King Alfonso XIII

1890 - 1898


Nigel Gooding Collection







King Alfonso XIII
Reign Between May 17, 1886 to April 12, 1931



King Alfonso XIII was the son of King Alfonso XII and his second wife, Maria Christina of Austria, who he married on 29 November 1879. Sadly, King Alfonso XII died of tuberculosis on November 25, 1885, aged only 27 years. At that time the Queen had borne two daughters and was pregnant with a third child. The Queen was, therefore, appointed Regent pending a decision as to the successor to the throne. She gave birth to a son who was born on May 17, 1886 in Madrid, and was christened Alfonso Leon Fernando Maria Jamie Isidoro Pascual Antonio.

Although Alfonso was proclaimed King Alfonso XIII of Spain upon his birth, his mother continued as his regent until his sixteenth birthday in 1902. During the regency, in 1898, Spain lost its colonial rule over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States as a result of the Spanish-American War.

When he came of age in May 1902, the week of his majority was marked by festivities, bullfights, balls and receptions throughout Spain. He took his oath to the constitution before members of the Cortes on May 17, 1902.

By 1905, Alfonso was looking for a suitable consort. On a state visit to the United Kingdom, he stayed at Buckingham Palace with King Edward VII. There he met Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, the daughter of Edward's youngest sister Princess Beatrice, and a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Alfonso and Victoria were married at the Royal Monastery of San Jeronimo in Madrid on May 31, 1906, with British royalty in attendance, including Victoria's cousins the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King George V and Queen Mary). Alfonso and Victoria had six children (four sons and two daughters). However, Victoria was a haemophilia carrier and two of her sons inherited the condition. Alfonso distanced himself from his Queen for transmitting the condition to their sons. From 1914 onwards, he had several mistresses, and fathered five illegitimate children to add to one born before his marriage.

During World War I, because of his family connections with both sides and the division of popular opinion, Spain remained neutral. The King established an office for assistance to prisoners of war on all sides. This office used the Spanish diplomatic and military network abroad to intercede for thousands of prisoners of war by transmitting and receiving letters for them, and other services. The office was located in the Royal Palace.

Alfonso became gravely ill during the 1918 flu pandemic. Spain was neutral and thus under no wartime censorship restrictions, so his illness and subsequent recovery were reported to the world, while flu outbreaks in the belligerent countries were concealed. This gave the misleading impression that Spain was the most-affected area and led to the pandemic being dubbed 'the Spanish Flu'.

Following World War I, Spain entered the lengthy yet victorious Rif War (1920-1926) to preserve its colonial rule over northern Morocco. Critics of the monarchy thought the war was an unforgivable loss of money and lives, and nicknamed Alfonso 'el Africano' (the African). Alfonso had not acted as a strict constitutional monarch, and supported the Africanists who wanted to conquer for Spain a new empire in Africa to compensate for the lost empire in the Americas and Asia. The Rif War had starkly polarized Spanish society between the Africanists who wanted to conquer an empire in Africa versus the abandonistas who wanted to abandon Morocco as not worth the blood and treasure. Manuel Fernandez Silvestre, one of Alfonso's favourite generals, led advances up into the Rif mountains of Morocco culminating into the Battle of Annual, which resulted in one of Spain's worst defeats. Alfonso, who was on holiday in the south of France at the time, was informed of the disaster at the Battle of Annual. Alfonso remained in France and did not return to Spain to comfort the families of the soldiers lost during the battle, which many people at the time saw as a callous and cold act and a sign that the King could not care less about the lives of his soldiers. In 1922, the Cortes started an investigation into the responsibility for the Annual disaster and soon discovered evidence that the King had been one of the main supporters of Silvestre's advance into the Rif mountains.

After the disaster of the Battle of Annual, Spain's war in the Rif went from bad to worse, and as the Spanish were barely hanging onto Morocco, support for the abandonistas grew as many people could see no point to the war. In August 1923, Spanish soldiers embarking for Morocco mutinied, other soldiers in Malaga simply refused to board the ships that were to take them to Morocco, while in Barcelona huge crowds of left-wingers had staged anti-war protests at which Spanish flags were burned while the flag of the Rif Republic was waved about. With the Africanists comprising only a minority, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before the abandonistas would have forced the Spanish to give up on the Rif. On September 13, 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera, seized power in a military coup. He ruled as a dictator with Alfonso's support until 1930. It is believed that one of Alfonso's main reasons for supporting the coup was his desire to suppress the publication of the damning Cortes report into the Annual disaster.

