, Charles, named her grandson, Philip of Anjou-Bourbon, as his heir.
Philip’s first wife, Isabelle, died in 1644. The urgent need for a male successor made it necessary for him to start searching for a new wife immediately. He fell back on an established tradition: marriage to a daughter of the Austrian line of the dynasty. Despite the close degree of kinship these marriages were mostly blessed with surviving progeny.
The forty-four-year-old widower Philip thus entered into a marriage with his fifteen-year-old niece Maria Anna (1634–1696) in 1649. The Austrian archduchess, who had originally been intended as the wife of Philip’s son Balthasar Charles, was the daughter of Philip’s sister Maria and Emperor Ferdinand III.
The young queen went on to be an important political figure at the Spanish court. After her husband died she reigned in her son Charles’s stead during his minority from 1665 to 1675 and was heavily influenced by the Jesuits. She came under increasing attack in Madrid as a result of the country’s disastrous state and numerous political mistakes. An opposition group of courtiers formed around her late husband’s illegitimate son, Don Juan José, who at times had her banished from court. Despite several setbacks, Maria Anna retained significant influence over her feeble son Charles and the political intrigues centred on the Spanish inheritance until her death.
The marriage resulted in five children:
Born in 1651, Margarita Teresa was intended from childhood as a wife for Emperor Leopold I. Today she is best known from the masterly series of portraits by Velázquez painted to document the development of the imperial bride and which are among the highlights in the holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
She was followed by a series of children who died in childhood. Born in 1655, Maria Ambrosia suffered from epilepsy and died after only fifteen days. In 1657 Philip Prosper was born, again a sickly infant, who died in 1661. His portrait by Velázquez hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Thomas Karl, born in 1658, died after only four months.
In 1661 Charles was born. The future of the global Spanish empire hung by a thread on the survival of this sickly child.