Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Monarch Profile: King Alfonso XIII of Spain
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.