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Juan Carlos I of Spain

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King Juan Carlos I
King Juan Carlos I

His Majesty King Juan Carlos I (Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón), styled HM The King (born January 5, 1938 in Rome, Italy), is the reigning King of Spain, as his grandfather Alfonso XIII was until the advent of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. This was ended by the Spanish Civil War and followed by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco until his death on November 20 1975. 2 days later Juan Carlos was designated King of Spain according to the law of succession promulgated by Franco. Juan Carlos also claims the title of King of Jerusalem, as the successor to the royal family of Naples.


Early life

As a child, he was known as Juanito ("Johnny"). He left his parents and moved to Spain to follow an education under Franco's watch. This was imposed by Franco as a condition to restore the monarchy.

In 1956, his younger brother, the Infante Alfonso died of a gunshot wound at his parents' home in Estoril, Portugal. The official explanation, which was easily accepted by the Portuguese police, is of an accident while cleaning a gun. Alfonso suffered from haemophilia, and though the wound would not have been serious for a healthy person, the Infant didn't survive. It is uncertain whether the gun was fired by Alfonso or by Juan Carlos, the only witness of the death.

In 1972, Juan Carlos, a keen sailor, competed in the Dragon class event at the Olympic Games, though he did not win any medals.

Franco's heir, 1969-1975

By designating Juan Carlos as successor to the Head of State in 1969, Franco ignored the successory rights of Juan de Borbón, the father of Juan Carlos, and tried to educate Juan Carlos as his successor for the maintenance of the regime. During the dictatorship, Franco created the title of Prince of Spain (not Prince of Asturias) for his heir. He started to use the second name Carlos to assert his pretensions to the heritage of the Carlist branch of his family. Franco for a long time played with conceding the throne to Juan Carlos' cousin, Alfonso de Borbón Dampierre. During periods of incapacity of Franco in 1974 and 1975, Juan Carlos was acting Head of State. Near death, Franco conceded that he was too ill to govern on October 30, 1975 and the monarchy was restored with control given to Juan Carlos, whom the dictator had groomed to be his fascist successor.

Restoration of the monarchy

However, after Franco's death Juan Carlos quickly instituted democratic reforms, to the great displeasure of conservative elements, especially in the military, who had expected him to maintain the authoritarian state. He appointed Adolfo Suárez, a former leader of the Movimiento Nacional, as Prime Minister of Spain. In 1978, a new Constitution was promulgated that acknowledges Juan Carlos as rightful heir of the dynasty and King. The King relinquished absolute power and became a reigning but non-governing monarch. An attempted coup (23-F) on February 23, 1981, in which the Cortes was seized with gunfire in the parliamentary chamber, seemed likely to derail the process until the unprecedented public television broadcast by the King called for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. In the hours before, the King had personally called senior military figures throughout Spain, many of whom had been told by coup leaders that he was supporting them, to tell them in no uncertain terms that they must defend the democratic government.

When he became king, one Communist leader (Santiago Carrillo), nicknamed him Juan Carlos the Brief, predicting that he and the monarchy would be swept away with all the remnants of fascism. In 1981, that same leader, after the collapse of the coup, in a clearly emotional state told television viewers "God save the King!" If public support for the monarchy among democrats and left wingers prior to 1981 was conditional, following the King's handling of the coup it was unconditional and absolute, with a former senior leader of the Second Republic telling television viewers 'we are all monarchists now'. In spite of that, it is commonly said that many Spaniards are not monarchists but "Juancarlists".

In 1977, his father formally renounced his pretensions to the throne. Juan Carlos thanked him by confirming the title of Count of Barcelona that Don Juan had assumed in exile.

Family life

Juan Carlos was married in Athens on May 14, 1962, to Princess Sophia of Greece, daughter of King Paul. They had two daughters, Elena and Cristina, and a younger son, the heir apparent, Felipe.

Role in contemporary Spanish politics

King Juan Carlos, depicted on the Spanish €2 coin
King Juan Carlos, depicted on the Spanish €2 coin

Today, the King reigns as a constitutional monarch, exercising little real power over the country's politics. He is regarded as an essential symbol of the country's unity, however, and his interventions and views are listened to and respected by politicians from all sides of the political divide. Under the constitution, the King has immunity from prosecution in matters relating to his official duties. His annual speech to the nation on Christmas Eve is transmitted by most Spanish television channels. He is also the commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces. His birthday is a military holiday.

In 1979, King Juan Carlos instituted the Ruta de Quetzal as a way to promote cultural exchange between students from Spain and Latin America. In 1987, he became the first king of Spain to visit the former Spanish possession of Puerto Rico.

See also

External links

Preceded by:
Alfonso XIII
King of Spain Heir-Apparent:
The Prince of Asturias
Preceded by:
Francisco Franco

Spanish heads of state

Succeeded by:
current incumbent

Last updated: 08-30-2005 12:19:57