by Scott Mehl
King Juan Carlos I of Spain
King Juan Carlos I was the reigning King of Spain from November 22, 1975 until his abdication on June 19, 2014. He was born Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias, Infante of Spain, on January 5, 1938 in Rome, where the family had settled after the monarchy was overthrown in 1931 and Spain became a Republic. His parents were Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona (son of King Alfonso XIII of Spain and Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg) and Princess María Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. He has three siblings:
- Infanta Pilar, Duchess of Badajoz (1936)
- Infanta Margarita, Duchess of Soria and Hernani (1939)
- Infante Alfonso (1941-1956)
Despite the family living in exile, Juan Carlos was permitted to return to Spain in 1948 to attend school. After graduating from the San Isidro Institute in Madrid in 1954, he joined the Army, receiving his officer training at the Military Academy of Zaragoza. This was followed by a year with the Navy and then another year with the Air Force, after which he attended Complutense University in Madrid, studying law and international relations.
Juan Carlos married Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark on May 14, 1962 at the Church of Saint Dennis, in Athens. Sophia is the eldest daughter of King Paul of the Hellenes and Princess Frederica of Hanover.
The couple took up residence at Zarzuela Palace, and have three children:
- Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo, born 1963. She married in 1995 (divorced 2009) to Jaime de Marichalar y Sáenz de Tejada and has two children – Felipe and Victoria.
- Infanta Cristina, born 1965. She married in 1997 to Iñaki Urdangarín. The couple has four children – Juan, Pablo, Miguel, and Irene.
- King Felipe VI, born in 1968. He married in 2004 to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. The couple has two daughters – Infanta Leonor, Princess of Asturias, and Infanta Sofía.
On July 21, 1969, General Franco formally named Juan Carlos as his successor, giving him the newly created title ‘The Prince of Spain’. Franco died on November 22, 1975 and Juan Carlos was proclaimed King by the Cortes. He was formally sworn in on November 27th. While many expected the new King to continue with Franco’s policies and government, Juan Carlos instead began implementing changes and reforms. In 1977, Spain held its first democratic elections, and the following year saw the institution of a new Spanish Constitution.
Deemed by some to be his greatest accomplishment was his handling of an attempted coup in 1981. When the democratically elected members of the Cortes (Spanish parliament) were taken hostage, the King addressed the nation, calling for the law to be upheld and the government to continue. The coup attempt quickly fell apart, and within 18 hours, the Cortes was back in control. The King’s strong stance and forceful speech led to a surge in popularity and support of the monarchy.
In the later years of his reign, the King was plagued with several health issues, as well as several personal matters which proved problematic for the monarchy. Most prominent has been allegations directed as his son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarín, for diverting public funds for personal use through one of his companies. Later, the King’s daughter, Infanta Cristina, was also charged with tax fraud and money laundering. In 2012, while Spain was in the midst of a financial crisis, the King went on an elephant-hunting trip to Botswana. The trip became public knowledge when the King was injured and a special plane was flown to return him to Spain. He was quickly vilified in the media for the lavish trip, estimated at costing more than 2-years average salary in Spain, while many Spaniards were suffering at home. The presence of a reported mistress on the trip also caused significant discord at home. All of these events took a strong personal toll on the King, as well as the Spanish monarchy as a whole.
In June 2014, despite earlier denials from the Palace, King Juan Carlos announced his intent to abdicate in favor of his son, Felipe. On June 18th, the King signed the law granting the abdication which would take effect just after midnight. The following day, his son was formally sworn-in as King Felipe VI.
Read more about the Spanish Royal Family here!