Juan Carlos I of Spain

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Juan Carlos I King of Spain
Juan Carlos I
King of Spain

King Juan Carlos I (Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias), in English: John Charles I, (born January 5, 1938 in Rome, Italy), is the reigning King of Spain, after his grandfather Alfonso XIII. Two days after the death of dictator Francisco Franco on November 20, 1975 Juan Carlos was designated King according to the law of succession promulgated by Franco. He successfully oversaw the transition of Spain to a democratic constitutional monarchy.

Juan Carlos also claims the title of King of Jerusalem, as the successor to the royal family of Naples. He is also a direct descendant of Queen Victoria through his grandmother Victoria Eugenie, and Louis XIV of France through his family name, Bourbon.


Early life

Spanish Royal Family

The future King's early life was dictated largely by the political concerns of his father, Juan de Borbón, and Franco. He moved to Spain in 1948 to be educated there after his father persuaded Franco to allow this. He began his studies in San Sebastián and finished them in 1954 at the San Isidro Institute in Madrid. He then joined the army, doing his officer training, 1955-1957, in Zaragoza.

In 1956, his younger brother, the Infante Alfonso died of a gunshot wound in Estoril, Portugal, with Juan Carlos as the only witness. The official explanation is that it was an accident which occurred while cleaning a gun. It is uncertain whether Alfonso or Juan Carlos pulled the trigger.

From 1957 he spent a year in the naval school at Pontevedra and another in the Air Force school in San Javier in Murcia. In 1961 he graduated from the Complutense University. He then went to live in the Palace of Zarzuela, and began carrying out official engagements.

Franco's heir, 1969-1975

The regime of Francisco Franco had come to power during the Spanish Civil War, which had pitted socialist and democratic republicans against monarchists and fascists, with the latter two groups ultimately emerging successful. Despite his alliance with monarchists, Franco was not keen to restore the deposed Spanish monarchy once in power, prefering to instead head a regime with himself as Head of State for life. Though Franco's partisan supporters generally accepted this arrangement for the present, much debate quickly ensued over whom would replace Franco should he be assasinated, or otherwise eventually pass away. Monarchist factions demanded the return of a hardline absolute monarchy, and eventually Franco agreed that his successor would be a monarch.

The heir to the throne of Spain was Juan de Borbón, the son of the late Alfonso XIII. However Franco viewed the heir with extreme suspicion, believing him to be a liberal who was opposed to his regime- a fairly accurate assement. Franco then played with giving the throne to Juan Carlos's cousin, Alfonso de Borbón Dampierre. In response, Juan Carlos started to use his second name Carlos to assert his pretensions to the heritage of the Carlist branch of his family.

Ultimately Franco decided to skip a generation and name Prince Juan Carlos as his personal successor to the Head of State. Franco hoped the young Prince could be groomed to take over the nation while still maintaining the ultra-conservative nature of his regime. In 1969 Juan Carlos was officially designated heir, and was given the new title of Prince of Spain (not the traditional Prince of Asturias).

Juan Carlos met and consulted with Franco many times while heir apparent, and often performed official and ceremonial state functions alongside the dictator- much to the anger of hardline republican fascists and more moderate liberals, who had hoped that Franco's death would bring in an era of reform. However, despite his apparent public support of the Franco regime, Juan Carlos personally harboured ambitions to bring liberal reform to the country, much like his father. Though this fact would eventually become somewhat of an open secret as the years progressed, and Juan Carlos began meeting with political opposition leaders and exiles, Franco for his part remained largely oblivious to the Prince's views, and denied allegations that Juan Carlos was in any way disloyal to his vision of the regime.

During periods of Franco's temporary incapacity in 1974 and 1975 Juan Carlos was acting Head of State. Near death, on October 30, 1975, Franco gave control to Juan Carlos. On November 22 the Cortes Generales made Juan Carlos King of Spain.

Restoration of the monarchy

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia with Laura and George W. Bush
King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia with Laura and George W. Bush

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.

On May 20, 1977 the leader of the only recently legalized Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) Felipe González, accompanied by Javier Solana, visited Juan Carlos in the Zarzuela Palace. The event represented a key endorsement of the monarchy from Spain's political left, who had been historically republican. Left-wing support for the monarchy grew when the Spanish Communist Party was legalized shortly thereafter, a move Juan Carlos had pressed for despite enormous military opposition.

