A brief history of Spain – Part 18, Isabella II (1843 – 1868)

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Isabella II

Isabella II, the daughter of Ferdinand VII and his fourth wife, Maria Christina of Bourbon-Two Sicilies,  came to the throne at the age of 3 following the death of her father. However, until the age of 13, she was represented by a regent, her mother Maria Cristina. Thereafter, for the last two years by general Espartero.

In 1834, a civil war known as the First Carlist War broke out in Spain. Supporters of the late King Ferdinand VII’s brother Carlos attempted to seize power. Isabella’s mother, Maria Christina, was able to put down the rebellion, but political turmoil continued throughout the rest of her reign. 

Marriage to Francisco de Asis de Borbón

Isabella de Borbón y Borbón also failed to bring political stability to Spain. Under French pressure and at the age of 16, she married her cousin Francisco de Asis de Borbón. It was not a happy marriage. In state portraits, a stout, coarse woman is standing next to a starkly contrasting male. The story goes that Francisco has been impotent, homosexual or both.

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Reign characterized by palace intrigue and backroom politics

Isabella had nine offspring and historians highly doubt that one of them is legitimate. She got involved in political affairs in a partisan, idiosyncratic way.  In this regard, her mediocre intelligence was not helpful. Palace intrigue, backroom politics and accusations of large-scale corruption characterized her reign. Furthermore, the fact that she would have slept with several ministers hence provoking political irreconcilability, conspiracies, military uprisings and coups d’état.

Social and cultural changes

The period of Isabella II’s reign brought social and cultural changes in Spain, including the rise of Romanticism and the beginning of industrialization. Despite the political instability of her reign, Isabella had a fierce commitment to education and modernization. Consequently, she established several schools and cultural institutions during her time as queen.

In 1868, a military coup forced Isabella II to flee to France. She abdicated the throne in 1870 in favour of her son Alfonso XII, who would later become King of Spain.

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