Historian Henry Kamen has devoted a significant portion of his career to vindicating Felipe II’s legacy, through his biography of the king (1997), his scrutiny of historical myth and national identity in Spain (2008), and his examination of El Escorial, Felipe II’s most memorable architectural project (2010). According to Kamen, in the early nineteenth century, exiled Spanish liberals began to read French, English, and Belgian histories of Spain, as well as literary works about the Habsburgs, the large part of which presented Felipe II unfavorably. They embraced these foreign accounts of Spain’s second Habsburg as a tyrant because they were a way to criticize, without naming, Fernando VII (Kamen, Imagining Spain 56). Simultaneously, Spanish liberals came to see El Escorial as the “personification of all that was bad in traditional Spain” (Kamen, The Escorial 239). This would have implications for the edifice in 1835, when a Royal decree would call for its closure and the dissolution of the Hieronymite order that had resided there since its foundation.

Using Kamen’s studies as a point of departure, we will examine the milieu of El Escorial’s Pantheon in three prominent early nineteenth-century dramatic works: Manuel José Quintana’s “El panteón del Escorial” (1805), José María Díaz’s Felipe II (1836), and Antonio Gil y Zárate’s Carlos II, el hechizado (1837).[1] As we hope to demonstrate, just as nineteenth-century Spanish liberals constructed, largely through drama and verse, a myth about Felipe II’s autocracy to problematize the monarchy of their day, they likewise utilized El Escorial as a backdrop in their works to reprove the Antiguo Régimen. In all three works, El Escorial, specifically its Pantheon, is a locus of destructive decision-making. Because of Felipe II’s and Carlos II’s directives, the kings’ rightful heirs perish, their own authority is diminished, and an avaricious nobility and clergy control Spain’s political course. The Pantheon, accordingly, becomes a metaphor for the Spanish monarchy in these works: it is a place of death and decay, belying the supposed splendor of Spain’s Golden Age. Before delving into Quintana’s, Díaz’s, and Gil y Zárate’s works, we will provide a brief overview of El Escorial’s foundation as well as some important elements of Felipe II’s negative reputation.

El Escorial: A Brief History

In 1559, Felipe II promoted Juan Bautista de Toledo to the position of royal architect. That same year, the two men designed the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, commonly known as El Escorial. After Bautista de Toledo’s death in 1567, Juan de Herrera took over the construction of the gridiron shaped monument. El Escorial served as a palace, a monastery, a mausoleum, and the king’s library. Among his many intentions for the edifice, Felipe II wanted it to be a burial place worthy of his father, the late Emperor Carlos I, and for the Hieronymite monks to offer prayers for his departed family members’ souls. Felipe II envisioned that his family, both immediate and extended, would be buried together in the basement beneath the high altar of the basilica, where the monks could pray over them during daily mass (Kamen, The Escorial 67–70; Cuadra Blanco 375). However, his successor Felipe III ordered the construction of the Pantheon of the Kings in this basement. Presently, the Pantheon of the Kings encloses the remains of Spain’s kings since Carlos I, as well as those of the queen consorts who produced monarchs.[2]

Once the construction of the Pantheon of the Kings was completed in 1654, the remains of the other princes and queen consorts resided immediately above and adjacent to the Royal Pantheon, in the pudridero, or the rotting room. The purpose of the pudridero is to house the bodies of the deceased kings for fifty years, the estimated time necessary for the decomposition of bodies before the monks can place them in the marble sepulchers of the Pantheon of the Kings (Márquez 174). These aforementioned bodies would eventually have a resting place in the Panteón de los Infantes, or the Pantheon of the Princes, completed in 1888. In the third work we examine, Carlos II, el hechizado, the king finds himself in the pudridero, where his father Felipe IV’s remains await repose.

Since its construction, Spaniards and non-Spaniards alike have admired El Escorial. In 1593, Englishman John Eliot stated that it was: “the most magnificent palace of all Europe, … and 'tis the fairest building that I ever saw in my life … Surely a terrestrial paradise…” (Qtd. in Kamen, The Escorial 226). Indeed, the edifice was considered a “Wonder of the World for Architecture and Magnificence of Structure” (Santos 1). Many praised it for its beauty, mostly because it was built in only twenty-one years, which was an amazing feat for construction during the sixteenth century.

Foreign, and mostly English, historians assumed that “the Escorial was a direct point of reference for the people of the peninsula” (Kamen, The Escorial 227). However, it was not well-known throughout Spain. The Spaniards who were aware of El Escorial, specifically those who lived in Madrid, were nobles who feared the loss of their power because Felipe II’s concern over El Escorial threatened Madrid’s status as the capital. By contrast, “outside the capital – a situation common to other countries – few people had any idea of what was going on, nor would most Spaniards have known where or what the Escorial was” (Kamen, The Escorial 233).

