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The Spanish monarchy is rare in the annals of European monarchies in that it has had periods of time when it was a Republic only to return to the concept of monarchy. The first time was in 1873-1874 and then again between 1937 and 1975. King Juan Carlos I of Spain is an essential part of the success of Spain as a monarchy and the man who transitioned his country from a authoritarian dictatorship to a parliamentary monarchy.

Juan Carlos was born January 5, 1938 eldest son of Infante Don Juan, Count of Barcelona and Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. The Count of Barcelona was the third son and heir to King Alfonso XIII of Spain (1886-1941). His grandmother was Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887-1969) a granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria.

On May 14, 1962 the future king married HRH Princess Sophie of Greece and Denmark whom he met while on a cruise in Athens. Princess Sophie was the daughter of King Pavlos of Greece and Princess Fredericka of Hanover (herself a granddaughter of Germany’s last Emperor, Wilhelm II). Juan Carlos and Sophie have three children, Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo (born 1963) Infanta Cristina, Duchess of Palma de Mallorca (born 1965) and Felipe, Prince of Asturias, heir to the Spanish throne (born 1968)

The monarchy was restored in 1975 at the death of Francisco Franco who had designated Juan Carlos his heir bypassing the more liberal Count of Barcelona. Since then Juan Carlos steered the Spanish state toward democracy and successfully thwarted an attempted military coup on February 23,1981. The Spanish Cortes were seized by members of the Guardia Civil in the parliamentary chamber. The King appeared on public television calling for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. Although the king had great powers on his succession by 1982 he had relinquished them in favor of a more ceremonial role for the monarchy. Through the years the king has been above party politics and steered clear of controversy until only recently. In April of 2012 the king came under criticism Juan Carlos faced criticism for going on an elephant hunting trip in Botswana. It was said that his actions “demonstrated a lack of ethics and respect toward many people in this country who are suffering a lot.” The trip also brought to the surface his mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, highlighting the troubles in his marriage with the queen.

Given the historical tenuousness of Spanish politics there were those that called the king “Juan Carlos the Brief” back in 1975 feeling that the monarchy would not last long. It has endured for 37 years and although Spain is undergoing hard economic times I hope the king can continue being a stable symbol for Spain and is able to pass on a stable throne to his son, Felipe, when the time comes.


Part of the speech during the military coup.