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Juan Carlos I
King of Spain (more)
Reign 22 November 1975 – present
Anointment 27 November 1975
Predecessor Alfonso XIII
Heir apparent Felipe, Prince of Asturias
Consort Sophia of Greece and Denmark
Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo
Infanta Cristina, Duchess of Palma de Mallorca
Felipe, Prince of Asturias
Full name
Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María
House House of Borbon[1][2]
Father Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona
Mother Princess Maria Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
Born 5 January 1938 (1938-01-05) (age 72)
Rome, Italy
Religion Roman Catholic
Spanish Royal Family
Escudo de armas de Juan Carlos I de España.svg

HM The King
HM The Queen

Royal styles of
King Juan Carlos I

Escudo de España (mazonado).svg

Reference style His Majesty
Spoken style Your Majesty
Alternative style Sire

Juan Carlos I (baptized as Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias; born 5 January 1938) is the reigning King of Spain.[3]

On 22 November 1975, two days after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos was designated King according to the law of succession promulgated by Franco. The Spanish throne had been vacant for twenty-two years (1947 restoration) in 1969 when Franco named Juan Carlos as the next ruler of Spain.[4] The Spanish Constitution of 1978, Title II: the Crown, Article 56, Subsection 1, affirms the role of the Spanish monarch as the personification and embodiment of the Spanish nation, a symbol of Spain's enduring unity and permanence; and as such, the monarch is the head-of-state and commander-in-chief of the Spanish Armed Forces in a system known in Spanish as "monarquía parlamentaria".[5][6]

King Juan Carlos successfully oversaw the transition of Spain from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy.

Juan Carlos married Sophia of Greece and Denmark in 1962. The couple has three children and eight grandchildren


Early life

Juan Carlos was born to the late Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona and the late Princess María Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in Rome, where his grand-father, King Alfonso XIII and other members of the Spanish royal family had settled following the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931. His early life was dictated largely by the political concerns of his father and General Franco. He moved to Spain in 1948 to be educated there after his father persuaded Franco to allow this. He began his studies in San Sebastián and finished them in 1954 at the San Isidro Institute in Madrid. He then joined the army, doing his officer training from 1955 to 1957 at the Military Academy of Saragossa.

Juan Carlos has two sisters and one brother: Infanta Pilar, Duchess of Badajoz (born 1936), and Infanta Margarita, Duchess of Soria (born 1939) and his younger brother Infante Alfonso.

In March 1956, Juan Carlos's younger brother Alfonso died in a gun accident at the family's home Villa Giralda in Estoril, Portugal. The Spanish Embassy in Portugal issued an official communiqué:[7]

Whilst His Highness Prince Alfonso was cleaning a revolver last evening with his brother, a shot was fired hitting his forehead and killing him in a few minutes. The accident took place at 20.30 hours, after the Infante's return from the Maundy Thursday religious service, during which he had received holy communion.

Very quickly, however, rumours appeared in newspapers that the gun had actually been held by Juan Carlos at the moment the shot was fired. Josefina Carolo, dressmaker to Juan Carlos's mother, said that Juan Carlos pointed the pistol at Alfonso and pulled the trigger, unaware that the pistol was loaded. Bernardo Arnoso, a Portuguese friend of Juan Carlos, also said that Juan Carlos fired the pistol knowing that it was loaded, and adding that the bullet ricocheted off a wall hitting Alfonso in the face. Helena Matheopoulos, a Greek author who spoke with Juan Carlos's sister Pilar, said that Alfonso had been out of the room and when he returned and pushed the door open, the door knocked Juan Carlos in the arm causing him to fire the pistol.[8]

From 1957 Juan Carlos spent a year in the naval school at Pontevedra and another in the Air Force school in San Javier in Murcia. In 1961 he graduated from the Complutense University[citation needed]. He then went to live in the Palace of Zarzuela, and began carrying out official engagements.

Prince of Spain, 1969-1975

The dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco had come to power during the Spanish Civil War, which had pitted anarchists, socialists, and Communists supported by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and by international volunteers, against conservatives, monarchists, nationalists, and fascists, with the latter group ultimately emerging successful with the support of neighbouring Portugal and the major European Axis powers of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Despite his alliance with monarchists, Franco was not eager to restore the deposed Spanish monarchy once in power, preferring to head a regime with himself as head of state for life. Though Franco's partisan supporters generally accepted this arrangement for the present, much debate quickly ensued over who would replace Franco upon his death. The far right factions demanded the return of a hardline absolute monarchy, and eventually Franco agreed that his successor would be a monarch. Franco, a Carlist, had no intention of restoring the constitutional form of monarchy known during the 19th Century or the republican form of government created by the Spanish Constitution of 1931.