Felipe II, the leyenda negra, and the don Carlos Legend

Both within and outside Spain, historians have “cultivated an image of [Felipe II as] a small-minded fanatic, cloistered in El Escorial, indifferent to the needs of his people” (Kamen, Spain 1469-1714 177). Many Dutch and the Italians extended their opinions of Felipe II’s character to the Spaniards themselves, whom they deemed religious zealots and uniquely bigoted towards foreigners and non-Catholics (Kamen, Spain 1469-1714 177). Much of this negative image of both the king and his subjects, according to Kamen, can be attributed to the time period during which Felipe II reigned (1556-1598), which “coincided with some of the most decisive events in the history of Europe” (Kamen, Spain 1469-1714 176). These events included the growth of Protestantism, the Protestant Revolts in the Netherlands, the consolidation of the Habsburg empire after the Italian Wars, the French Wars of Religion, and, perhaps most importantly, the rise of the English empire. The king’s personal tragedies, such as the death of his eldest son and heir, don Carlos of Austria, in July 1568, provided fodder for these political rivals, most especially the Dutch and the English, and, centuries later, for nineteenth-century Spanish liberals.

In January 1568, the king had don Carlos arrested and imprisoned. The prince’s behavior, always unusual, had worsened since an accident seven years earlier, and it included, but was not limited to: cruelty towards animals, an attachment to his stepmother “which took the form of buying her expensive jewels,” and threatening behavior towards his father and his father’s close friend the Duke of Alba, because of their (justifiable) reluctance to allow him to rule over the Netherlands (Kamen, Philip of Spain 120). The king was firm in his conviction that don Carlos’s imprisonment would be permanent and that he would not inherit the throne (Kamen, Philip of Spain 122; Parker 189). He did, however, provide public hearings to account for his decision, though that did little to temper the atmosphere of fear that pervaded the kingdom (Kamen, Philip of Spain 122). Six months after his arrest, while still in prison, don Carlos fell ill and passed away; the king reportedly wept for three days straight (Kamen, Philip of Spain 122). Two months later, Isabel de Valois, the king’s third wife, died hours after giving birth to a stillborn daughter.

Thirteen years after these tragedies, William of Orange, leader of the Dutch rebellion, accused the Spanish king of murdering his son and wife in his lengthy Apology. That same year, an anonymous Dutch poet composed an appeal to the king of France, titled Diogenes, in which he claimed that the prince was in love with his stepmother. Other works emerged a century after don Carlos’s death, among them César Vichard Saint-Real’s Don Carlos, nouvelle historique (1672), Vittorio Alfieri’s Filippo II (first published in French in 1744) and, most famously, Friedrich Schiller’s Don Karlos (1787), which later inspired one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most famous operas, Don Carlo (1867). These compositions portray the prince of Asturias and the queen consort as victims of Felipe II’s romantic jealousy, and the prince as sympathetic to the Protestant Dutch rebels. According to Geoffrey Parker, there are over one hundred literary and historical accounts of don Carlos’s death (175).

In 1777, the Scottish historian Robert Watson published The History of the Reign of Philip the Second, which was immediately translated into French, German, Dutch and, eventually, Spanish. For nearly a century, Watson’s account was “the most popular biographical work on the monarch” and the “best-known to the Anglophone world” (Allan 423). According to Watson, don Carlos’s death, “was considered by all the world as a proof that his heart was dead to the sentiments of natural affection and humanity” (I, 306). Felipe II’s Dutch subjects in particular “saw how vain it was to expect mercy from a prince who had so obstinately refused to exercise it towards his own son” (I, 306).

Within Spain, the few accounts of Don Carlos’s life—José Luís de Cabrera’s Historia de Felipe Segundo, Rey de España (1619), Juan Pérez de Montalvan’s El segundo Seneca de España y el príncipe Don Carlos (1632), Diego Jiménez de Enciso’s El príncipe Don Carlos (1633), and José de Cañizares’s El príncipe Don Carlos (written in 1700, published in Valencia in 1773)— stayed faithful to the official royal narrative, presenting the prince as mentally and emotionally unstable. This remained true even in the late eighteenth century, when Spanish intellectuals began to ascribe the country’s cultural, political, and economic backwardness to the Habsburg dynasty. Proponents of this historical theory, called austracismo, focused on Carlos I’s and Felipe II’s myriad military struggles, which they believed deprived Spain of economic and intellectual development (Álvarez Junco 221–22). They tended not to emphasize the monarchs’ personal lives. In fact, while Schiller’s work had been translated into English (1789) and French (1799) by the end of the eighteenth century, a Spanish translation of Don Karlos was not published in Spain until 1860.

Nonetheless, as Ana Isabel Ballesteros Dorado has shown, by the early nineteenth century many of the educated liberal elite in Spain, Quintana, Díaz, and Gil y Zárate among them, were aware of Schiller’s play and its basic premise (Ballesteros Dorado, “Cuando la traducción está prohibida”). Moreover, the exiled liberals living in Paris and London during Fernando VII’s final década ominosa likely read the aforementioned French and English translations of Schiller’s works, and they certainly read Watson’s biography of Felipe II (Kamen, Imagining Spain 58). Consequently, it was only a matter of time before Spanish writers would embrace the opportunity to create new versions of the don Carlos legend.

