Ferdinand VI, (September 23, 1713 – August 10, 1759), King of Spain from 1746 until his death, second son of Philip V, founder of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty (as opposed to the French Bourbons), by his first marriage with Maria Louisa of Savoy, was born at Madrid on September 23 1713.
His youth was depressed. His father's second wife, Elizabeth Farnese, was a domineering 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 Barbara of Braganza, daughter of John V of Portugal and Mary Anne of Austria. 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 in the conflict 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 Zenón de Somodevilla y Bengoechea, Marquis of Ensenada by dismissing and imprisoning him. He was called Ferdinand the Learned for his refined pursuits.
Shooting and music were his only pleasures, and he was the generous patron of the famous singer Farinelli, whose voice soothed his melancholy.
When he came to the throne, Spain found itself in the War of the Austrian Succession which ended without any benefit to Spain. He started his reign by eliminating the influence of the widow Queen Elisabeth of Parma and her group of Italian courtesans. As king he followed a steady policy of neutrality in the conflict between France and England, and refused to be tempted by the offers of either into declaring war on the other.
Prominent figures during his reign were the Marquis of Ensenada, a Francophile; and José de Carvajal y Lancaster, a supporter of the alliance with Great Britain. The fight between both ended in 1754 with the death of Carvajal the fall of Ensenada, making Ricardo Wall the new powerful man of the monarchy.
The most important tasks during the reign of Ferdinand VI were carried out by the Marquis of Ensenada, the Secretary of the Treasury, Navy and Indies. He suggested that the state help modernize the country. To him, this was necessary to maintain a position of exterior strength so that France and Great Britain would consider Spain as an ally without supposing Spain's renunciation of its claim to Gibraltar.
Among his reform projects were:
The main conflict was its confrontation with Portugal over the colony of Sacramento, from which British contraband was transferred down the Río de la Plata. In 1750 José de Carvajal helped Spain and Portugal strike a deal. Portugal agreed to renounce the colony and its claim to free navigation down the Río de la Plata. In return, Spain ceded to Portugal two regions on the Brazilian border, one in the Amazon and the other to the south, in which seven of the thirty Jesuit Guaraní towns. The Spanish had to expel the missionaries, generating a conflict with the Guaraní people that lasted eleven years.
The conflict over the towns provoked a crisis in the Spanish Court. Ensenada, favorable to the Jesuits, and Father Rávago, confessor of the King and members of the Society of Jesus, were fired, accused of hindering the agreements with Portugal.
The death of his wife Maria Barbara, who had been devoted to him, and who carefully abstained from political intrigue, broke his heart. Between the date of her death in August of 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 deathbed.
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