|= Fernado VI|
Father: Philip V
Mother: Maria Luisa of Savoy
Wife: Barbara of Portugal (1729)
|Ferdinand VI of Spain (1713-1759), Philip V's successor, suffered from a similar mental illness as his father. He was moody, suspicious and irresolute and he went about daily in apprehension of a sudden violent death. Ferdinand had been only a few months old, when his mother died and his father's second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, openly preferred her own children to the sons of her husband's first marriage. She was continually inciting animosity between Ferdinand and her own eldest son.
Ferdinand's elder brothers Philip and Luis died respectively in 1719 and 1724, leaving Ferdinand Crown Prince of Spain. Ferdinand married at the age of 15 and it was thought by many that he had to sacrifice his feelings to diplomacy in marrying the 17-year-old, pockmarked and extremely corpulent Barbara of Portugal (1711-1758). Ferdinand, however, came to be very fond of his wife and by 1732 he depended completely upon her. Unfortunately, the Royal House of Bragança was not free of mental disturbances either and Barbara's temperament was as neurotic as that of her husband. The couple's position at court was very precarious. They were not allowed to leave their quarters except for important official ceremonies and they were shunned by the entire court.
Ferdinand succeeded his father in 1746 and it was said that "Queen Barbara had succeeded Queen Elizabeth". The new King was of no particular ability, but Spain at least had a King born in Spain and served by Spaniards. While being Crown Prince, his domineering stepmother had always excluded Ferdinand VI from policy making and kept him out of public affairs. Once he had become King, his wife and ministers did the same. Barbara of Portugal, however, was no Elizabeth Farnese; Barbara strongly supported the diplomacy of neutrality. The new conjuncture of peace, reform and good luck placed unprecedented revenue at Ferdinand's disposal. He designated large sums for charity, as in the hot summer of 1750, when he cancelled taxes in drought-stricken Andalucía, and in 1755, after the Lisbon earthquake. Ferdinand's magnanimity, however, did not stop Elizabeth Farnese from complotting against him.
Ferdinand was good-natured, lazy, shy, hesitant and irresolute. Regularly, he had terrible rages, followed by melancholic moods and a complete loss of self-confidence. Ferdinand VI found respite from his depressions in plays and the opera. On July 16, 1748 part of the Summer Palace of Aranjuez burned down. Ferdinand had it rebuild with a special room included for small opera performances. He founded the Academia de San Fernando de Bellas Artes in Madrid. Queen Barbara had since her youth been trained by the composer Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) and as a result she could sing with merit, play the harpsichord and even compose. Upon her marriage Scarlatti had followed her to Spain. Barbara and Ferdinand were also patrons of the castrate-singer Farinelli (1705-1782, to the right), who gradually gained a great ascendancy over both Ferdinand and Barbara. He had earlier been employed by Elizabeth Farnese and Philip V, but he had always remained on friendly terms with the heir to the throne. The royal couple liked to sail from Aranjuez down the river Taag with Farinelli singing for them. The Queen would often accompany him on the harpsichord. Luckily, Farinelli never misused his position and refused all bribery attempts. In 1750 he was awarded with the Order of Calatrava. Ferdinand's third favourite was his confessor, Francisco Ravago. Besides the arts Ferdinand, like all Bourbons, was also interested in the hunt. Usually, the animals were driven together for a royal slaughter.
Barbara of Portugal spent much of her time in a state of neurosis. Like her husband, she went about daily in fear of sudden death, which her asthmatic tendency may have encouraged. She was also fearful that if her husband died before her, she would be plunged into poverty. In reality she accumulated a fortune far in excess of her own needs and by her will she gave it all to her brother, Joseph I of Portugal. She established a convent in Madrid where she wanted to retire as a widow. It was opened in 1757, but by that time her coughing had increased. Near the end she could hardly breathe and her once corpulent body had shrunken to a hardly more than a carcass.
Barbara's death in August 1758 deprived her husband of what little sanity he had retained and hastened his relapse into a manic depression. Ferdinand VI remained in seclusion in the castle of Villaviciosa and refused to see anyone or sign official documents. He imagined that his body was being destroyed from within. He became a danger to himself and others, wandering wildly around his apartments without any covering but his nightshirt. For a time, he refused to lie down, because he imagined that he would die if he did so. Then he begged for poison, tried to commit suicide with a pair of scissors and tried to hang himself with sheets. He did not want to be washed, shaved, dressed or fed, taking soup only. His fits of rage were increasingly violent, banging his head against the wall and even attacked his servants. After an outbrake like that, he would collapse and become inert. In his rare, lucid intervals he would only discuss his illness. Ferdinand lingered on in this melancholy for a year. Near the end he refused to eat altogether and became thinner and thinner. He finally died in August, 1759.
Copyright © 1998, 2000 by J.N.W. Bos. All rights reserved