“El panteón del Escorial”

At the time that Quintana penned “El panteón del Escorial” (1805), the Spanish government was largely under the control of Manuel Godoy, a favorite in Carlos IV’s court who, according to one historian, “was granted power more absolute than that possessed by any subsequent ruler of Spain until General Franco” (Carr 82). Godoy’s abuse of power provoked a general distrust of the king in intellectual circles and, gradually, certain intellectuals began to accept “the idea that the monarch’s power […] must be limited by a constitution in the event of its being exercised by an irresponsible favorite like Godoy”(Carr 74). During the French occupation, these same individuals, bolstered by Francisco Martínez Marina’s Teoría de las cortes (1813), would argue that Spanish government prior to Habsburg Spain was a constitutional monarchy without a formal constitution.[3] Therefore, the institution of a constitutional monarchy was not an imitation of Revolutionary France, nor was it particularly innovative. Rather, it was a culmination of “the ‘true’ constitutional development of Spain,” which the Habsburg dynasty had curtailed (Carr 75). Throughout his lengthy career as a poet, playwright, and statesman, Quintana was one of the most outspoken and tireless advocates of constitutional monarchy and its historical legitimacy.

In “El panteón del Escorial,” the poet, fatigued by Spain’s current political climate, or “el dolor presente,” decides to visit El Escorial’s Pantheon to obtain answers about Spain’s future from her past kings (233). The first spirit to respond to him is not a deceased king, however, but a young man, described as “augusto y bello,” whose “lívido cuello” bears the bloody mark of the “nudo atroz que le arrancó la vida” (234). This violent image recalls Quintana’s description of contemporary Spain in the beginning of the poem, whose “tierra sin aliento al yugo indigno/al cuello pusilánime tendía” (231). Accordingly, from the outset Quintana implies a relationship between the young man, whom the poet later identifies as don Carlos, and Spain.

As Felipe II’s grotesque spirit emerges and causes the poet and Isabel of Valois to tremble, don Carlos fearlessly confronts his father, demanding that he recognize his victims. The queen bemoans that she tried to prevent the prince’s death, an act she describes as “un horror,” and that her pleas, rather than inspire her husband’s better nature, provoked his jealousy and accelerated the prince’s demise as well as her own by poison (220–21). Notably, in Quintana’s poem, don Carlos and Isabel are not romantically involved. Rather, the poet describes the affection between the prince and his father’s wife as “la amistad más viva,” in which both don Carlos and the queen consort exhibit “la más noble piedad” (221). This makes Isabel’s death even more tragic, because she is completely innocent.

Felipe II, in turn, demands that his victims respect him, and that his son accept that he died “por el bien del estado” (219). According to the king, had don Carlos survived, sedition and heresy would have prevailed in the Spanish empire (222). The prince rejects this account, claiming instead that his real crime was sympathizing with his father’s subjects, who had become “asolados” and victims of the king’s fanaticism (219). He further berates his father for his obsession with power:

Mandar, sólo mandar, que se estremezca
la tierra a vuestro árbitro, éste es el orden
ésta es la ley con que regís al mundo,
tú y tus iguales. (222)

Notably, Quintana’s don Carlos does not refer to the Netherlands in his confrontation with his father. Rather, he claims that he dared to take pity on the “reinos enteros” and the “naciones míseras” who suffered at Felipe II’s hands (219, 223). The dialog that follows invites the reader to consider how Spain’s political trajectory might have turned out differently had don Carlos, who recognized Felipe II’s tyranny, been allowed to inherit his father’s throne. Quintana’s portrayal of don Carlos, accordingly, marks a point of departure for the don Carlos legend in European literature. Whereas William of Orange and Schiller depict prince predominantly concerned with the Netherlands, Quintana’s don Carlos focuses on his father’s legacy in Spain.

As Felipe II’s successors emerge, each confesses how he contributed to the kingdom’s decline. Felipe III is described as an indulgently pious king who relinquished command to a “mercenario vil” (the duque de Lerma) (223). According to the king’s own confession, this made him indifferent to his subjects and their suffering: “[l]os campos todos huérfanos gimieron, / Llora la industria su viudez; ¿qué importa? /Su voz no llegó a mí” (225). Felipe IV, a king who “se entrega a los placeres” (223), acknowledges that he occupied himself with banquets and drinking instead of ruling (225). Carlos II, cursed with an “impotencia oprobiosa” and an “infancia eternal” (223), describes himself simply as “inútil” (225), and he confesses that he gave the crown to France (the Bourbons) when he died without a male heir.

Finally, the Emperor Carlos I (in this poem, Carlos V) emerges from his grave, and he chastises his son for his “ambición fanática y sedienta” (227). The Emperor goes on to acknowledge his own role in Spain’s decline, having destroyed Castile’s “sagradas leyes” when he ordered Juan de Padilla’s execution, and when he allowed the prince to serve as regent during his prolonged absences from Castile and Aragon (227).[4] He holds Felipe II accountable, however, for murdering Juan de Lanuza and, by extension, subduing Aragon.[5] After Juan de Lanuza’s death, the laws that kept the king’s power in check were virtually invalid. Moreover, the monarchy’s own power began to crumble, according to Carlos V:

¿Qué importaba después con la victoria
Dorar la esclavitud? Esos trofeos
Comprados fueron ya con sangre y luto
De la despedazada monarquía. (228)

By expressing remorse for his actions, Quintana’s Carlos V redeems himself for his contributions to the disintegration of Spain’s constitutional monarchy. Moreover, he suggests that the Aragonese fueros, which he had helped to suppress, were in place to protect both the citizenry and the monarchy from perdition. In other words, Carlos V/I’s spirit echoes the liberal historical imaginary, most especially in his final plea to humanity: “Si vosotros no hacéis vuestra ventura,/ ¿La lograréis jamás de los tiranos?” (229).

