The mathematical box of Charles II of Spain

Mathematical box of Charles II of SpainBiblioteca Nacional (Madrid)Photography by Carlos Dorce

Mathematical box of Charles II of Spain
Biblioteca Nacional (Madrid)
Photography by Carlos Dorce

Charles II (1661-1700) reigned Spain from 1665 to Novermber 1, 1700. He was the last Habsburg king of Spain because he hadn’t got sons although he got married twice! He was a person with a lot of physical and emotional disabilities and one of the worst rulers of the country. His death in 1700 led to the War of the Spanish Succession between the most important European countries.

Portrait of king Charles II of Spain (c.1685)
Juan Carreño de Miranda
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Philip IV of Spain died, his son Charles II was only 4 years old. Philip IV had married Elisabeth of France (1602-1644) and they only had a son: the prince Balthasar Charles. He had to be the new king of Spain but he died of smallpox in 1646. Then, Philip IV decided to get married again and he chose Mariana of Austria (1634-1696). They had some children but only Charles II and his sister Margarita Teresa survived.

Portrait of Philip IV of Spain (1656)
Diego Velázquez
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1665, the young Charles II became the new king of Spain and his mother Mariana of Austria became regent of her son until 1675 when Charles II was declared of legal age. On this occasion, Juan Francisco de la Cerda, Duke of Medinaceli, gave the king this box. The box contains a series of interchangeable pieces with which it is possible to construc fourteen instruments useful for topographic measurements, designing drawings of fortifications or tuning musical instruments. There also is a book that explains the installation and functioning of all these instruments:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

The set was built by the Spanish mathematician José de Zaragoza (1627-1679). The box is very interesting and it can be enjoyed in the Spanish National Library (Biblioteca Nacional) of Madrid and we can see the complete box, the book, a mathematical ruler and an equilateral triangle over all the set:

Photography by Carlos Dorce

Photography by Carlos Dorce

It’s a shame that a king who wasn’t too smart could have a jowel like this in his hands!

Location: Biblioteca Nacional of Madrid (map)


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