His grandfather Alfonso XIII was King of Spain until deposed in 1931 by the Second Spanish Republic. The Republic was infamously ended by the Spanish Civil War and followed by the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who ruled until his death on November 20th 1975. On November 22th, Juan Carlos became the King of Spain.
He was born in exile in Rome. As a child, he was known as Juanito ("Johnny"). He left his parents and moved to Spain to follow an education under Franco's watch. This was imposed by Franco as a condition to restore the monarchy.
In 1956, his younger brother Alfonso died of a gunshot wound at his parents' home in Estoril, Portugal. The official explanation is an accident while cleaning a gun. It is uncertain whether the gun was shot by Alfonso or by Juan Carlos, the only witness of the death.
Franco ignored the successory rights of Juan de Borbón, the father of Juan Carlos, and tried to educate Juan Carlos as his successor for the maintenance of the regime. During the dictatorship, Franco created the title of Prince of Spain (not Prince of Asturias) for Juan Carlos. He started to use the second name Carlos to assert his pretensions to the heritage of the Carlist branch of his family. Franco for a long time played with conceding the throne to Juan Carlos' cousin, Alfonso de Borbón Dampierre. During periods of incapacity of Franco in 1974 and 1975, Juan Carlos was interim Head of State. Near death, Franco conceded that he was too ill to govern on October 30, 1975 and the monarchy was restored with control given to Juan Carlos, whom the dictator had groomed to be his fascist successor.
However, Juan Carlos quickly instituted democratic reforms, to the great displeasure of conservative elements, especially in the military, who had expected him to maintain the fascist state. He appointed Adolfo Suárez, a former leader of the Movimiento Nacional as President of the Spanish Government. In 1978, a new constitution was promulgated that acknowledges Juan Carlos as rightful heir of the dynasty and King. An attempted coup (23-F) on 23 February, 1981, in which the Cortes was seized, with gunfire in the parliamentary chamber, seemed likely to derail the process, until the unprecedented public television broadcast by the King called for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. In the hours before, the King had personally called senior military figures throughout Spain, many of whom had been told by coup leaders that he was supporting them, to tell them in no uncertain terms that they must defend the democratic government.
When he became king, one Communist leader (Santiago Carrillo), nicknamed him 'Juan Carlos the Brief', predicting that he and the monarchy would be swept away with all the remnants of fascism. In 1981, that same leader, after the collapse of the coup, in a clearly emotional state 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 was unconditional and absolute, with a former senior leader of the Second Republic telling television viewers 'we are all monarchists now'. In spite of that, it's a common phrase that many Spaniards are not monarchists but "Juancarlists".
In 1977, his father formally renounced his pretensions to the throne. Juan Carlos thanked him confirming the title of Count of Barcelona that Juan had appointed himself in exile.
Today, the King reigns as a constitutional monarch, exercising little practical power over the country's politics. He is regarded as an essential symbol of the country's unity, though his interventions and views are listened to and respected by politicians from all sides of the political divide. His annual speech to the nation on Christmas Eve is transmitted by most Spanish television channels. He is also the supreme chief of the Spanish army. His birthday is a military holiday.
His image is on the Spanish euro coins.
See also History of Spain.
|General Francisco Franco, Spanish Chief of State||List of Spanish monarchs||
Felipe, Prince of Asturias