A failed Anglo-Spanish match

On Friday, 17 March 1623, Charles Stuart, Prince of Wales, together with his father's favorite, George Villiers, Marquis of Buckingham, arrived in Madrid to knock on the door of the extraordinary English ambassador, the Earl of Bristol, without prior notice and incognito.

Two days later, a Madrid printer spread the news: "the Earl went down with a candle that the page was carrying in front of him, and he then learned that these gentlemen who were looking for him were Prince Charles of England, and the Marquis of Buckingham, with which he was astonished,” adding that immediate notice had been given to the Count of Gondomar, who in turn had reported to His Majesty.

An unexpected diplomatic encounter

For Philip IV of Spain and the Count of Olivares, having the presence of the English heir at Court must have been felt as an undiplomatic form of pressure. Spain and England were in midst of talks about marrying him to the Spanish king's sister.

Also, facing the expense of setting up a household and entertainments for the English prince represented a serious inconvenience for them, as it disrupted the programme for expenditure restraint only recently put in place. Nonetheless, they immediately set out to do everything in their hands to welcome and host the surprise visitor, as was due to his dignity and convenient for the welbeing of Anglo-Spanish relations.

On both sides, there was a strong desire to seal the peace of 1604 through the union, but also great obstacles to achieve it: a dispensation from Rome that was taking too long to arrive, the opposition of the English Parliament to the arrival of a Spanish bride, the Spanish demand for suspension of the penal laws against Catholic recusants in England, the risk of altering alliances in Europe, even a conflict of interests in American lands.

Five months of unresolved negotiations

On this political and religious chess board, all moves taken during the five months of talks were essentially misleading. Any hasty concession could result too costly for either side. Until at the end of August, Prince Charles got tired. His father was in poor health, autumn with its predictable gales was approaching and the king of Spain did not seem willing to attend to his conditions.

He decided to return to England at once, even though it was to be “without a bride, without nuptials and without a marriage contract,” as the foreign ambassadors murmured with tense expectation.