Through his confession and his condemnation of Felipe II, the Emperor aligns himself with his namesake and grandson, don Carlos. Quintana connects the men further by describing both of them as “augusto” (218, 226), which the Real Academia Española defines as “que infunde o merece gran respeto y veneración por su majestad y excelencia.” Through these repeated connections between the grandfather and grandson, Quintana reinforces don Carlos’s place as the rightful heir to his father’s dominions. Furthermore, the poet allows for the assumption that had don Carlos survived, he might have redeemed the Habsburg monarchy, and Spain, before it was too late.

After the Emperor Carlos returns to his grave, the poet, completely alone, contemplates the “terrible lección” of his experience (229). In El Escorial’s Pantheon, the kings, stripped of their titles and official accounts of their reign, must acknowledge their role in Spain’s decline. Accordingly, the mausoleum symbolizes the death, literally and figuratively, not just of the kings’ bodies, but of their authority and of the Spanish Empire.

Felipe II

Quintana ceased his literary activities in 1808, spending the remaining decades of his life focusing on political writings and reforming national education (Vila Selma 19). His contemporaries, however, became increasingly attentive to the Habsburg monarchy, and to Felipe II in particular, after the War of Independence (1808-1814). In 1822, duque de Rivas, then Ángel de Saavedra, penned Lanuza, a play set in Aragon in 1591. Ostensibly, the tragedy is about the local judge’s struggle against Felipe II. In reality, however, it is a thinly veiled criticism of Fernando VII, for Lanuza’s criticisms of Felipe II echo Saavedra’s criticisms of his sovereign expressed in parliamentary speeches, as Linda Materna has shown (606-611). In 1830, Joaquín Telesforo de Trueba y Cossío’s three-volume The Romance of History: Spain was published in English (it would later be translated into French and Spanish). “The Secretary Pérez,” which appears in the third volume, presents a Felipe II, driven by political and romantic jealousy, relentlessly pursuing his former secretary, Antonio Pérez. When the Aragonese rise up to defend Pérez, citing the ancient fueros, or charters, the king violently suppresses them and establishes absolute authority over the kingdom.

Fernando VII’s death in 1833 coincided with Romanticism’s ascendancy on the Madrid stage. In many Spanish Romantic dramas, the orphaned hero, unaware of his noble origins, finds himself unwittingly battling against his father or another male member of his family, who is often a political enemy, a man of higher social standing, a rival for his beloved’s affection, or all three of these. He likewise ends up dying at his father’s hands. These depictions of the father-son relationship, as Jo Labanyi, Karen Rauch, and we have argued elsewhere (Blackshaw Naberhaus 21–38), reflect the ambivalences and anxieties liberal Romantics experienced during the immediate post-Fernandine era. The orphaned hero longs to connect with his progenitor just as, perhaps, the Spanish intelligentsia felt a paternal absence in the wake of Fernando VII’s death (Gies 112). Likewise, the hero’s attempt to earn recognition for this noble deeds, since he lacks the appropriate last name, echoes the desires of the Spanish audiences at the time, which were largely comprised of “precisely the ‘bourgeois men’ who were struggling to understand their place in the new society and anxious to see themselves reflected, and resolved, on the stage” (Gies 106). Just as the father stubbornly refuses to recognize the son in Spanish Romantic drama, the Antiguo Régimen of nineteenth-century Spain refused to recognize the incipient bourgeoisie’s inherent nobility of. According to Labanyi, the hero’s death at his father’s hands suggests that liberal Romantics in Spain had “a more negative view of paternal authority than Freud” would a century later (16). Rauch likewise professes that liberal Romantics “sensed their entombment in an inescapable past, emblematized by the figure of the tyrannical father/king”; accordingly, they viewed their political fate as one inextricably linked to “a tenacious past which dooms the future” (493).

The preponderance of the father-son conflict in Spanish Romantic drama, coupled with the increasingly negative depictions of the Habsburgs in general, and Felipe II specifically, laid fertile ground for the development of authentically Spanish renditions of the don Carlos legend on the Madrid stage during Romanticism’s apogee, considered to be the years 1833-6 (Ruiz Ramón 192). However, it was not until the years 1837 and 1838 that the Madrid theater would undergo a true flourishing of historical dramas, and an increased tendency to feature royal personages as protagonists (González Subías 229). According to José Luís González Subías, José María Díaz initiated this new stage of Spanish theater in December 1836 with Felipe II (229).

Although the tragedy was named after Spain’s second Habsburg king, the play’s protagonist is really don Carlos, who struggles to suppress a passion for his stepmother that he describes, in typical Romantic fashion, as one that “abrasa mis venas” (30). He longs to be with his beloved “sin vergüenza, sin escándalo, sin crimen” (31). However, he is well aware of the potentially fateful consequences of acting on his affection for Isabel. Consequently, when he realizes that he can no longer control his desires, don Carlos decides to leave Spain, setting his sights on the Netherlands. Unfortunately, Felipe II discovers and thwarts his son’s attempts to escape, imprisoning him instead.