On 28 January 1930, amid economic problems, general unpopularity and an impending plot to overthrow the government led by General Manuel Goded (of which Alfonso XIII was most probably aware), Miguel Primo de Rivera was forced to resign, exiling to Paris (only to die a weeks later of the complication of a diagnosed diabetes in combination with the effects of a flu). Alfonso XIII appointed General Damaso Berenguer as new Prime Minister. The King had so closely associated with the Primo de Rivera dictatorship that it was difficult for him to distance himself from the regime he had supported for almost seven years. The enforced changes relied on the incorrect assumption that Spaniards were going to accept nothing has happened after 1923 and that going back to the prior state of things was possible.

In April 1931, General Jose Sanjurjo told Alfonso that even the army was not loyal. On April 12, 1931, the Republican Parties won a landslide victory in the municipal elections. This resulted in the deposition of Alfonso, who left the country on April 14, 1931 as the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed. Alfonso did not formally abdicate and eventually settled in Rome. By a law of November 26, 1931, Alfonso was accused by the Cortes of high treason. This law would later be repealed by a new law dated December 15, 1938, signed by Francisco Franco.

In 1933, Alfonso's two eldest sons, Alfonso and Jaime, renounced their claims to the defunct throne, and in 1934 his youngest son Gonzalo died. This left his third son Juan, Count of Barcelona his only male heir.

When the Army rose up against the democratically elected Republican Government and war broke out, Alfonso made it clear he favoured the 'Nationalist' military rebels against the Republic. But in September 1936 the Nationalist leader, General Francisco Franco, declared that the Nationalists would not restore Alfonso as king. Nevertheless, Alfonso sent his son Juan to Spain in 1936, to participate in the uprising. However, General Mola had Juan arrested near the French border and expelled from the country. Francisco Franco Bahamonde (December 4, 1892 - November 20, 1975) was a Spanish general and dictator who ruled over Spain from 1939 until his death in 1975. During his rule Franco assumed the title Caudillo (Dictator). This period in Spanish history, from the Nationalist victory in the Spanish Civil War to Franco's death, is commonly known as Francoist Spain or the Francoist dictatorship.

On January 15, 1941, Alfonso XIII abdicated his rights to the Spanish throne in favour of his son Juan and died shortly later in Rome on February 28, 1941. In Spain, Francisco Franco ordered three days of national mourning. His funeral was held in Rome in the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. Alfonso was buried in the Church of Santa Maria in Monserrato degli Spagnoli, the Spanish national church in Rome, immediately below the tombs of Popes Callixtus III and Alexander VI. In January 1980 his remains were transferred to El Escorial in Spain.

In 1947, Spain's status as a monarchy was affirmed and a law was passed allowing Francisco Franco to choose his successor. The logical choice would have been Juan, the son of King Alfonso XIII and remaining heir to the throne. However, Juan was seen by Franco to be too liberal and in 1969 was bypassed in favour of Juan's son, Juan Carlos, as Franco's successor as head of state. Juan Carlos spent his early years in Italy and came to Spain in 1947 to continue his studies. After completing his secondary education in 1955, he began his military training and entered the General Military Academy at Zaragoza. Later, he attended the Naval Military School, the General Academy of the Air, and finished his tertiary education at the University of Madrid. In 1962, Juan Carlos married Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark in Athens. The couple had two daughters and a son together: Elena, Cristina, and Felipe. Due to Franco's declining health, Juan Carlos first began periodically acting as Spain's head of state in the summer of 1974. Franco died in November the following year and Juan Carlos became king on November 22, 1975, two days after Franco's death, the first reigning monarch since 1931; although Juan, his exiled father, did not formally renounce his claims to the throne in favour of his son until 1977. After 44 years the Bourbon monarchy was re-established in Spain by King Juan Carlos, the grandson of King Alfonso XIII.



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