December 7, 2023 | Alicia B.

Doomed Facts About Philip IV of Spain, The Cursed Puppet King

Every family has a few skeletons in their closet, but Philip IV’s legendary kin had a graveyard’s worth. Though the "King of the Planet" outwardly appeared to be the perfect ruler, he couldn't outrun his demons and his disaster of a personal life. They not only destroyed his family, but also his nation and empire. Turns out, the Planet King was more like the Cursed Puppet King.

1. His Family Was Legendary

Philip IV’s ancestors, the Hapsburgs, were a legendary family who ruled Spain for two centuries. But they’re notorious today for a darker reason. You see, the Hapsburgs were so power-hungry, they made sure all their influence and wealth stayed within the family…by marrying each other. They paid the price for inbreeding with health issues and a cursed appearance, particularly the protruding “Habsburg jaw.”

This dynasty’s insatiable lust for power (and each other) resulted in tragic consequences for not only Philip IV, but Spain herself.

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2. He Had Dysfunctional Parents

On April 8, 1605, Philip IV came into the world as the son of Philip III and Margaret of Austria. His parents weren’t just king and queen, or husband and wife: they were cousins. Philip IV’s parents, particularly Margaret, were also super religious. But his dad’s devoutness became even more extreme after tragedy struck the royal family.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

3. His Childhood Fell Apart

Money can’t buy happiness, and our poor little rich boy learned this at only six years old. The physically weak and inbred Margaret didn’t survive giving birth to Alfonso, her eighth child. Tragically, the royal kids lost their mom and dad. To cope, Philip III—also weak and inbred—fell into a rabbit hole of fanatic mysticism.

Consequently, Philip IV grew up in a gilded penal institution of friars, endless lessons, and no freedom. Schemers with ulterior motives saw the opportunity and pounced.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

4. He Met His Puppetmaster

Gaspar de Guzmán, the Count-Duke of Olivares was many things, but he wasn’t one to squander an opportunity. Philip IV was only 10 when he met Olivares. Within a year, the 28-year-old gained the Prince’s trust. Over time, he isolated Philip IV and secured his influence. This would have a devastating impact on Philip IV’s life and rule. It didn’t take long for Olivares to start using Philip IV to further his political schemes.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

5. He Married Seriously Young

Philip IV became a child groom largely thanks to Olivares' influence. At only 10 years old, he married 13-year-old Elisabeth of France. Despite being born with silver spoons and gilded crowns, it’s obvious both children were just political pawns. To make matters worse, the miserable details of their wedding make it clear this was anything but a love story.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

6. His Wedding Was Unromantic

Philip IV and Elisabeth’s love was blind—literally. Not only did the scheming adults force the children to marry way too young, they didn’t meet until after the proxy wedding. Once the kids finally met each other, their marriage didn’t get much better. It got even worse after Philip IV unexpectedly took the throne. His new bride found out the hard way that he wasn’t ready for marriage or leadership.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

7. He Became A Teenaged King

On 31 March 1621, Philip III passed at only 42 years old. In an instant, Philip IV’s life would never be the same: He was now the King of Spain, and 16 years old. As crowds flooded the palace and Olivares pushed him to work immediately, Philip IV didn’t have any time to grieve alone. The poor kid had to publicly mourn and break down in front of everyone.

This only strengthened Olivares’ hold on the Prince turned King. After years of biding his time, it was finally Olivares’ time to shine.

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8. He Was A Puppet King

Philip IV may have been Spain’s official king, but Olivares was the one holding his strings. Philip IV relied on Olivares for everything: from making everyday decisions to national policy. But Olivares wasn’t content with the massive influence he already had over Philip IV; he wanted to ensure that he was the only voice who mattered. Let the manipulation begin.

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9. He Became Paranoid

The puppetmaster stoked the flames of paranoia within his puppet: Olivares manipulated Philip IV into distrusting everyone—except for Olivares' approved minions, of course. This even included the King’s own family, especially his brothers. Olivares even saw an enemy in Elisabeth, who was more strong-willed than her husband.

Fearing the Queen’s influence, he pushed Philip IV onto the path of sin and betrayal to deteriorate their marriage.

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10. He Wasn’t Loyal

Philip IV wasn’t naturally the most loyal husband, but Olivares made it so much worse. The advisor created and maintained a national network just for mistress scouting. Whenever a promising actress appeared on the theater scene, one of Olivares’ agents sent her off to meet the King. Understandably, Elisabeth wasn’t pleased—but she’d have to wait for the perfect time to strike.