As the sixth cuadro of the fourth act opens, the king’s lawyer Briviesca and Cardinal Espinosa are in the Pantheon of the Princes awaiting the king and his secretary don Rui Gómez de Silva, referred to throughout the play as Rui Gómez. As Briviesca surmises, the locale suggests that the outcome of their deliberations will not be favorable to don Carlos. Once Felipe II and the Cardinal arrive, Rui Gómez and the Cardinal present their allegations against the prince. According to Rui Gómez, don Carlos is responsible for the unrest in the Netherlands, he has secret emissaries working with the moriscos in Granada, and he is signing secret treaties with France (120). Consequently, the prince poses numerous political threats to the kingdom. The Cardinal speaks next, and he presents Felipe II with a graver accusation against the prince: he is not a sincere Catholic. Appealing to the king’s piety, Espinosa warns him that should don Carlos inherit the throne, Catholicism in the Habsburg dominions will fall to “el nuevo culto alemán” (Lutheranism) (121).

Briviesca, the king’s lawyer, is the only member of Felipe II’s court to speak in the prince’s defense. Describing himself as a “defensor de la humanidad y de la inocencia” (123), he implores both Rui Gómez and the Cardinal to provide evidence for their allegations, of which they have none. In reality, although the king’s conflict with don Carlos coincides with the unrest in the Netherlands, the prince never discusses the Netherlands, except as a place of refuge. Indeed, the prince is so desperate to avoid acting on his love for Isabel, out of respect for “mi padre y mi rey” (115), that he is willing to abandon the kingdom of Spain, effectively renouncing his right to the throne. Moreover, despite the Cardinal’s accusations that don Carlos is not a sincere Catholic, earlier in the play Felipe II remarks to Isabel that his son prays “con más devoción que un monje” (89). Bearing this in mind, Briviesca is convinced the prince is innocent, “y aunque culpable fuera, señor, un padre ni debe ni puede condenar a un hijo a muerte” (120). He concludes his defense of don Carlos with a reminder to Felipe II that although he is a powerful king, “[e]l corazon os dirá que sois padre” (123).

When left alone in the Pantheon to contemplate don Carlos’s fate, the king proclaims that he is humbled by his surroundings, and that he longs to know “la verdad” about his son don Carlos, and that he is torn between his duties as king and as a father (123–24). Almost immediately, however, Felipe II’s thoughts turn to his jealousy over his son’s affections for Isabel, which leads him to cling to his authority as king:

¿No sabes quién es el rey?
¿Ignoras tú que la ley
Es su capricho, cuitado? (124–25)

Subsequently, Felipe II devotes the remainder of his time in the Pantheon justifying his son’s death. He anticipates that some of his subjects, “en su delirio,” might revolt and demand the prince’s freedom (125). Felipe II then abruptly dismisses the Spaniards’ power, comparing it to a “llama que crece y a un soplo desaparece,” and he reminds himself of all the times that subjects have attempted, and failed, to defy their king (125). Eventually, the thought of the Spaniards rebelling even emboldens him, as he dares the imaginary multitude:

Venga hasta mí si se atreve
Felipe le desafía,
Y ¡ojalá que su osadía
A tal extremo le lleve! (125)

Felipe II then anticipates, and dismisses, concerns that foreign and religious powers will express about the prince’s death. By having the king first contemplate how to suppress his own subjects should they revolt in defense of don Carlos, Díaz, like Quintana before him, implies that there is a special relationship between the prince and the Spanish people. Díaz also suggests this earlier in the play, when Briviesca contends that the Spanish people see in don Carlos “la columna más fuerte que tendrán la paz y la prosperidad de estos reinos,” and they are aware of “el poder absoluto que sobre su real persona se han tomado los favoritos de su padre” (76). As Felipe II’s successor, don Carlos represents the possibility of a king motivated by a sincere devotion to the Spanish people, and even a Catholic faith uncorrupted by officials such as Espinosa.

In a departure from many European literary depictions of the king, as well as Quintana’s in “El panteón del Escorial,” Díaz’s Felipe II is not arbitrarily cruel or perverse. Rather, the king’s tragic flaw is an obsessive fear of losing his power, which estranges him from his son, and it presents opportunities for his ambitious advisors to manipulate him with devastating, destructive consequences for don Carlos and for Spain. Felipe II contains over forty-five scenes, of which the king appears in fourteen, or less than a third, and he is entirely absent from the first and the fourth acts. He spends only three of his scenes speaking with don Carlos, one with Isabel, and he has one monologue; he spends the remainder of his on-stage time with Rui Gómez and the Cardinal. As a result, it is not surprising that Felipe II readily believes his advisors’ lies about his son, since he spends considerably more time speaking about him than with him. Although the king recognizes don Carlos as his biological son and legitimate heir, he is unaware of the prince’s loyalty to him or his devout Catholicism. Had he been fully aware, he never would have ordered don Carlos’s execution. Accordingly, like La conjuración de Venecia’s Rugiero, don Carlos dies because his father fails to recognize him.

