Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Monarch Profile: King Alfonso XIII of Spain

The Spanish monarchy entered the 20th Century with a tumultuous history and a royal succession in which monarchs had rarely had a chance to be groomed for their position in the natural, traditional way. Since the end of absolutism, no Spanish monarch had come to the throne as an adult, raised for the position in Spain itself. There was Queen Isabella II, who came to the throne as a child, then there was King Amadeo I who was imported from Italy, never given a fair chance and who soon returned home in disgust, then there was King Alfonso XII who had been forced into exile when he was young and returned for a relatively short reign before passing away at the age of only 27. He was immediately succeeded by his son, King Alfonso XIII, who was literally born a king. So it was that the last Spanish monarch before the horror of the Second Republic was a man who was not allowed the usual sort of preparation for his royal position but who, rather, had to go through what lesser mortals would term “on the job training”. His reign would be one of the most pivotal in Spanish history and yet, at almost every stage, others would be far more involved in these events than he would.

His Catholic Majesty Alfonso Leon Fernando Maria Jaime Isidro Pascual Antonio de Borbon y Habsburgo-Lorena, King of the Spanish, King of Castile, of Leon, or Aragon, of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem etc, etc was born in Madrid on May 17, 1886, the year following the death of his father King Alfonso XII. During the interval, Spain had no monarch as everyone awaited the birth of the last child of the royal couple; if it were a boy, he would immediately be king and if a girl then the eldest daughter, the Princess Mercedes, would become queen. As a male child, he was King of Spain from the moment of his birth and his Hapsburg mother, Queen Maria Christina, ruled as regent on his behalf until he came of age in 1902. However, his earliest years as the official, if nominal, King of Spain were eventful ones for his country. At home, divisions remained between the two feuding factions of royalists and the troublesome republican minority but these were less serious than they had been after the successes of his father’s reign. The economy was not in great shape but seemed to be on the mend. However, there were problems overseas in the last remnants of the once mighty Spanish empire. There was trouble in The Philippines but few took much notice of it but the ongoing rebellion in Cuba was gaining a great deal of attention, particularly from the United States.

The boy king was blissfully un-involved when, in 1898, the Kingdom of Spain fought and lost a 10-week war with the United States as a result of which Spain lost her last colonies in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Had he been older, and able to rule, it is doubtful it would have made any difference. His mother was a strong woman with a good head on her shoulders and there simply was not much Spain could possibly have done in the face of the American media that whipped the public in the U.S. into hysteria for a war against Spain. The loss, combined with a deteriorating situation at home, probably motivated the Spanish government to push for King Alfonso XIII to take up his duties as soon as possible and he was declared of age and given his full constitutional powers in 1902 at the age of sixteen. Many hopes were pinned on the young man as the event was celebrated with parties, patriotic demonstrations and bullfights in the traditional fashion. However, King Alfonso XIII was under no illusions about the daunting task that stood before him. There was fighting in north Africa, a worsening economy, social and political divisions at home and widespread corruption amongst public officials.

In an effort to gain good-will abroad, the young King of Spain traveled to Great Britain, Germany and France (where he was attacked while riding with the French President). To secure the succession there was also a pressing need for King Alfonso to marry and start a family. While he was in London, a guest of King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace, he met Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, King Edward’s Scottish-born niece. There seemed to be a spark between the two and King Alfonso inquired about marrying her. There was immediately some objections from both countries. The British had long been taught to have a negative view of the Spanish and did not relish the thought of a British, Protestant princess having to convert to Catholicism. Likewise, in Spain, Queen Mother Maria Christina had hoped that her son would marry a Hapsburg princess like his father or at least a Catholic princess from a more prestigious family. It was also known that Princess Victoria’s brother Leopold was afflicted with hemophilia and thus she could be a carrier of the hereditary disease. However, King Alfonso seemed adamant. Princess Victoria said she would be willing to become Catholic and as far as the hemophilia threat was concerned, there was just as much chance that she would not be a carrier as there was that such would be the case.

On May 31, 1906 Alfonso and Victoria were married in Madrid at the Royal Monastery of San Jeronimo, Victoria having converted to Catholicism two months before. It was a grand affair but the enemies of the monarchy were determined to ruin it. A Catalan anarchist tried to assassinate the royal couple with a bomb. Thankfully, they survived but sadly several bystanders were killed or wounded in the attack. It was an ugly scar on what was otherwise a happy occasion. At the start of their married life, King Alfonso and Queen Victoria Eugenia seemed the ideal, happy, devoted couple. However, things began to change after the birth of their first child, Prince Alfonso of the Asturias. He was born with hemophilia, proving that Victoria had been a carrier after all. Two subsequent daughters and a son were born without the disease but, sadly, their last child and third son was afflicted as well. Despite knowing the facts from the beginning, human nature is what it is and King Alfonso tended to blame his wife for the disease that kept his sons in constant danger and from that time on he became increasingly distant from his wife. After 1914 he then had a succession of mistresses by whom he had six illegitimate children.

