Son of King Philip II of Spain and Maria Manuela of Portugal, Don Carlos was born in the Spanish city of Valladolid; deformed from birth, his mother died shortly after the delivery. His shoulders and legs were of uneven height, and he was prone to feverish illnesses. It is thought that Don Carlos’ physical and eventual mental deformities were possibly the result of incestuous marriages in the Portuguese Royal Family – he had only 4 great-grandparents instead of the regular 8, and only 6 great-great-grandparents instead of the usual 16.
As he grew, Don Carlos began to show increasing signs of mental disabilities. Even as a boy, Don Carlos was rumored to have bitten the breasts of his wet-nurses, nearly killing three of them from the resulting wound. At the age of 9, he was known to torture other female children, as well as servants and animals. He quite enjoyed roasting small animals alive, particularly rabbits, and once bit off the head of a snake. On another occasion, he entered the royal stables and severely mutilated the horses to the point that twenty horses had to be put down.
In 1562, Don Carlos met with an accident – possibly while chasing women around, though this has never been confirmed – that caused a severe head wound. The wound soon developed a bacterial infection, swelling his head and causing a temporary blindness. Doctors even drilled a hole in his head, a procedure known as trephination, in an attempt to relieve the pressure. In desperation, Philip II called the local Franciscan monks to bring a holy relic to his son’s bedside – so they brought the remains of a holy man who had died one hundred years ago and placed the mummy in bed with the prince. Miraculously, Don Carlos’ health seemingly began to stabilize.
Though the prince regained some of his mobility, his ability to produce heirs was questionable. In fact, the only thing the prince seemed to enjoy doing with women was whipping them; record books detail the money paid to fathers of girls who were “beaten by order of his Highness.” His derangement only seemed to increase with time – on one occasion, a shoemaker presented boots to Don Carlos that he didn’t particularly approve of, so the prince forced the shoemaker to cut up the boots and eat them.
After a failed attempt to incite a plot against his father, Don Carlos was locked in solitary confinement in the tower of Arevalo castle, where his own ancestor Isabel of Portugal – also considered “mad” – had been locked up and died around a century before. In confinement, Don Carlos behaved even more irregularly, pouring ice water on the floor and lying naked it in, vomiting incessantly, or drinking over 10 litres of water with his meals. When given the last sacrament after a particularly violent bout of illness, he even vomited the communal host. On July 24th, 1568, Don Carlos was pronounced dead – rumored to have been poisoned by his own father. The public was told that the prince had “died of his own excesses”.
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Tomorrow: Another week long series: The burnt city!