When in the Pantheon, Felipe II has the opportunity to embrace his humanity, which is rooted in his obligations as don Carlos’s father. Tragically, however, he abandons his paternal duties almost immediately. Believing that don Carlos’s death will strengthen his power, the king decides that the prince must face the ultimate punishment for his alleged crimes. Ironically, however, Felipe II’s decision foreshadows a decline in monarchical authority that will take place under his successors—Felipe III, Felipe IV, and Carlos II—who were known for deferring major political decisions to grandees or clergy (Kamen, Spain 1469-1714 185). Even at the end of the drama, it is not Felipe II who has the last word: “Morirán”; rather, it is Rui Gómez (148).

Carlos II, el hechizado

The year after Díaz’s play marked a critical time in the First Carlist War (1833-1839). In August, Carlist troops conquered Segovia, and in September the pretender to the throne, Carlos María Isidro, spent several hours on the outskirts of Madrid, leading residents of the capital to believe he was going to overtake the city (Ballesteros Dorado, “Propaganda contra el poder absoluto” 368). In Madrid, accordingly, the government and dramaturgs were determined to maintain morale for the liberal cause during the 1837-1838 theatrical season. In September, for example, Mariano Roca de Togores’s Doña María de Molina premiered. Based on the life of the Castilian king Fernando IV, the play exalts the virtues of the titular regent queen who defends her minor son’s rights to the throne against his devious uncles. The parallels between the medieval queen and María Cristina de Borbón resonated with liberal Spanish audiences, who continued to watch the play into late 1837 (Ballesteros Dorado, “Propaganda contra el poder absoluto” 368).

Other works served as ominous cautionary tales about Spain’s future. José María Muñóz Maldonado’s Antonio Pérez y Felipe II premiered on 20 October 1837. According to Ana Isabel Ballesteros Dorado, in the opening scenes of the drama the playwright establishes parallels between Felipe II and don Carlos María Isidro, both of whom defended Catholicism in Spain, were financially generous to the Church, and who were “rodeados de ciertos religiosos que, en cu concepción eclesiástica del ‘príncipe cristiano,’ no disociaban el orden temporal del espiritual” (371). Muñóz Maldonado’s Felipe II is also obsessed with consolidating his authority, so he orchestrates the uprising in Zaragoza as a pretense, claiming that violent revolutions often “hacen tolerable el poder absoluto de los reyes” (61). The play serves as a warning to liberal audiences that Fernando VII’s tyranny will continue should his brother ascend to the throne. Similarly, Gil y Zárate’s Carlos II, el hechizado, which premiered just a few weeks later, on 2 November 1837, is a strong condemnation of the Catholic Church’s undue influence over political affairs, particularly concerning the question of succession.

Carlos II, el hechizado takes place in 1699, during the final, tumultuous year of the king’s life and reign; members of his court are divided into those aligned with the Dauphin of France, Felipe de Anjou (Carlos II’s nephew) and those aligned with the Archduke of Austria, also named Carlos, whose father was Carlos II’s distant cousin. In the fifth scene of the first act, the grandees convene in Carlos II’s chambers to discuss who should succeed him. On behalf of Austria, Count of Oropesa argues that only the Archduke Carlos can preserve “la unión y la independencia de monarquía tan vasta” (22). In turn, Cardinal Portocarrero, the archbishop of Toledo and a French representative, reminds those present that the Pope supports Felipe of Anjou; therefore, it is the king’s sacred duty as a Catholic to support the French pretender to the throne. The Count of Frigiliana, by contrast, proclaims that the Church’s decree is insufficient, for in Spain the king is legally required to convoke the Castilian courts:

Su fallo sumiso el reino
Siempre obedece y acata;
Mas donde falta su fuerza,
¿qué vale otra fuerza? Nada. (22–23)

The Castilian Courts were, in the mindset of nineteenth-century Spanish liberals, the earliest form of constitutional monarchy, which Isabel and Fernando had perfected during their reign. Whereas the Catholic monarchs met with the Courts sixteen times, and even Felipe II met with them twelve times, their successors seldom convoked them, and Carlos II never did (Kamen, Spain 1469-1714 33, 79, 144). Therefore, the idea of a king consulting with the Castilian Courts, and not the Catholic Church, would likely not to have occurred to the historical Carlos II. Gil y Zárate’s Carlos II finds the idea so repugnant that he immediately orders Frigiliana’s exile to Granada. According to Monteserrat Ribao Pereira, Frigiliana’s banishment represents the death of the liberal dream in Spain under the Habsburgs, since Carlos II will ultimately cede his authority to the Church, in matters both political and personal, instead of his subjects (xxix-xxx).[6]

Unlike his great-grandfather Felipe II, however, Gil y Zárate’s Carlos II is not a tyrant. Rather, as David Gies has contended, he is “an anguished Romantic struggling to understand his place in the universe” (127). In fact, according to Jorge Avilés Diz, Carlos II inspired various other Spanish Romantics in the late nineteenth century, because “[t]he figure of the king, lonely and misunderstood, maneuvered by power-hungry nobles and politicians, proved too irresistible to a number of nineteenth-century authors who […] saw in him the perfect incarnation of cosmic injustice” (1013). Born “en día fatal,” Carlos II recognizes that his authority as king has been nominal (9). He knows that the illnesses he has been battling since childhood have caused him to rely excessively on corrupt nobles who “burlaron mi esperanza por ineptos o malvados” (9). Moreover, he fears that history will hold him accountable for the current unrest in Spain (11).