With no attachment to either side in the conflict, King Alfonso XIII kept Spain neutral during the First World War, not wishing to side against his mother’s relatives in Austria-Hungary or his British in-laws. This made Spain a hotbed for espionage but spared the country from the pain and losses the combatants suffered. The King was stricken by the influenza epidemic that swept the world at the end of the conflict but he eventually recovered. In the aftermath, Spain fought another colonial war in north Africa which ended in victory for the Spanish forces but which was widely condemned by the revolutionary crowd at home. Their strikes and uprisings were a constant irritant to the Spanish government, a drain on resources and a hindrance to real reform. There was also an increasing unity amongst the socialist enemies of the monarchy while the rest of Spanish society remained divided between supporters of the central government and those who wanted greater regional autonomy as well as between supporters of the existing monarchy and the fractured and feuding but still defiant Carlists. It was a recipe for disaster and, just as in times past, some began to take the view that authoritarianism was the only answer to the divisions and problems plaguing Spain.

In 1923 the Captain-General of Catalonia, Miguel Primo de Rivera, seized power in a military coup, at the head of an indignant Spanish army and endorsed by King Alfonso XIII who named him to the post of prime minister (after the general had taken power). General Primo de Rivera became, effectively, dictator of Spain but told the public it was only a temporary measure to clean up the mess created by the corrupt and feuding political class. He set up a military junta, called the Directory, and when government ministers complained to the King, Alfonso dismissed them. The dictator established martial law and began cracking down on the regional separatists. In cooperation with the French, he restored order to north Africa and began extensive infrastructure upgrades in Spain. Unemployment all but vanished but massive loans were required for all of these government expenditures. Primo de Rivera assured the public that these would be paid back by the increase in tax revenues from the business his changes would stimulate. However, as he tried to establish an entirely new political system for Spain, economic prosperity remained unseen and opposition to the dictator began to increase. King Alfonso was fully aware of who was running the country and introduced the general to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy as, “my Mussolini”.

The country had a period of law and order and many improvements during this time but while the divisions were suppressed, they were not eliminated. King Alfonso XIII tried to carry on with business as usual. With a dictator running the country, he had little governmental business to attend to and plenty of time for leisure. He played golf, polo, enjoyed driving and even learned to fly. However, as opposition to the dictatorship increased and the period of economic wealth remained out of reach, Primo de Rivera tried to extend his hold on power by appealing to his brother army officers. At this the King took action as, if left un-checked, it would have made the military the source of authority in the country rather than the Crown and Alfonso XIII could not stand idly by while that happened. In 1930 Primo de Rivera resigned and went into exile in France where he died a short time later. King Alfonso XIII then tried to carry on governing the country himself with the power structure that had been erected. However, the enemies of the monarchy quickly reappeared and the supporters of the former dictator among the military then viewed the King as their enemy. The republican movement had also been thoroughly infiltrated by radical socialists with ties to likeminded groups around the world and had promises of support from the Soviet Union. The left was increasingly united while the right was increasingly divided.

In 1931 the republicans won a massive electoral victory and General Jose Sanjurjo warned the King that the army was no longer loyal to him (the son of a Carlist, Sanjurjo would later pledge loyalty to the republic, join in an attempted Carlist plot that failed, disavow the Carlists and proclaim his support for the republic only to then join in the national coup against the republic at the start of the civil war). King Alfonso XIII was finally persuaded by his closest friends to leave the country for his own safety. When he departed, he defiantly pledged to triumph over all those who opposed the monarchy but that he would not be the cause of a fratricidal war. He refused to abdicate but went into exile in Rome where he was given sanctuary by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. In Spain, the radicals seized power and immediately proclaimed the Second Spanish Republic that became increasingly socialistic and then communistic until it was effectively a client state of the Soviet Union in all but name.

King Alfonso XIII, a man known for his reckless bravery, a man who had a collection of ‘souvenirs’ from the many assassination attempts made against him, remained determined to one day reclaim his throne and was adamant that he remained the legitimate King of the Spanish. In 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out when General Francisco Franco led a nationalist coalition in rebellion against the republican government. King Alfonso XIII did not remain neutral but clearly expressed his support for the nationalists. However, General Franco was trying to forge unity out of a very divided coalition of people opposed to the republic and that coalition included the Carlists. Franco knew that the Carlists would drop their support for him if they thought he intended to restore King Alfonso XIII to the throne whereas, if he put off the question of who would be king, he could continue to enjoy the support of both factions in the hope that they would be chosen in the end. As such, Franco announced that his victory would not mean a restoration of King Alfonso XIII. Nonetheless, the King continued to support the nationalists and sent his son and heir, Infante Juan Count of Barcelona (the Prince of Asturias having renounced his rights due to his marriage to a commoner) to join the nationalist forces. However, he was arrested at the border and sent back into exile.