The heir to the throne of Spain was Juan de Borbón (Count of Barcelona), the son of the late Alfonso XIII. However, General Franco viewed the heir with extreme suspicion, believing him to be a liberal who was opposed to his regime. Franco then considered giving the Spanish throne to Juan Carlos's cousin Alfonso, Duke of Anjou and Cádiz. Alfonso was known to be an ardent Francoist and would marry Franco's granddaughter, Doña María del Carmen Martínez-Bordiú y Franco in 1972. In response, Juan Carlos started to use his second name Carlos to assert his claim to the heritage of the Carlist branch of his family.

Ultimately, Franco decided to skip a generation and name Prince Juan Carlos as his personal successor. Franco hoped the young Prince could be groomed to take over the nation while still maintaining the ultraconservative nature of his regime. In 1969, Juan Carlos was officially designated heir and was given the new title of Prince of Spain (not the traditional Prince of Asturias). As a condition of being named heir-apparent, he had to swear loyalty to Franco's Movimiento Nacional, which he did with little outward hesitation.

Juan Carlos met and consulted Franco many times while heir apparent and often performed official and ceremonial state functions alongside the dictator, much to the anger of hardline republicans and more moderate liberals, who had hoped that Franco's death would bring in an era of reform. During those years, Juan Carlos publicly supported Franco's regime. However, as the years progressed, Juan Carlos began meeting with political opposition leaders and exiles, who were fighting to bring liberal reform to the country. He also had secret conversations with his father over the phone. Franco, for his part, remained largely oblivious to the prince's actions and denied allegations that Juan Carlos was in any way disloyal to his vision of the regime.

During periods of Franco's temporary incapacity in 1974 and 1975 Juan Carlos was acting head of state. Near death, on 30 October 1975, Franco gave full control to Juan Carlos. On 22 November, following Franco's death, the Cortes Generales proclaimed Juan Carlos King of Spain and on 27 November, Juan Carlos was anointed as King in a ceremony called Holy Spirit Mass, which was the equivalent to a coronation, at the Jerónimos Church in Madrid.

Restoration of the monarchy

After dictator Franco's death, Juan Carlos I quickly instituted reforms, to the great displeasure of Falangist and conservative (monarchist) elements, especially in the military, who had expected him to maintain the authoritarian state. He appointed Adolfo Suárez, a former leader of the Movimiento Nacional, as Prime Minister of Spain.

Juan Carlos greeting Nicolae Ceauşescu, President of Romania, during his visit to Spain in 1979

On 20 May 1977, the leader of the only recently legalized Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) Felipe González, accompanied by Javier Solana, visited Juan Carlos in the Zarzuela Palace. The event represented a key endorsement of the monarchy from Spain's political left, who had been historically republican. Left-wing support for the monarchy grew when the Communist Party of Spain was legalized shortly thereafter, a move Juan Carlos had pressed for, despite enormous right-wing military opposition at that time, during the Cold War.

On 15 June 1977, Spain held its first post-Franco democratic elections. In 1978, a new Constitution was promulgated that acknowledged Juan Carlos as rightful heir of the Spanish dynasty and King; specifically, Title II, Section 57 asserted Juan Carlos' right to the throne of Spain by dynastic succession in the Borbón tradition, as "the legitimate heir of the historic dynasty" rather than as the designated successor of Franco.[5][9] The Constitution was passed by the democratically elected Constituent Cortes, ratified by the people in a referendum (6 December) and then signed into law by the King before a solemn meeting of the Cortes.

Further legitimacy had been restored to Juan Carlos´ position on 14 May 1977, when his father, Don Juan (whom many monarchists had recognized as the legitimate, exiled King of Spain during the Franco era), formally renounced his claim to the Throne and recognized his son as the sole head of the Spanish Royal House, transferring to him the historical heritage of the Spanish monarchy, thus making Juan Carlos both the de facto and the de jure (rightful) King in the eyes of the traditional monarchists. Juan Carlos, who had already been King since Franco's death, gave an acceptance address after his father's resignation speech and thanked him by confirming the title of Count of Barcelona that Don Juan had assumed in exile. It was a sovereign title associated to the crown.