And if it made her feel any better, Philip IV treated these mistresses even worse.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

11. He Mistreated Mistresses

In other countries, clever mistresses could seize political and social power for themselves. But Spain wasn’t other countries. Consequently, Philip IV’s mistresses were nothing more than disposable toys. It didn’t take long for the king to become bored with his concubines and mindlessly toss them aside. Sadly, these mistresses suffered a horrible fate afterward.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

12. He Was Too Pushy

Philip IV treated his mistresses like garbage during and after their affairs. After he decided to end the relationship, the woman had to move to a convent for the rest of her days. Understandably, there were many who didn’t want to give up their lives for a brief dalliance. But Philip IV didn’t get it, and he took his advances too far.

During a pursuit, one woman had to lock herself in a room and desperately tell him, "No, no, sire; I don't want to be a nun!" Philip IV may have once been a prince, but he was no Prince Charming—and poor Elisabeth knew that most of all.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

13. His Wife Knew

Is ignorance bliss? Elisabeth wouldn’t know: She was well aware of Philip IV’s infidelities. Their marriage, broken by infidelity and daughters who passed in infancy, was even weaker than his inbred genes. Who could blame a girl for allegedly taking a page out of Philip IV’s book, and straying outside of marriage too? All this jealousy, ego, and possessiveness came to a fiery head during his not-so-sweet 17th birthday.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

14. His Birthday Party Was A Disaster

Madrid during the spring of 1622 was euphoric thanks to the endless events celebrating Philip IV’s 17th birthday. The Count de Villamediana hosted one of them—a theater performance dedicated to the Queen—at his villa. Philip IV sat in the front row with his siblings, while Elisabeth sat behind the stage. Nothing seemed amiss...until a curtain caught on fire.

In mere moments, flames engulfed the entire venue. As theatergoers fled, the King made a chilling realization: His queen was nowhere to be found.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

15. He Suspected Foul Play

Philip IV assumed the worst when his frantic search failed. Eventually, in the dense gardens surrounding the theater—or what was the theater—he finally found Elisabeth. She’d fainted, but was otherwise alive and well. However, Philip IV found another problem. The Count de Villamediana was holding her near-unconscious body in his arms. Flames weren't the only thing to erupt that night. Scandal, whispers, and gossip followed.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikipedia

16. He Had A Rival

Philip IV’s sweet 17th turned sour thanks to conspiracies. Gossipers speculated the Count orchestrated the fire—but not to end the King’s life. Rather, he wanted credit for saving the Queen’s life. After all, there’s nothing more romantic and grand than the hero holding the heroine after rescuing her. It’s unclear whether these titillating rumors are true, but they undoubtedly reached the ears of the King.

Let’s just say Philip IV didn’t react well.

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17. He Misused His Power

Four months after the fire, a crossbowman ambushed the Count and ended him. The Count was popular in Spain’s high society, so his clearly-premeditated demise instigated another scandal. Everyone believed the crossbowman was Alonso Mateo—one of Philip IV’s men. The king had the motive and means to carry the ambush out.

However, while everyone believed Philip IV was responsible, he got away scot-free. For now, at least, the king was untouchable—and his reputation reflected it.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

18. He Had Great PR

Philip IV enjoyed a gleaming reputation despite his many mistresses, luxuries, and scandals. While he stirred up trouble constantly, the king was shockingly unemotional in public, to the point that many compared him to a statue: a sculpture rumored to have publicly laughed on just three occasions. These were actually huge compliments and wins for his image: the Spanish venerated stoicism in Kings.

But Philip IV couldn’t have been more different in private.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

19. He Had A Dark Side

Behind closed doors, Philip IV was lively, witty, and obsessed with art. He was even one of the country’s greatest art patrons. But Philip IV also had a darker side. He wasn’t just lazy and incompetent—he was addicted to pleasure. Olivares basically served mistresses to Philip IV on platters and he couldn’t resist. But the king wasn’t the one who paid the price for his fatal flaw.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsFlickr, jean louis mazieres

20. He Had Too Many Kids

There are some things money can’t buy. Philip IV and Elisabeth struggled to produce one son, much less an heir and a spare. Their first four children, all daughters, didn’t survive infancy. In contrast, Philip IV fathered at least 30 illegitimate children with his countless mistresses. But in the end, only one mistress—and one illegitimate child—mattered.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsFlickr, Bosc d

21. He Had A Famous Affair

Philip IV had too many mistresses to name, but there was only one María Inés Calderón. In 1627, one of Olivares’ agents arranged a performance starring the teenage actress for the king. It was lust at first sight. Shortly afterward, María became Philip IV’s favorite mistress. But all his extravagant gifts paled in comparison to the most brazen way the king showed his favoritism.

