Isabella II of Spain

Controversial Spanish Ruler

Queen Isabella II of Spain
Queen Isabella II of Spain. Hulton Royals Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dates: October 10, 1830 - April 9, 1904; Queen of Spain 1833 - 1868


Isabella, who lived during troubled times for the Spanish monarchy, was the daughter of Ferdinand VII of Spain (1784 - 1833), a Bourbon ruler, by his fourth wife, Maria of the Two Sicilies (1806 - 1878). 

Ferdinand VII became king of Spain in 1808 when his father, Charles IV, abdicated.  He abdicated about two months later, and Napoleon installed Joseph Bonaparte, his brother, as the Spanish king.

The decision was unpopular, and within months Ferdinand VII was again established as king, though he was in France under Napoleon's control until 1813.  When he returned, it was as a constitutional, not absolute, monarch.

His reign was marked by quite a bit of unrest, but there was relative stability by the 1820s, other than having no living children to pass his title to.  His first wife died after two miscarriages. His two daughters from his earlier marriage to Maria Isabel of Portugal (his niece) also did not survive infancy. He had no children by his third wife.

He married his fourth wife, Maria of the Two Sicilies, in 1829. They had first one daughter, the future Isabella II, in 1830, then another daughter, Luisa, younger than Isabella II, who lived from 1832 to 1897, and married Antoine, Duke of Monpensier. This fourth wife, Isabella II's mother, was another niece, daughter of his younger sister Maria Isabella of Spain.

 Thus, Charles IV of Spain and his wife, Maria Luisa of Parma, were Isabella's paternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents.

Isabella Becomes Queen

Isabella succeeded to the Spanish throne on the death of her father.  He had left directions that Salic Law would be set aside so that his daughter, rather than his brother, would succeed him.

Maria of the Two Sicilies, Isabella's mother, supposedly had persuaded him to take that action.

Ferdinand's brother and Isabella's uncle, Don Carlos, disputed her right to succeed.  The Bourbon family, of which she was a part, had before this forbidden female inheritance of rulership. This led to the First Carlist War, 1833-1839, while her mother, and then General Baldomero Espartero, served as regents for the underage Isabella. The military established her rule in 1843.

In a series of diplomatic turns, called the Affair of the Spanish Marriages, Isabella's marriage and that of her sister to Spanish and French nobles instead of to a relative of Prince Albert of England helped alienate England, empower the conservative faction in Spain and bring Louis-Philippe of France closer to the conservative faction. This helped lead to the liberal uprisings of 1848 and to Louis-Philippe's defeat.

Isabella was rumored to have chosen her Bourbon cousin, Francisco de Asis, as husband because he was impotent, and they largely lived apart, though they did have children.

Her authoritarianism, her religious fanaticism, her alliance with the military and the chaos of her reign -- sixty different governments -- helped bring about the Revolution of 1868 that exiled her to Paris.

She abdicated in 1870 in favor of her son, Alfonso XII, who ruled beginning in 1874. Even though Isabella eventually returned to Spain, she never again exerted much political power or influence.

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