Ferdinand VI (23September 1713 – 10 August 1759), called the Learned, was King of Spain from 9 July 1746 until his death. He was the fourth son of the previous monarch Philip V and his first wife Maria Luisa of Savoy. Ferdinand, the third member of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty, was born in Madrid on 23 September 1713.
Born at the Royal Alcázar of Madrid, his youth was a time of sadness for Ferdinand. His father’s second wife, Elisabeth of Parma, was a domineering woman, who had no affection except for her own children, and who looked upon her stepson as an obstacle to their fortunes. The hypochondria of his father left Elisabeth mistress of the palace.
Ferdinand was by temperament melancholic, shy and distrustful of his own abilities. When complimented on his shooting, he replied, “It would be hard if there were not something I could do.”
Shooting and music were his only pleasures, and he was the generous patron of the famous singer Farinelli, whose voice soothed his melancholy.
Ferdinand was married in 1729 to Infanta Barbara of Portugal, daughter of John V of Portugal and Mary Anne of Austria.
When he came to the throne, Spain found itself in the War of the Austrian Succession which ended without any benefit to Spain. He started his reign by eliminating the influence of the widow Queen Elisabeth of Parma and her group of Italian courtiers. As king he followed a steady policy of neutrality in the conflict between France and Britain, and refused to be tempted by the offers of either into declaring war on the other.
Prominent figures during his reign were the Marquis of Ensenada, a Francophile; and José de Carvajal y Lancaster, a supporter of the alliance with Great Britain. The fight between both ended in 1754 with the death of Carvajal and the fall of Ensenada, after which Ricardo Wall became the most powerful advisor to the monarch.
The most important tasks during the reign of Ferdinand VI were carried out by the Marquis of Ensenada, the Secretary of the Treasury, Navy and Indies. He suggested that the state help modernize the country. To him, this was necessary to maintain a position of exterior strength so that France and Great Britain would consider Spain as an ally without supposing Spain’s renunciation of its claim to Gibraltar.