As he contemplates the disasters of his reign, the king concludes they are divine punishment for a youthful indiscretion. Years ago, he had an affair with a commoner, and this affair produced a daughter. Eventually, due to his increased guilt, and at his then-confessor’s urging, the king banished both mother and daughter from his kingdom, bribing his former lover never to return. Sixteen years have passed since he last saw his daughter, and Carlos II longs to reunite with her before he dies. None of the characters know that Inés, who is engaged to the king’s page Florencio, is Carlos II’s long-lost daughter. Likewise, the king is blissfully unaware that Froilán has been pursuing Inés for years, and that his sexual torment of her drove her away from her childhood home. Froilán, having vowed revenge on the lovers, bribes a member of the Inquisition to bring charges against Inés for witchcraft, which leads to her imprisonment as well as her and Florencio’s alienation from the king, because he believes Froilán to be a living saint (100).

The final act of the play opens in El Escorial’s Pantheon. Here, the king, in Portocarrero’s company, will finally render a decision about his successor. From the outset, Carlos II remarks on the gloominess of the setting, and how it presages his own destiny of “eterna oscuridad” and “silencio eterno” (144). He complains about the “insoportable fetidez” of the space, and Portocarrero informs him that they are also near “el recinto do yacen los reyes los despojos antes de entrar aquí” (145), or the pudridero.[7] When Carlos II realizes that he smells his late father Felipe IV’s decaying body, he is reminded once again of a king’s impotence in the face of death:

En vano aquí con orgullosa pompa
vuestra nada encubrís: igual destino
que al vasallo más vil al fin os cupo,
y con un peso igual estáis medidos… (146)

In other words, like Felipe II in Díaz’s play, Carlos II is humbled by his surroundings. Unlike his predecessor, however, he does not cling to his authority as king. Instead, he surrenders it completely to the Church. Against this gloomy backdrop, Portocarrero reminds Carlos II that the time has come to decide who will inherit his kingdoms. Clearly, given his defense of Felipe of Anjou earlier, the document in Portocarrero’s hands, which he is urging the king to sign, will declare the French prince as Carlos II’s successor. The king is hesitant, lamenting that he is disinheriting his family “por un extraño, un enemigo” (147). However, Portocarrero reminds him that the Pope supports Felipe of Anjou. Therefore, disobeying the Holy Father will have consequences during the afterlife (148). Frightened, Carlos II hurriedly signs the decree, all the while fearing that he has betrayed his ancestors.

Having ceded to the cardinal’s wishes, the king is without an identity, for he immediately remarks, “[r]ey fui… y ahora ¿qué soy? Nada…” (149). This statement harkens back to both his declaration in the first act that has been king in name only, and to the exorcism in the second act, which Carlos II likewise consented to under duress. Before the exorcism, the Inquisitor General takes away the king’s golden fleece, sword, and dagger, and he reminds the king, “el penitente, no el rey, en vos contemplar debemos” (59). The king’s immediate sense of impotence when he is in El Escorial also foreshadows the play’s tragic denouement, when the king is unable, and unwilling, to prevent the Inquisition from executing Inés. When he attempts to invoke his authority as king to save his daughter, the Inquisitor General warns Carlos II that if he tries to intervene in Church matters, the Inquisition will consider him a heretic. Furthermore, because he is a king, Carlos II’s punishment will be even more severe than the one imposed on a commoner (171). The king collapses in fear, unable to prevent the Inquisition from carrying out its punishment, even though he knows that in addition to being his daughter, Inés is completely innocent. Instead, Florencio avenges Inés’s persecution by murdering Froilán moments before the Inquisition carries Inés away.

Audiences and critics immediately understood Carlos II, el hechizado as an appeal to separate the powers of Church and State, and as a lamentation of “los abusos del poder de un estamento clerical que impone sus dictados al propio poder civil” (García Cantero 78). Frigiliana’s exile, the infamous exorcism scene in the second act, and the decisive scene in the Pantheon all demonstrate Carlos II’s ineffectualness concerning the Catholic Church. Studied in succession, these scenes present an intensification of the clergy’s systematic disempowering of Carlos II. It is the scene in the Pantheon, in the presence of his father’s decaying body, where Carlos II definitively surrenders to the Church. Henceforth, the king is completely powerless to prevent the impending tragedy that will befall Florencio, Inés, and Spain, as it ushers in the second dynasty “that ruined Spain: the Bourbons” (Kamen, Imagining Spain 65).


In 1840, Théophile Gautier embarked on a journey from Paris to Spain, chronicling his travels for La Presse. Among the many sites he visited that year was El Escorial, a place that he describes as “the dullest and most dismal building imagined for the mortification of their fellow men by a gloomy monk and a suspicion-haunted tyrant” (101). According to Gautier, when one visits the Pantheon in particular,

[t]he monstrous edifice weighs upon you with its whole mass; it surrounds you, it seizes you in its grasp and stifles you; you feel yourself held fast, as if by the tentacles of a gigantic polypus of granite. The dead contained within these funerary urns seem deader than any others, and it is hard to believe you will ever succeed in rising again. (105)

He further remarks that when he returned to Madrid, “there was a stir of surprise among our [Spanish] friends, who were glad to see us alive” (108), since many of their compatriots who traveled to El Escorial seldom survived the journey. Gautier’s experiences underscore the perceptions that writers in the nineteenth century had about El Escorial: the edifice connotes oppression, confinement, and death. Furthermore, Gautier’s observations about his friends’ response to their return from El Escorial suggests that few Spaniards ever visited the building, and most knew little about its history and design.

