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On December 1, 1874, Alfonso issued the Sandhurst Manifesto, where he set the ideological basis of the Bourbon Restoration. It was drafted in reply to a birthday greeting from his followers, a manifesto proclaiming himself the sole representative of the Spanish monarchy.

At the end of 1874, Brigadier Martínez Campos, who had long been working more or less openly for the king, led some battalions of the central army to Sagunto, rallied the troops sent against him to his own flag, and entered Valencia in the king’s name.

King Alfonso XII of Spain

Thereupon the President resigned, and his power was transferred to the king’s plenipotentiary and adviser, Cánovas. The December 29, 1874 military coup of Gen. Martinez Campos in Sagunto ended the failed republic and meant the rise of the young Prince Alfonso.

Within a few days after Canovas del Castillo took power as Premier, the new king, proclaimed on December 29, 1874, arrived at Madrid, passing through Barcelona and Valencia and was acclaimed everywhere (1875). In 1876, a vigorous campaign against the Carlists, in which the young king took part, resulted in the defeat of Don Carlos and the Duke’s abandonment of the struggle.

Initially led by Canovas del Castillo as moderate prime minister, what was thought at one time as a coup aimed at placing the military in the political-administrative positions of power, in reality ushered in a civilian regime that lasted until Primo de Rivera’s 1923 coup d’état. Cánovas was the real architect of the new regime of the Restoration.

In order to eliminate one of the problems of the reign of Isabel II, the single party and its destabilizing consequences, the Liberal Party was allowed to incorporate and participate in national politics, and the ‘turnismo’ or alternation was to become the new system. Turnismo would be endorsed in the Constitution of 1876 and the Pact of El Pardo (1885). It meant that liberal and conservative prime ministers would succeed each other ending thus the troubles.

This led to the end of the Carlist revolts and the victory over the New York-backed Cuban revolutionaries, and led to a huge backing both by insular and peninsular Spaniards of Alfonso. His government continued the operations of the Ministry for Overseas Affairs which began under his mother’s reign.

The ministry was responsible for the theft of indigenous human remains and artifacts throughout colonized lands from 1863 to 1899. To this day, the majority of the stolen bodies of indigenous peoples, some still displayed in Spanish museums, have yet to be returned to their ancestral lands.

Alfonso XII’s short reign established the foundations for the final socioeconomic recuperation of Spain after the 1808–1874 crisis. Both European (the coastal regions, such as the Basque Country, Catalonia, and Asturias) and Overseas – Antilles and Pacific were able to grow steadily.

Cuba and Puerto Rico prospered to the point that Spain’s first train was between Havana and Camagüey, and the first telegraph in Latin America was in Puerto Rico, established by Samuel Morse, whose daughter lived there with her husband. Upon the American invasion of Puerto Rico, ten US dollars were needed to buy one Puerto Rican peso.

First marriage

On January 23, 1878 at the Basilica of Atocha in Madrid, the 22 year old Alfonso XII married his 17 year old first cousin, Princess María de las Mercedes of Orléans.

Princess María de las Mercedes of Orléans

Princess María de las Mercedes of Orléans (June 24, 1860 – June 26, 1878) was the daughter of Prince Antoine of Orléans, Duke of Montpensier, the youngest son of King Louis Philippe of France and his wife Maria Amelia Teresa of the Two Sicilies, and Infanta Luisa Fernanda of Spain the younger sister of Alfonso XII’s mother, Queen Isabella II of Spain.

Although Mercedes was patrilineally a French princess, she was also a Spanish infanta and spent the first eight years of her life in Spain.

Shortly after their honeymoon, it became evident that Queen Mercedes suffered from typhoid fever. The marriage would last only six months, during which she reportedly had a miscarriage. She died due to the fever on June 26, 1878, at 18 years old.

Second marriage and rule

On 29 November 1879 at the Basilica of Atocha in Madrid, Alfonso married his double third cousin, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria, daughter of Archduke Charles Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Archduchess Elisabeth Franziska of Austria.

During the honeymoon, a pastry cook named Otero fired at the young sovereign and his wife as they were driving in Madrid.

The children of this marriage were:

1. María de las Mercedes, Princess of Asturias, (1880 – 1904), titular heir from the death of her father until the posthumous birth of her brother.
2. María Teresa, (1882 – 1912),
3. Alfonso XIII (1886 – 1941). Born posthumously.

Alfonso XII had two sons by Elena Armanda Nicolasa Sanz y Martínez de Arizala (1849 – 1898):

1. Alfonso Sanz y Martínez de Arizala (1880 – 1970)
2. Fernando Sanz y Martínez de Arizala (1881– 1925)

In 1881 Alfonso XII refused to sanction a law by which the ministers were to remain in office for a fixed term of 18 months. Upon the consequent resignation of Canovas del Castillo, he summoned Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, the Liberal leader, to form a new cabinet.

Death and impact

On November 25, 1885, Alfonso XII died, just three days short of his 28th birthday, at the Royal Palace of El Pardo near Madrid. He had been suffering from tuberculosis, but the immediate cause of his death was a recurrence of dysentery.

Infanta María de las Mercedes, Princess of Asturias


The marriage of King Alfonso XII and Archduchess Maria Christina was unhappy. Alfonso had married Maria Christina in order to secure the succession to the throne. He did not love his wife and was disappointed after she gave birth to two daughters, while he already had two extramarital sons. In July 1883, Maria Christina left the Spanish court and traveled with her daughters to visit her own family in Austria.

By the summer of 1884, Alfonso XII’s health had deteriorated and he had tuberculosis. After a brief improvement, the 27-year-old king died on November 25, 1885, leaving behind the widowed Queen Maria Christina who was three months pregnant.

At the death of King Alfonso XII his heir was his eldest daughter InfantavMaría de las Mercedes (September 11, 1880 – October 17, 1904) She was Princess of Asturias, the heir presumptive to the Crown of Spain, for all 24 years of her life.

Mercedes was not declared queen upon the death of her father because she would be displaced if a son was born, or had the pregnancy been lost. However had the pregnancy or resulted in another daughter, Mercedes would have become queen regnant and been retroactively recognized as such during the interregnum.

The sibling proved to be a boy, Alfonso XIII, and on his birth in 1886, Mercedes turned out not to be queen.

His successor King Alfonso XIII was born at Royal Palace of Madrid on May 17, 1886. He was the posthumous son of Alfonso XII of Spain and became King upon his birth. Just after he was born, he was carried naked to the prime minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta on a silver tray.

The infant King’s sister, Infanta María de las Mercedes
resumed the position of heir presumptive, which she held until her own death in October 1904 at the tender age of 24.

María de las Mercedes had married in Madrid on February 14, 1901, her second cousin, Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, a nephew of King Francesco II of the then-defunct Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, who was elevated to the rank of Infante of Spain. The marriage was highly controversial due to her father-in-law’s ties with the Carlists.

After the death of María de las Mercedes in 1904 she was succeeded as heir to the Spanish throne by her own infant son, Prince Alfonso of the Bourbon-Two-Sicilies, because Alfonso XIII having not yet married and fathered a legitimate child.