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Several of the Carlist pretenders to the Spanish throne were also known as Don Carlos.
Prince of Asturias
Portrait by Alonso Sánchez Coello, 1564.
House House of Habsburg
Father Philip II of Spain
Mother Maria Manuela, Princess of Portugal
Born 8 July 1545(1545-07-08)
Valladolid, Spain
Died 24 July 1568 (aged 23)

Carlos, Prince of Asturias (8 July 1545 – 24 July 1568) was the son of King Philip II of Spain by his first wife Maria Manuela of Portugal, daughter of John III of Portugal. He was the 218th Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece.



Carlos was born at Valladolid, and his mother died a month after his birth. The young Infante Carlos was delicate and deformed. He grew up proud, willful, and insolent, and soon began to show signs of mental instability as a young adult. Many of his physical and psychological afflictions may stem from the inbreeding common to the House of Habsburg and the royal houses of Portugal and Spain. Carlos had only four great-grandparents instead of the maximum of eight and his parents had the same coefficient of coancestry (1/8) as if they were half siblings. He had only six great-great-grandparents, instead of the maximum 16, his maternal grandmother and his paternal grandfather were brother and sister, his maternal grandfather and his paternal grandmother were also brother and sister, and his two great-grandmothers were sisters.

Portrait of Don Carlos by Alonso Sánchez Coello, 1558.

In 1559, Prince Carlos was betrothed to Elizabeth of Valois, a daughter of King Henry II of France. However, for political reasons, she was wed a few months later to his widowed father. Three other brides were then suggested for the prince: Mary, Queen of Scots; Marguerite de Valois, another daughter of Henry II of France; and Anna of Austria, a daughter of Philip's cousin Maximilian, who was to later become Philip's fourth wife.

Although Carlos's mental disorder became more acute as he grew older, he was nonetheless recognized in 1560 as the heir to the Castilian throne, and three years later as heir to the crown of Aragon as well.

In 1562, Carlos met with an unspecified accident, rumored to have been a fall down the stairs, which was followed by a serious illness. The accident caused a head injury, after which doctors, including the famed Vesalius, performed trepanation, that is removed a part of skull to allow built-up fluids to drain out.[1] After his recovery, he is said to have become exceedingly wild and unpredictable in his behavior, engaging in violent outbursts and excessive drinking both in public and in private. He took a marked dislike to the Duke of Alba, who became the de facto governor of the Low Countries, a position that had been promised to Carlos. Carlos made several contacts with representative of the Count Egmont from the Low Countries, who was leading the revolt against the Spanish. He also exhibited a morbid antipathy towards his father, whose murder he supposedly contemplated at one time.

In January 1568, Carlos arranged to flee from Spain and his father's control. However he was placed in solitary confinement by Philip's orders before he could depart, and died in isolation that same year. It was long rumoured that he was poisoned, but there is little evidence to support this claim, although Alexandre Herculano in his book O Bobo claims that it is not only true but that it was his own father who did it. It is much more likely that the frail Carlos died of natural causes. He may have developed eating disorders: during his imprisonment he alternated self-starvation with heavy binges. He also developed the habit of sleeping on a bed of ice, something that cannot have been good for a young man already suffering from various debilities. It is also said that he threw himself out of a window in one of his rage outbursts.[2]


Carlos's ancestors in three generations
Charles, Prince of Asturias Father:
Philip II of Spain
Paternal Grandfather:
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Paternal Great-Grandfather:
Philip I of Castile
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Joanna of Castile
Paternal Grandmother:
Isabella of Portugal
Paternal Great-Grandfather:
Manuel I of Portugal
Paternal Great-Grandmother:
Maria of Aragon
Maria Manuela of Portugal
Maternal Grandfather:
John III of Portugal
Maternal Great-Grandfather:
Manuel I of Portugal
Maternal Great-Grandmother:
Maria of Aragon
Maternal Grandmother:
Catherine of Habsburg
Maternal Great-grandfather:
Philip I of Castile
Maternal Great-Grandmother:
Joanna of Castile


The idea of King Philip confining and murdering his own son later played a minor role in establishing the anti-Spanish Black Legend. It also formed the basis for Johann Christoph Friedrich Schiller’s 1787 tragedy Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien; Schiller's play was adapted into several operas, most notably Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlos.

The story of a king jailing his own son is also the basis for the Spanish play La vida es sueño (Life Is a Dream), by Calderón de la Barca; however, this play does not explicitly refer to Don Carlos.


  1. ^ Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasure of Royal Scandals, p.176. Penguin Books, New York. ISBN 0739420259.
  2. ^

External links

Carlos, Prince of Asturias
Born: 8 July 1545 Died: 24 July 1568
Preceded by
Prince Philip
his father who had ascended the throne
Prince of Asturias
Title next held by
Infante Fernando


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