Attempted coup d'état

Under the new 1978 Constitution Juan Carlos relinquished absolute power and became a reigning but non-ruling monarch. The reforms of these years attracted considerable animosity from the armed forces, which ultimately culminated in an attempted military coup on 23 February 1981, in which the Cortes were seized by members of the Guardia Civil in the parliamentary chamber (see 23-F). According to the widely accepted version, the coup ended up being thwarted by the public television broadcast by the King, calling for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. In the hours before his speech, he had personally called many senior military figures to tell them that he was opposed to the coup, and that they had to defend the democratic government. However, some authors (like Ronald Hilton) cast doubt over the King's role in the events. According to an unauthorized biography of Juan Carlos,[10] the coup was actually organized by the Spanish establishment to neutralize the risk of a real coup by the army, moderate the leftwingers' reformist demands, and increase Juan Carlos's popularity.

When Juan Carlos became King, Communist leader Santiago Carrillo nicknamed him Juan Carlos the Brief, predicting that the monarchy would soon be swept away with the other remnants of the Franco era. After the collapse of the attempted coup mentioned above, however, in an emotional statement, Carrillo told television viewers: "God save the King." The Communist leader also remarked: "Today, we are all monarchists." If public support for the monarchy among democrats and leftists before 1981 had been limited, following the King's handling of the coup, it became significantly greater. According to a poll in the newspaper El Mundo in November 2005, 77.5% of Spaniards thought Juan Carlos was "good or very good", 15.4% "not so good", and only 7.1% "bad or very bad". Even so, the issue of the monarchy re-emerged on 28 September 2007 as photos of the King were burnt in public in Catalonia by relatively small groups of protesters wanting the restoration of the Republic.[11]

In July 2000, Juan Carlos was the target of an enraged protester (and some think a possible royal assassin) when Juan María Fernández y Krohn,[12] who had previously tried to take the life of Pope John Paul II, began shouting "Murderer, murderer" at the King (in reference to the adolescent shooting of the King's younger brother) and then approached him in a very threatening manner.

Role in contemporary Spanish politics

The election of socialist leader Felipe González to the Spanish prime ministership in 1982 marked the effective end of the King's active involvement in Spanish politics. González would govern for over a decade, and his administration helped consolidate the democratic gains and thus maintained the stability of the nation. Today the King exercises little real power over the country's politics, but is regarded as an essential symbol of the country's unity. Under the constitution, the King has immunity from prosecution in matters relating to his official duties. This is so because every act of the King as such (and not as a citizen) needs to be undersigned by a government official, thus making the undersigner responsible instead of the king. Offences against the honour of the Royal Family are specially protected by the Spanish Penal Code. Under this protection, Basque independentist Arnaldo Otegi[13] and cartoonists from El Jueves were tried and punished.

The King gives an annual speech to the nation on Christmas Eve. He is the commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces. There was some controversy when he spoke in support of the return of Gibraltar in 1991 at the United Nations General Assembly, where he described the issue as "an unresolved colonial problem which affects Spain's territorial integrity".[citation needed]

In 1979, Juan Carlos instituted the Ruta Quetzal as a way to promote cultural exchange between students from Spain and Latin America. In 1987, he became the first King of Spain to visit the former Spanish possession of Puerto Rico.

When the media asked Juan Carlos in 2005 if he would endorse the bill legalizing gay marriage that was then being debated in the Cortes Generales, he answered "Soy el Rey de España y no el de Bélgica" ("I am the King of Spain, not of Belgium") – a reference to King Baudouin I of Belgium, who refused to sign the Belgian law legalising abortion.[14] The King gave his Royal Assent to Law 13/2005 on 1 July 2005; the law legalizing gay marriage was gazetted in the Boletín Oficial del Estado on 2 July, and came into effect on 3 July.[15]

In November 2007 at the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago de Chile, during a heated exchange, Juan Carlos interrupted Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and asked him, "¿Por qué no te callas?" ("Why don't you shut up?"). Chávez had been interrupting the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, while the latter was defending his predecessor and political opponent, José María Aznar, after Chávez had referred to Aznar as a fascist and "less human than snakes". The King shortly afterwards left the hall when President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua accused Spain of intervention in his country's elections and complained about some Spanish energy companies working in Nicaragua.[16] This was an unprecedented diplomatic incident and a rare display of public anger by the King.[17]

Family and private life

King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia with President George W. Bush and Laura Bush (2001).

Juan Carlos was married in Athens at the Church of Saint Dennis on 14 May 1962, to HRH Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, daughter of King Paul. She was Greek Orthodox but converted to Roman Catholicism in order to become Spain's Queen. They have two daughters, Infanta Elena and Infanta Cristina, and a son, the heir apparent, Felipe.

In 1972, Juan Carlos, a keen sailor, competed in the Dragon class event at the Olympic Games, though he did not win any medals. In their summer holidays, the whole family meets in Marivent Palace (Palma de Mallorca) and the Fortuna yacht, where they take part in sailing competitions. The king has manned the Bribón series of yachts. In winter, they usually go skiing in Baqueira-Beret and Candanchú (Pyrenees), where the king has occasionally ended with a broken leg.

