His second son by his first wife succeeded him, and gave Spain thirteen years of healing rule. Isabella survived till 1766; she was treated with kindness and courtesy by her stepson, but she lost her power to influence events. Ferdinand’s wife, Maria Barbara, Scarlatti’s pupil, was now the woman behind the throne; though she loved food and money beyond reason, she was a gentler spirit than Isabella, and gave most of her energies to encouraging music and art. Farinelli continued to sing for the new rulers, and Scarlatti’s harpsichord could not rival him. King and Queen worked to end the War of the Austrian Succession; they accepted the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), though it gave Tuscany to Austria; and a year later they terminated the 136-year-old Asiento by paying £100,000 to the South Sea Company for the loss of its privileges in the slave trade.
Ferdinand was a man of good will, kindly and honest, but he had inherited a delicate constitution and was subject to fits of passion, of which he was painfully ashamed.18 Conscious of his limitations, he left administration to two able ministers—Don José de Carvajal and Zenón de Somodevilla, Marqués de la Ensenada. Ensenada improved agricultural methods, subsidized mining and industry, built roads and canals, abolished internal tolls, rebuilt the navy, replaced the hated sales tax by a tax on income and property, reorganized the finances, and broke down the intellectual isolation of Spain by sending students abroad. Partly through Ensenada’s diplomacy a concordat was signed with the papacy (1753), reserving to the King the right to tax ecclesiastical property and to appoint bishops to Spanish sees. The power of the Church was reduced, the Inquisition was subdued, public autos-da-fé were abolished.
The two ministers diverged in foreign policy. Carvajal felt the charm of the devoted British ambassador, Sir Benjamin Keene, and took a peaceful pro-British line; Ensenada favored France, and moved toward war with England. Ferdinand, appreciating his energy and ability, was long patient with him, but finally dismissed him. While nearly all Europe fell into seven years of war, Ferdinand gave his people a longer period of tranquillity and prosperity than Spain had enjoyed since Philip II.
In 1758 Maria Barbara died. The King, who had loved her as if politics had had nothing to do with their marriage, fell into a state of melancholy and unshaved dishevelment strangely recalling that of his father; in his final year he too was insane. Toward the end he refused to go to bed, fearing that he would never get up again. He died in his chair, August 10, 1759. Everyone mourned the royal lovers, for their rule had been a rare blessing to Spain.