Philip IV of Spain (1605–65) had no fewer than fourteen children, but only one of his sons – Charles II (1661–1700) – reached his twenties. With women banned from the succession, the hapless, sickly Charles became king aged just four and, much to everyone’s surprise, survived to adulthood. After his first marriage in 1679, there were great hopes that he would sire an heir, but none arrived, allegedly because Charles suffered from premature ejaculation. A second marriage, twenty years later, was equally fruitless and, as it became increasingly clear that Charles was unable to procreate, Europe focused on what was to happen when Charles died and the Spanish royal line died out. Every ambassador to the Spanish court wrote long missives home about the health of Charles, none more so than the English representative, Stanhope, who painted an especially gloomy picture: “He (Charles) has a ravenous stomach and swallows all he eats whole, for his nether jaw stands out so much that his two rows of teeth cannot meet…His weak stomach not being able to digest the food, he voids it in the same (whole) manner.”

In the autumn of 1700, it was clear that Charles was dying and his doctors went to work in earnest, replacing his pillows with freshly killed pigeons and covering his chest with animal entrails. Not surprisingly, this didn’t work and Charles died on November 1, an event which triggered the War of the Spanish Succession.

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