Juan Carlos also enjoys bear hunting. In October 2004, he angered environmental activists after killing nine bears (of which one was a pregnant female) in central Romania.[18] In August 2006, it is alleged that Juan Carlos shot a drunken tame bear (Mitrofan) during a private hunting trip to Russia. The office of the Spanish Monarchy denies this claim, which was made by the Russian regional authorities.[19]

Juan Carlos and Sophia are fluent in several languages. They both speak Spanish, English and French. The King speaks fluent Italian and Portuguese. Unlike the Queen, Juan Carlos does not speak German, or her native language, Greek, a fact he regrets.

Juan Carlos is an amateur radio operator and holds the call sign EA0JC. His fondness of incognito motorbike riding has raised urban legends of people finding him on lonely roads.

Juan Carlos is member of the World Scout Foundation.[20]

Titles, styles, honours and arms



The Standard of the King of Spain.
The king is featured on the Spanish 1 and 2 euro coins

The current Spanish constitution refers to the monarchy as "the Crown of Spain" and the constitutional title of the monarch is simply Rey/Reina de España: that is, "king/queen of Spain". However, the constitution allows for the use of other historic titles pertaining to the Spanish monarchy, without specifying them. A decree promulgated 6 November 1987 at the Council of Ministers regulates the titles further, and on that basis the monarch of Spain has a right to use ("may use") those other titles appertaining to the Crown. Contrary to some belief, the long titulary that contains the list of over 20 kingdoms, etc., is not in state use, nor is it used in Spanish diplomacy. In fact, it has never been in use in that form, as "Spain" was never a part of the list in pre-1837 era when the long list was officially used.

This feudal style was last used officially in 1836, in the titulary of Isabella II of Spain before she became constitutional Queen.

Juan Carlos's titles include that of King of Jerusalem, as successor to the royal family of Naples.

Titles in official use


Other honours

He has been the recipient of numerous honorary degrees [23], including from University of Santo Tomas, Philippines [23]; Harvard University [23]; Southern Methodist University [23] (where, in 2001, he formally opened the Meadows Museum, housing the largest collection of Spanish art outside Spain), and Georgetown University [23]. Juan Carlos also has received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from New York University [23], the University of Cambridge [23] and the University of Utrecht [23] in the Netherlands (25 October 2001).[24]

In 1997, NYU opened the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (to promote research and teaching on Spain and the Spanish-speaking world) in the historic Judson Hall and adjacent buildings on Washington Square in New York City. He is also a member of the Sons of the American Revolution organization.[25] In 1996 he received the Jean Monnet award of the Jean Monnet Foundation for Europe for his work on integrating Spain into the European Community [26]. Juan Carlos I Park, the main municipal park of Madrid, was named after the king.[27]


In 2005, a Marvel Comics cover image that used a copyrighted photo of King Juan Carlos I as a reference was the basis of a lawsuit.[28]


King Juan Carlos I is a direct descendant of many famous European rulers from different countries. He is a descendant of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom through his grandmother, Victoria Eugenie; of Louis XIV of France through the House of Bourbon; of the Emperor Charles V, who belonged to the Habsburg dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire; and of the House of Savoy of Italy. The Capetian dynasty to which he belongs is the oldest in Europe. Some of his distant ancestors include Joan, Duchess of Burgundy and queen consort of Philip VI of France, and Lorenzo de' Medici, the Florentine statesman better known as "Lorenzo the Magnificent" (Lorenzo il Magnifico). He is a descendant of Maria Leszczyńska, Queen Consort of France through an unbroken line of Bourbon princesses who married within the Bourbon house.