It is too bad that such divisions continued to plague the Spanish royalist cause particularly as, in the same year that the civil war began, the senior Carlist line died out and King Alfonso XIII thus became the legitimate monarch according to the rationale of the original Carlists though, as we know, most who remained opposed by that time would remain opposed no matter what the circumstances. The Spanish Civil War was a brutal affair and came to be seen as something of a dress-rehearsal for World War II. The Soviets and socialist governments from France to Mexico as well as leftist volunteers from various countries supported the republic while Franco and the nationalists received most of their support from Nazi Germany and especially Fascist Italy. In the end, the nationalists were victorious and Franco became dictator of Spain by 1939. He was a monarchist but his success depended on keeping the support of more republican minded nationalists among the Falange movement as well as the two opposing royalist factions so, while everyone expected a restoration of the monarchy, Franco refused to commit himself too much on the subject.

As a political tactic, it worked brilliantly as each side remained hopeful that Franco would eventually side with them. In Rome, in 1941, King Alfonso XIII abdicated his rights in favor of his son the Count of Barcelona in the expectation that this would help pave the way for the restoration of the monarchy by Franco. However, while Franco did legally declare the monarchy restored in 1947, the throne remained vacant while the Generalissimo would rule as regent for the rest of his life. King Alfonso XIII, however, would not live to see any of that as he died in Rome not long after his abdication a month later on February 28, 1941. His remains were later returned to Spain in 1980 after his grandson, Juan Carlos, became King of Spain after the death of General Franco. Thrust onto the throne from his very birth, King Alfonso XIII had lived through the greatest changes in the recent history of Spain; the loss of the last of the empire, the First World War, the downfall of the monarchy and the horrors of the Second Republic and Spanish Civil War. Yet, he seemed to constantly be on the outside looking in on these historic events. Given the chaotic state of affairs that existed, perhaps his greatest triumph was simply his survival and the survival of his family to one day manage the seemingly impossible and see a monarchy restored where it had been torn down and his descendants returned to the Spanish throne.


  1. If only the Spanish Empire never collapsed...

  2. Hey mad monarchst can you do a consort profile on Duke Henry of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He was queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands Prince consort

  3. While Spain did opress us (Cuba) at times it was overall better than Cuba is today and I wish we either stayed loyal or that Spain had won the war that way we wouldn't have delt with being an American colony to then being a communist country.....if only

  4. The Spanish Civil War was a brutal affair and came to be seen as something of a dress-rehearsal for World War II.

    You know the great war that was to break out during Pius XI's pontificate? According to Fatima prophecy?

    Some have argued that WW-II didn't fulfill it.

    I think it was a great war between Communists and Christians, which broke out with Cristero conflict and Spanish Civil War (both of these while Pius XI lived) and went on to 1990 - and maybe isn't finished yet.

    WW-II may have been an episode in this greater war, and one in which Hitler (anti-Communist and in some ways anti-Christian) made a distraction from the real issues.

    On the other hand, some others have argued that WW-II broke out earlier than Sept 3 1939, like annectation of Austria, or Stalin interrogating such a man and making such decisions.

    1. I wonder how you got that perspective. Well, it wasn't a battle between communists and Christians. In my opinion it was one between two evils. Herr Hitler was anti Communist for sure, I am not very sure about his religious views. He said things very much in favour of Christianity, and was known early as quite a pious Catholic, but also Said some negative things about it. At the same time he said things such as 'the peoples of Islam will always be closer to is than, for example, France.' and some sources indicate he wished he was a Muslim.

    2. "Well, it wasn't a battle between communists and Christians"

      WW-II wasn't, I mean the greater war in which it was an episode was.

    3. Oh, I get it, but I think Communists and Christians are just two groups out of many. Yes, in that War of the World of the 20th cemtury

  5. I think parts of it.such as Spanish Civil War and Russian Revolution were battles between communists and Christians.

  6. Russian Revolution was an aftermath of WW-I.

    Cristero and Spanish Civil War, but also in WW-II Ukraine and Finland, and after WW-II, Korea and Vietnam conflicts were or involved a war between Christian and Communist.

    Other groups sided with one or other, but main conflicts of WW-II were atypical for the overall picture, since Axis Powers were "on both sides". Mussolini was for Christians in Italy, but against Ethiopian Christians in Ethiopia. Hitler was for Christians in Bretagne, but against them in Poland. Japan ... well, Japan was both anti-Communist in relation to Red China and anti-Christian in some relations to US and Dutch Christians on Java.

    That is how I think WW-II was an interruption from the larger conflict.

  7. You mean the 20th century was one War of the World?

  8. But please don't discount groups that are neither communist nor christian

  9. I mean much of the 20th C was exactly that, and I mean the main opponents of it were neither Communist nor Christian - that does not mean I discount all others as belligerents, especially not the Axis of WW-II, I only consider their particular conflicts have tied in with and complicated the conflict between Communists and Christians.

    The one I thought, if Christianity had not yet won, at least Communists had lost it, back in 1990. No, I think I was wrong, they had lost one bastion, which was important, but they are doing devious comebacks. Dawkins is part of the Communist comeback, and so is Conor Cunningham, despite "counting as" a Catholic.


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