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Spain: The Enlightenment
Country Study > Chapter 1 > Historical Setting > Bourbon Spain > The Enlightenment


Charles III (r. 1759-88), Spain's enlightened despot par excellence, served his royal apprenticeship as king of Naples. He was one of Europe's most active patrons of the Enlightenment, a period during which attempts were made to reform society through the application of reason to political, social, and economic problems. Despite Charles's attempt to reform the economy, the impact of the Enlightenment was essentially negative. Anticlericalism was an integral part of Enlightenment ideology, but it was carried to greater lengths in Spain than elsewhere in Europe because of government sponsorship. Public charities financed by the church were considered antisocial because they were thought to discourage initiative, and they were therefore abolished. The state suppressed monasteries and confiscated their property. The Jesuits, outspoken opponents of regalism, were expelled. Their expulsion virtually crippled higher education in Spain. The state also banned the teachings of medieval philosophers and of the sixteenth-century Jesuit political theorists who had argued for the "divine right of the people" over their kings. The government employed the Inquisition to discipline antiregalist clerics.

Economic recovery was noticeable, and government efficiency was greatly improved at the higher levels during Charles III's reign. The Bourbon reforms, however, resulted in no basic changes in the pattern of property holding. Neither land reform nor increased land use occurred. The rudimentary nature of bourgeois class consciousness in Spain hindered the creation of a middleclass movement. Despite the development of a national bureaucracy in Madrid, government programs foundered because of the lethargy of administrators at lower levels and because of a background rural population. The reform movement could not be sustained without the patronage of Charles III, and it did not survive him.

Data as of December 1988

Last Updated: December 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Spain was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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