Despite writers’ apparent ignorance about El Escorial, it was nonetheless a powerful symbol, as it remains now, of Spain’s contradictory “greatness and its resistance to new ideas” (Friedman 493). As Gautier’s initial assessment of the building, cited above, makes clear, the edifice is also inextricably linked to Felipe II—the “suspicion-haunted tyrant” (109)— and whatever prejudices writers held about him. Similarly, in Carlos II, el hechizado, Froilán invokes Felipe II’s name after Carlos II’s visit to El Escorial, when the king struggles to save his daughter Inés. Just like Abraham in the Bible, “[e]l gran Felipe” (169), was willing to sacrifice his legitimate son and heir to the Spanish throne for the sake of his faith. By contrast, according to Froilán, Carlos II is unwilling to sacrifice his illegitimate daughter for the Church. In response, the king prays that God will make him as powerful and glorious as his great-grandfather. Although this conversation does not take place in El Escorial, the reminder of Felipe II fills Carlos II with fear, causing him to hesitate in his effort to save his daughter.

As was the case with Felipe II, the early nineteenth century marked a turning point in writers’ depictions of El Escorial. Until Quintana’s work, Spanish literature devoted to El Escorial was virtually non-existent, with two exceptions: Miguel de Cervantes’s sonnet “Al túmulo del Rey Felipe II en Sevilla” (1611) and Lope de Vega’s La tragedia del rey don Sebastián (1618). Both works are implicit praises of Spain’s second Habsburg king, and in neither of them do the authors refer to El Escorial’s Pantheon. Quintana, Díaz, and Gil y Zárate were the first Spanish writers to utilize the Pantheon as a backdrop in their works. In all three, the king faces his own mortality and the limitations of his kingly authority there. In Quintana’s poem, the Pantheon strips Felipe II of the façade he maintained throughout his lifetime about the Spanish empire and don Carlos’s death. In Díaz’s tragedy, Felipe II finds himself reminded of his own mortality, yet he decides don Carlos must die so he may preserve his earthly power. In Carlos II, el hechizado, the Pantheon leads Carlos to cede fearfully his authority to the Church.

In all three works, the implications are that the king could have saved his child, and Spain, had he recognized his subjects, whom his children symbolize, as the true sources of his authority and the key to his (and the kingdom’s) future. Accordingly, El Escorial’s Pantheon becomes a metaphor for the Spanish monarchy: manipulated by the religious and social elite, and distant from the people it was called to serve, the monarchy will eventually meet its demise, as will Spain, if she fails to learn from the “terrible lección” of her past (Quintana 229).

  1. Quintana’s work is a poem, but as Imelda Aranzabe Pérez attests, it possesses “ciertos rasgos teatrales reflejados en una mínima de escenografía y en algunas acotaciones escénicas” (561). Accordingly it considered a dramatic poem, “una verdadera escena teatral en la que intervienen varios personajes históricos” (561).

  2. The two exceptions are Felipe V (r. 1700-1724; 1724-1746), who is buried in the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, and Fernando VI (r. 1746-1759), who resides in the Convent of the Salesas Reales.

  3. The deputy Álvaro Flórez Estrada proclaimed, “las Cortes de Cádiz no han hecho otra cosa que restablecer alguna parte de nuestra antigua Constitución, que en mejores días formaban el paladín de nuestra libertad y cuya mayor parte estaba destruida por (…) el fraude y la violencia durante los reinados de Fernando V, Carlos I y Felipe II” (qtd. in Álvarez Junco, Mater Dolorosa, p. 219).

  4. When Carlos I left Spain for Germany to become emperor, he left his Spanish dominions in the hands of his Flemish advisors. In protest, the Castilian nobles, or the comuneros, staged a rebellion that lasted two years. Eventually, the Crown beheaded the leaders of the rebellion (Kamen, Spain 1469-1714 70–76). For nineteenth-century liberals, the comuneros’ suppression signified the end of constitutional monarchy in Spain and the beginning of absolutism. Quintana composed an ode to Juan de Padilla in 1793.

  5. When Antonio Pérez fled to Aragon to escape prosecution for Juan de Escobedo’s death, the local judge Juan de Lanuza defended his right to do so, citing the ancient fueros, or charters. In 1591, Felipe II sent an armada to stop the Aragonese nobles, and eventually he had Lanuza beheaded (Kamen, Philip of Spain 134).

  6. Although Spanish liberals generally viewed the Bourbons more favorably than they did the Habsburgs, Carlos II, el hechizado is nonetheless a strong condemnation of the Habsburg kings’ willingness to cede authority to the Church and the nobility instead of the people. The tragedy of the drama lies not in Carlos II’s decision about his successor; rather, the tragedy of the drama is the lovers’ fate, which Frigiliana’s exile, presages.

  7. Gil y Zárate has the pudridero as immediately adjacent to the Pantheon, separated by metal bars. While this is inaccurate—the pudridero is above the Pantheon of the Kings—it is nonetheless dramatically effective.