On June 15, 1977 Spain held its first post-Franco democratic elections. In 1978, a new Constitution was promulgated that acknowledged Juan Carlos as rightful heir of the Spanish dynasty and King. This language justified Juan Carlos' position by deeming him Head of State of a democratic, historical monarchy, and not simply the appointed heir of the dictator Franco. Further legitimacy had been restored to his position in May, 14, 1977, when his father, Don Juan (whom many monarchists had recognized as the legitimate, exiled King of Spain during the Franco era), formally renounced his claim to the Throne, thus making Juan Carlos both the de facto and the de jure (rightful) King in the eyes of the traditional monarchists. Juan Carlos, who was already King since Franco´s death, gave an acceptance adress after his father´s resignation speech and thanked him by confirming the title of Count of Barcelona that Don Juan had assumed in exile.

Under the new, 1978 Constitution, adopted by the Cortes, confirmed in a referendum and promulgated by Juan Carlos, the he relinquished absolute power and became a reigning but non-ruling monarch. His reforms had gained considerable animosity from the armed forces, which ultimately culminated in an attempted military coup on February 23, 1981, in which the Cortes was seized by gunmen in the parliamentary chamber. The coup ended up being thwarted by the unprecedented public television broadcast by the King, calling for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. In the hours before his speech he had personally called many senior military figures to tell them that he was opposed to the coup, and that they must defend the democratic government.

Monarchical Styles of
King Juan Carlos I of Spain
Reference style: His Majesty
Spoken style: Your Majesty
Alternative style: Sir

When Juan Carlos became king, Communist leader Santiago Carrillo nicknamed him Juan Carlos the Brief, predicting that the monarchy would be swept away with the other remnants of the Franco era. After the collapse of the coup, in an emotional statement, Carrillo 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 became unconditional, with a former senior leader of the Second Republic saying "we are all monarchists now".

Role in contemporary Spanish politics

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

The election of socialist leader Felipe González to the Spanish Prime Ministership in 1982 marked the effective end of Juan Carlos' active involvement in Spanish politics. González would rule for over a decade, and his administration helped consolidate the democratic gains initated by Juan Carlos and thus maintained the stability of the nation. Today the King exercises little real power over the country's politics, but is regarded as an essential symbol of the country's unity. Unlike many other European monarchs, under the constitution, the King has immunity from prosecution in matters relating to his official duties. He gives an annual speech to the nation on Christmas Eve. He is the commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces, and 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.

Family and private life

Juan Carlos was married in Athens on May 14, 1962, to Princess Sophia of Greece, daughter of King Paul. She was Greek Orthodox but converted to become Spain's Queen. They had two daughters, Elena and Cristina, and a son, the heir apparent, Felipe.

In 1972, Juan Carlos, a keen sailor, competed in the Dragon class event at the Olympic Games, though he did not win any medals. In their summer holidays, the whole family meets in Marivent Palace (Palma de Mallorca), where they take part in sailing competitions.

In winter, they go skiing in Baqueira-Beret (Pyrenees).


Spanish Royalty
House of Bourbon

Philip V
   Prince Louis
   Prince Ferdinand
   Prince Charles
Ferdinand VI
Charles III
   Prince Charles
   Prince Ferdinand
Charles IV
   Prince Ferdinand
   Infanta Carlota Joaquina
   Infante Carlos
Ferdinand VII
   Princess Isabella
Isabella II
   Prince Alfonso
Alfonso XII
   Infanta Maria
   Prince Alfonso
Alfonso XIII
   Jaime, Duque de Segovia
   Juan, Count of Barcelona
   Infanta Pilar
   Prince Juan Carlos
   Infanta Margarita
Juan Carlos I
   Infanta Elena
   Infanta Cristina
   Felipe, Prince of Asturias

King Juan Carlos is a direct descendant of many famous European rulers, such as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who was the first King of Spain as Carlos I), King Louis XIV of France, Pope Paul III and Queen Victoria of Great Britain. Therefore, he is related to all the current monarchs of Europe.

*King of Spain


See also

External links

Preceded by:
Juan III
(Titular King of Spain, Count of Barcelona)
King of Spain
Succeeded by:
The Prince of Asturias
Preceded by:
Francisco Franco
Spanish Head of State
Succeeded by:
Current incumbent
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