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22. He Had A Favorite Kid

On 17 April 1629, María gave birth to their son John Joseph. This illegitimate baby would’ve ended up just like Philip IV’s dozens of other unacknowledged illegitimate children—but this time, he intervened. The king gave John the title "Serene Highness" and the upbringing of a Prince. But not everything went according to plan.

Philip IV, overjoyed with the son he’d always wanted, soon received a stunning demand from his beloved mistress.

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23. He Was Dumped

Shortly after María gave birth, she threw herself at Philip IV’s feet and began sobbing. She prayed and begged for his permission to end their affair. The new mom believed she’d fulfilled her life’s purpose by giving birth to Europe’s greatest monarch’s son. Now, she wanted nothing more than to devote her life to religion. Without him.

Heartbroken and desperate, Philip IV tried to change her mind, but María refused to budge. Finally, he gave in. This is the story of how a celebrated actress turned royal mistress willingly left her glamorous life for a remote convent. Philip IV may have gotten the son he dreamt of—albeit illegitimate and unable to inherit—but he paid a hefty price.

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24. He Was A Surprising Dad

Philip IV also paid the price for John at home. He and Elisabeth clashed over his illegitimate son, especially after she gave birth to Balthasar Charles a few months later. Unlike John, Balthasar was legitimate and the future King of Spain. Philip IV and Elisabeth had three more kids: two daughters and a son. Out of the three, only their youngest daughter survived into adulthood.

Something wasn’t quite right with the Hapsburg line. Tragically, though Philip and Elisabeth had eight children together, only two survived into adulthood. However, despite Philip IV’s philandering, he was actually a decent dad by 17th-century standards. Yes, the bar is on the floor, but we’ll take it. Meanwhile, Elisabeth didn’t keep herself busy with only motherhood.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsFlickr, jean louis mazieres

25. He Had A Scheming Wife

After scheming with Spanish nobles and delivering a passionate speech to her husband, Elisabeth finally ousted Olivares in 1643. After decades of humiliation, the Queen finally retaliated—and she did it so well. Turns out, revenge is a dish best served years later. Afterward, she gained a lot of influence over Philip IV. But it wouldn’t last.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

26. He Was Incompetent

Philip IV was not having a great time five months after firing Olivares. Turns out, the insecure and indecisive king couldn’t do this solo. He ended up assigning a lot of responsibility to Don Luis de Haro—Olivares’ nephew. But still, Philip IV continued to struggle. Specifically, he couldn’t help but continue pursuing pleasure—all while hating himself for being unable to resist. As he drowned in self-loathing, an unexpected lifeline saved him.

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27. He Had An Unlikely Confidant

On 10 July 1643, Philip IV happened upon a convent during his travels. There, he met Sister Maria de Ágreda—and his life would never be the same. The unexpected pair hit it off immediately. The struggling King latched onto her wisdom. Maria was a nun, mystic, and religious writer. Now, she found herself the unexpected confidant of Spain’s ruler.

Their relationship wasn’t just unexpected, it was unprecedented. Philip IV’s closeness and vulnerability with Maria was unparalleled. He poured his heart out to her through letters. Whatever he had with Elisabeth and Olivares paled in comparison. He depended on her for guidance and support like no other. Good thing too—because soon, he would desperately need it.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

28. He Received Bad News

Between August and September 1644, Philip IV was flying high off of important victories on the battlefield. But what goes up, must come down. That’s when he received news of Elisabeth’s deteriorating health. After she fell seriously ill, well-meaning doctors drained the queen of all her blood. She got sicker. In a last-ditch effort, they even dug up the decayed bodies of saints to bring to the palace.

