The Four Marriages of King Philip II of Spain

What Marriage Meant for Habsburg Royal Women

Philip II of Spain

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The marriages of Philip II, king of Spain, highlight the roles that women were expected to play in royal marriages of the time. All of the marriages helped foster political alliances – either with other countries with whom Spain wanted peace in the interest of building more Spanish influence and power, or with closer relatives to keep the power of Spain, and the Habsburg family, strong. Also, Philip remarried each time a wife died and kept fathering children in the hopes of having a healthy son. While Spain had recently seen a woman ruler in Isabella I, and before that in the 12th century in Urraca, that was Castile’s tradition. Aragon’s tradition of following Salic Law would have confused the issue if Philip left only female heirs.

Philip was closely related by blood to three of his four wives. Three of his wives had children; these three all died in childbirth.

Philip’s Reign

Philip II of Spain, a part of the Habsburg dynasty, was born on May 21, 1527, and died on September 13, 1598. He lived at a time of upheaval and change, with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, shifting alliances among the major powers, expansion of Habsburg power (the phrase about the sun never setting on the empire was first applied to Philip’s reign), and economic changes. It was Philip II who sent the Armada against England in 1588. He was king of Spain from 1556 to 1598, King of England and Ireland by marriage from 1554 to 1558 (as husband of Mary I), King of Naples from 1554 to 1598, and King of Portugal from 1581 to 1598. During his reign, the Netherlands began to fight for their independence, though this was not achieved until 1648, after Philip’s death. Marriages played no small part in some of these changes in his power.

Philip’s Heritage

Intermarriages, for political and family reasons, were part of Philip’s heritage:

  • Philip’s parents were Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and Isabella of Portugal
  • Charles and Isabella were maternal first cousins: their mothers were sisters Joanna or Juana of Castile and Aragon and Maria of Aragon, daughters of the powerful Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.
  • Philip’s maternal grandfather, Manuel I of Portugal, was a first cousin of Philip’s great-grandmother (on both the maternal and paternal side), Isabella I of Castile and Aragon.
  • At the same time the marriage of Philip’s parents Charles and Isabella was arranged, a marriage of Charles’ sister and Isabella’s brother was also arranged: Catherine of Austria and John III of Portugal. As siblings of Charles and Isabella, Catherine and John were also maternal first cousins.
  • The daughter of Catherine and John was Maria Manuela, who was Philip’s first wife; she was thus his double first cousin.
  • Philip’s younger sister, Joan of Austria, married Maria Manuela’s brother, John Manuel. Joan’s husband died while she was pregnant with their son Sebastian. Joan returned to Spain without her son and served as regent for Philip in Spain while he was in England during part of his marriage to his second wife, Mary. Later, when Sebastian died without issue, Philip II became King of Portugal.
  • Maria of Austria, Philip’s younger sister and Joan of Austria’s older sister, married Maximilian II, a paternal cousin of Philip, Maria, and Joan. Maximilian’s father, Ferdinand I, was a younger brother of Philip’s father, Charles V. Philip’s fourth wife, Anna of Austria, was a daughter of Maximilian II and Maria, and thus Philip’s niece.

Wife 1: Maria Manuela, Married 1543 - 1545

Maria Manuela, as detailed above, was Philip’s double first cousin, meaning they shared all four grandparents: Manuel I of Portugal, Manuel’s wife Maria of Aragon, Maria’s sister Joanna of Castile and Aragon, and Joanna’s husband Philip I of Castile. At the time of their marriage, Philip was known as Prince Philip of Asturias and was the heir apparent of the Spanish crown. Philip did not become king of Spain until 1556.

Their son, Carlos, Prince of Asturias, was born on July 8, 1545. Maria died on August 12, due to complications of the childbirth. Carlos, recognized in 1560 as the heir to the Spanish crown as Philip’s eldest son, was physically deformed and had delicate health, and as he grew older, mental problems became apparent, especially after a head injury sustained in a fall in 1562. When Carlos rebelled against his father, he was imprisoned in 1568 and died about six months later.

Carlos was, despite his physical and later mental problems, a marriage prize, and several potential marriages were sought for him, including:

  • the daughter of King Henry II of France, Elizabeth Valois
  • another of Henry’s daughters, Margaret of Valois
  • Mary, Queen of Scots
  • Anna of Austria, a daughter of Philip’s cousin Maximilian II, who later became Philip II’s fourth wife

Wife 2: Mary I of England, Married 1554 - 1558

Mary I, the daughter of Henry VIII of England and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was a first cousin of both of Philip’s parents. Catherine was the sister of both of Philip’s grandmothers, Joanna of Castile and Aragon and Maria of Aragon.