That didn’t work either and her condition worsened. They were out of options and time. Now, Philip IV wasn’t just battling Europe. He was racing the clock to get home before it was too late.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

29. He Lost His Wife

Philip IV desperately raced home in time to no avail. Tragically, he wasn’t with Elisabeth when she succumbed to her ailments that same year. She was only 41. Her sudden passing devastated the king. Despite his affairs, Philip IV still cared for Elisabeth in his own way. Tragically, even more heartbreak was in store for our cursed king.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

30. He Lost His Family

How much more loss can a person take? Philip IV may have been a king, but he was still just a man. At this point, he’d already lost a mother, father, brother, multiple babies, and wife. In April 1646, his sister, Empress Maria, unexpectedly fell ill and didn’t survive. This, along with stresses concerning Spain’s finances and army , broke him down.

Only María knew the extent of his misery—and the most devastating hit hadn't even landed yet.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

31. He Lost His Treasure

On 9 October 1646, Philip IV’s son and heir Balthasar Charles lost his battle with smallpox. The 16-year-old left behind a devastated family, country, and fiance. This was a horrible tragedy for Philip the father, but it was also an equally big tragedy for Philip IV, the king. Who would be the next king now? After all, he no longer had a wife to make more heirs with. Despite his grief, Philip IV knew what had to be done.

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32. He Moved On

Philip IV remarried five years after Elisabeth’s passing, and it couldn’t have been any more scandalous. The 44-year-old King decided to marry Mariana of Austria. She was 14 years old, but that wasn't the scandalous part. She had also been Balthasar’s fiance. Yes, he married his gone son’s intended. But Philip IV and Mariana had known each other for years…because she was his sister’s kid.

That’s right. She was his niece. But more importantly to Philip IV, she was the daughter of Emperor Ferdinard III. While this was anything but a love match, his second marriage and second wife still managed to surprise him.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

33. His Second Marriage Surprised Him

Sister Maria de Ágreda normally received frequent letters from Philip IV, but her mailbox remained empty during his honeymoon. Turns out, the king was too “busy” to write. When he finally wrote, Philip IV raved about his niece/wife. But Maria knew him too well: She emphasized the importance of remaining faithful and quickly producing an heir.

Still literally in the honeymoon phase, Philip IV vowed his days of sin were past him. Spoiler alert: they weren’t.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

34. He Got Bored Of His Niece Wife

Turns out, viewing and treating women like disposable toys is a hard habit to break. Philip IV soon lost interest in Mariana, especially because they struggled to conceive. He’d married her for an heir—and hopefully a spare—but had no luck. After their honeymoon high wore off, the king had to face the truth: He didn’t have anything in common with his teenaged niece except genetics.

Once again, Philip IV began pulling away from his wife—and Mariana noticed.

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35. He Had A Miserable Marriage

The truth hurts: Mariana realized there was nothing she could do to ensure Philip IV’s loyalty. Her uncle/husband was a cheater and cold as ice: always was, always would be. To cope, the vivacious girl transformed into a frigid queen. After the honeymoon period, Mariana and Philip IV led separate lives aside from their fruitless attempts to conceive.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

36. He Lost Hope

History was repeating itself, and not in a good way. Mariana gave birth to girl after girl, only for each one to perish in their infancy. After the birth and passing of another daughter—on the same day—in August 1656, the couple lost all hope. Mariana and Philip IV married to produce more heirs—or at the very least, one—but their inbred genes couldn’t even do that. Then, the universe threw them a bone.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsFlickr, Lluís Ribes Mateu

37. He Was Ecstatic

On 6 November 1661, Philip IV celebrated with his nation after Mariana gave birth to Charles II, their long-awaited son and heir. The 56-year-old King was relieved: while Spain’s influence was slowly declining, an heir guaranteed the stability of the Hapsburg line and rule. Or so he thought. It didn’t take long for everyone to notice something wasn’t quite right with the future king.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

38. He Had A Sick Heir

Poor Charles II paid the price for his family's inbreeding. Measles, chicken pox, rubella, and smallpox: You name it, and the poor kid probably had it at some point. He narrowly escaped close encounters with gone countless times. Charles II may have been the heir, but no one knew if he would even make it to his coronation. Philip IV couldn’t help but feel like everything was his fault.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

39. He Felt Cursed

While the universe took away so many family members, it cursed Philip IV with the burden of life. It didn’t help that his country was also struggling. As tragedies piled up, Philip IV realized he was the common denominator. He truly believed the state of his family and country was God’s retribution for his personal flaws. The king confessed this theory to his confidant...until the universe took her away too.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

40. He Lost His Favorite Confidant

Any remaining light in Philip IV’s life vanished on 24 May 1665 when Sister Maria passed. Now, there was no one left he could confide in. The aging king looked around his court and saw nothing but schemers anticipating his demise. He looked at his country and saw nothing but a superpower decaying. Once again, Philip IV couldn’t help but feel like this was all his fault.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

41. He Was Broke

One day, Mariana realized servants hadn’t brought sweetmeats to her table for days, and demanded to know why. Turns out, the palace’s supplier cut them off because he hadn’t been paid. This wasn’t just an oversight: Thanks to endless conflicts and poor policy, Philip IV was short on cash. You know a country is seriously broke and struggling when poverty reaches the king and queen.