Mary I was born in 1516 and Philip in 1527. While Mary seems to have adored Philip, Philip did not seem to have returned the affection. It was purely a marriage of political alliance for him. The marriage, for Mary, was also an alliance with a Catholic country. Mary is known in history as Bloody Mary for her campaigns against Protestants.

When the marriage was being proposed, Philip’s father gave up the title of King of Naples to Philip, to raise his status in the marriage. Philip was given equal status in many ways to Mary with the marriage, but only so long as the marriage lasted. Many in England preferred that Mary marry an Englishman.

They had no children. Mary’s last illness seems to have been a false pregnancy. She died in 1558. Philip proposed marriage to Mary’s successor, her half-sister Queen Elizabeth I. She did not respond to his offer. Later, Philip backed an effort by Mary, Queen of Scots to unseat Elizabeth, and of course in 1588 sent the ill-fated Spanish Armada against England. War between Spain and England lasted until after the deaths of both Philip and Elizabeth, ending in 1604.

Wife 3: Elizabeth of France, Married 1559 - 1568

Elizabeth of France was the daughter of Henry II of France and his wife, Catherine de’ Medici. She was less closely related to Philip than his other wives were, but they had some common Bourbon ancestry. Charles I, Duke of Bourbon, was a third great grandfather to both Elizabeth and Philip. (Charles was also the 3rd great-grandfather of Maria Manuela and 4th great-grandfather of Anna of Austria.) They were also both descended from Alfonso VII of León and Castile.

Elizabeth’s first pregnancy ended in the miscarriage of twin daughters. Two daughters were later born, both of whom lived to adulthood. Elizabeth died when her fourth pregnancy miscarried in 1568; that child, stillborn, was also a daughter. Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, their older daughter, married her maternal first cousin and paternal first cousin once removed, Albert VII of Austria. He was the son of Maria of Spain, sister of her father Philip II, and Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, paternal first cousin of Philip II. Maximilian II’s father was Ferdinand I, Charles V’s brother. (Charles V was the father of Philip II and Maria of Spain.)

Catherine Michelle of Spain, their younger daughter, married Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy. They were related in several ways. He was a great-grandson of Manuel I of Portugal and Maria of Aragon, as was Catherine Michelle through Philip II. Catherine Michelle’s great-grandparents, Francis I of France and Claude of France, were grandparents of Charles Emmanuel.

Wife 4: Anna of Austria, Married 1570 - 1580

Anna of Austria, Philip II’s fourth wife, was also his sororal niece and paternal cousin once removed. Her mother was Maria of Spain, Philip’s sister. Her father was Maximilian II, Holy Roman Emperor, Philip’s paternal first cousin. Anna’s brother, Albert VII, married Philip’s daughter from his third marriage, Isabella Clara Eugenia, so Albert was Philip’s nephew, brother-in-law, and son-in-law.

Philip and Anna had five children, only one surviving childhood: Ferdinand, who died at seven; Charles Laurence, who died before he was two; Diego, who died at seven; Philip, later Philip III of Spain, who lived to age 43; and a daughter Maria, who died at three. Anna died giving birth to Maria in 1580.

After Anna’s death, a marriage to her sister, Elisabeth of Austria, was proposed, but Elisabeth declined. Elisabeth had been widowed at the death of Charles IX of France, a brother of Philip’s third wife Elizabeth (Anna of Austria had been considered for marriage to him before she married Philip); Elisabeth had also refused to marry Henry III, her husband’s successor and brother.

Philip did not remarry after Anna’s death. He lived until 1598. His son from his fourth marriage, Philip, succeeded him as Philip III. Philip III married only once, to Margaret of Austria, who was both his paternal second cousin and his cousin once removed. Of their four children who survived childhood, Anne of Austria became Queen of France by marriage, Philip IV ruled Spain, Maria Anna became Holy Roman Empress by marriage, and Ferdinand became a cardinal.

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "The Four Marriages of King Philip II of Spain." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2023, April 5). The Four Marriages of King Philip II of Spain. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "The Four Marriages of King Philip II of Spain." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).