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42. His Destroyed His Empire

On 20 June 1665, whatever hope Philip IV still nurtured vanished after the British and Portuguese reduced the Spanish army to almost nothing. There was nothing else the king could do; he had no other options. Philip IV already crossed so many lines and forced so many to suffer. And it was all for nothing. His reaction to this latest failure stunned his men.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

43. He Had A Breakdown

In an instant, Philip IV shattered his image of the perfectly stoic Spanish King. He stunned his men by breaking down in front of them. Everyone has a breaking point, and Philip IV finally reached his. He just couldn’t catch a break in his personal or professional life. The aging and weakened king never truly recovered after that day.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

44. He Faced Weird Rumors

Once again, Madrid’s rumor mill was alight with intrigue—just as Philip IV’s health took a turn for the worse. Now, the aging king felt defeated mentally and physically. There’s only so much one man can endure. But that’s not exciting, so gossipers speculated the king suffered from a curse that officials were frantically trying to undo.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

45. He Was Really Sick

In reality, Philip IV’s condition had to do more with sickness than spells. Thanks to a litany of ailments, he spent his final chapter in constant and excruciating pain. Philip IV found no comfort in Mariana—quite the opposite, actually. Turns out, his own wife was one of the schemers already planning for his passing. Philip IV spent his final days surrounded by people, but he might as well have been alone.

On 17 September 1665, he quietly passed—an anticlimactic end to a cursed, but captivating, life.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

46. He Ruled The Planet

By end of Philip IV’s 23-year reign, the Spanish Empire was massive. Like 12.2 million square kilometers (4.7 million square miles) massive. It’s why Philip IV earned the nickname the “Planet King.” If we’re judging his rule by size alone, he was ridiculously successful. But behind this massive empire, things weren't as they appeared.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

47. He Was Too Ambitious

Philip IV’s ambition—or rather Olivares’—hastened Spain’s downfall. To them, Spain’s participation in the Thirty Years Conflict was an opportunity to expand their nation’s domination. While they won some significant victories, more issues—international and domestic—popped up. Trying to keep up with everything was like a futile game of whack-a-mole.

During Philip IV’s reign, Spain struggled with army , social, and economic problems. Europe’s superpower declined to a second-class power by the end of his life. Yet despite Philip IV’s conviction that everything was all his fault, history actually absolves him for a lot.

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48. He Was Doomed

Thanks to Philip III and Philip II, he inherited a kingdom so fixated on traditions “that nothing short of a real genius or a sudden great catastrophe could have altered them.” Basically, Philip IV wasn’t the best king—but he wasn’t the worst either. The poor guy seriously needed to cut himself some slack. And despite his best efforts, he couldn’t beat the curse of the Hapsburgs.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Commons

49. He Left Behind Chaos

Since Philip IV knew his life would end before Charles II was ready to become king, he gave political power to his wife Mariana in the meantime. He recommended she consult with a committee—but it wasn't quite so simple. There were serious fears that his illegitimate son John would seize power and add even more chaos. For years, John and Mariana duked it out in politics under the assumption that Charles II would one day be ready to take the throne.

That day never came. Charles II never became ready for the throne due to his physical and mental health conditions. Despite Philip IV’s prayers, this was the end of the line for the Hapsburgs.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsFlickr, Ann Longmore-Etheridge

50. He Couldn’t Rest In Peace

Charles II struggled to produce a viable heir with two wives…doesn’t this sound familiar? Mariana and his doctors decided to do something drastic—and deranged—in hopes of increasing the chances of an heir. They dug up Philip IV’s decaying body. Even more disturbing, Charles II allegedly actually slept with his dad’s body in his bed for a time, hoping it would do...something?

Philip IV might’ve rolled in his grave—if only he could. Some things are better left buried.

King Philip IV of Spain FactsWikimedia Common

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


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