See also



  1. ^
  2. ^ The English language version of the Official Royal Family website is rendered as Borbon, while in Spanish it is Borbón
  3. ^ His name, while rarely anglicised, is rendered as John Charles Alphonse Victor Mary of Bourbon and Bourbon-Two Sicilies. He was given these names after his father (Juan de Borbón), grandfather (Alfonso XIII) and maternal grandfather (Prince Charles of Bourbon-Two Sicilies).
  4. ^ "Those Apprentice Kings and Queens Who May -- One Day -- Ascend a Throne," New York Times. November 14, 1971.
  5. ^ a b Título II. De la Corona, Wikisource
  6. ^ Title II, Article 56, Subsection 1, Text:
    The King is Head of State, the symbol of its unity and permanence. He arbitrates and moderates the regular functioning of the institutions, assumes the highest representation of the Spanish State in international relations, especially with the nations of its historical community, and exercises the functions expressly conferred on him by the Constitution and the laws
    El Rey es el Jefe del Estado, símbolo de su unidad y permanencia, arbitra y modera el funcionamiento regular de las instituciones, asume la más alta representación del Estado español en las relaciones internacionales, especialmente con las naciones de su comunidad histórica, y ejerce las funciones que le atribuyen expresamente la Constitución y las leyes
  7. ^ Quoted in Paul Preston, Juan Carlos: Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), 101.
  8. ^ Preston, 102.
  9. ^ Title II, Section 57, Subsection 1:
    "The Crown shall be inherited by the successors of H.M. Juan Carlos I de Borbón, the legitimae heir of the historic dynasty."
    "La Corona de España es hereditaria en los sucesores de S. M. Don Juan Carlos I de Borbón, legítimo heredero de la dinastía histórica."
  10. ^ (Spanish) Patricia Sverlo, Un rey, golpe a golpe: biografía no autorizada de Juan Carlos de Borbón (PDF, in Spanish: "A king, blow by blow: an unauthorized biography of Juan Carlos de Borbón"); a highly critical biography, written from a Republican and Communist point of view. "Golpe a golpe" in the title is something of a pun: while it means "blow by blow", golpe is also the Spanish word for coup.
  11. ^ (English) Tarvainen, Sinikka (2007-09-28). Spanish royals worried about protests against monarchy. EUX.TV., 28 September 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-29 from
  12. ^ (Dutch) Cardyn, Hans (undated). 'Belager' koning Albert komt er goedkoop vanaf. Het Belgische Koningshuis, undated. Retrieved on 2007-12-29 from
  13. ^ (English) Basque convicted for king insult, BBC News, 4 November 2005. Accessed online 29 December 2007.
  14. ^ "Don Juan Carlos, sobre el matrimonio gay: 'Soy el Rey de España y no el de Bélgica'". El Mundo. 13 May 2006. Retrieved 8 January 2007.  (Spanish)
  15. ^ "Disposiciones Generales" (PDF). Boletin Oficial del Estado. 2 June 2005. Retrieved 8 January 2007.  (Spanish)
  16. ^ (Spanish) "El Rey Don Juan Carlos a Hugo Chávez: "¿Por qué no te callas?"". Antena 3. 11 November 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2007.  ("King Juan Carlos to Hugo Chávez: 'Why don't you shut up?'")
  17. ^ (Spanish) "Nunca se había visto al Rey tan enfadado en público". 10 November 2007. Retrieved 10 November 2007.  ("Never has the King been seen so angry in public")
  18. ^ Romania: Elite Hunting Spree Sparks Calls For Better Animal Protection, RFE/RL, 27 January 2005
  19. ^ "Royal row over Russian bear fate", BBC, 20 October 2006
  20. ^ "Einladung zun Pressegespräch am 18.September-World Scout Foundation in Österreich-Seine Mäjestät Carl XVI von Schweden zu Gast in Wien" (in German) (PDF). Pfadfinder und Pfadfinderinnen Österreichs. Retrieved 14 September 2008. 
  21. ^ Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George (2008). "Membership of the Constantinian Order". Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  22. ^ The Royal House of the Two Sicilies (2008). "MEMBERSHIP OF THE ROYAL ILLUSTRIUOS ORDER OF ST. JANUARIUS". The Royal House of the Two Sicilies. Retrieved 26 October 2008. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h (English)"Honorary Doctorates conferred upon HM the King". website. Official site of the Royal Household of HM the King. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  24. ^ (English) Honorary doctors 2001 , Utrecht University. Accessed online 29 December 2007.
  25. ^ (English) Edward F. Butler, Spain's Involvement in the American Revolutionary War, Part 2, National Society of Sons of the American Revolution, 27 November 2001. Accessed online 29 December 2007.
  26. ^ (English)"International Distinctions awarded to HM the King". website. Official site of the Royal Household of HM the King. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  27. ^ Scolovsky, Jerome. "Spain's Royal Family Under Fire." National Public Radio. 10 October 2007. Retrieved on 12 March 2009.
  28. ^
  • Paul Preston, Juan Carlos: Steering Spain from Dictatorship to Democracy, W W Norton & Co Inc, June 2004. ISBN 0-393-05804-2.
  • Ronald Hilton, SPAIN: King Juan Carlos.

External links

Juan Carlos I of Spain
Cadet branch of the Capetian dynasty
Born: 5 January 1938
Regnal titles
Title last held by
Alfonso XIII
King of Spain
1975 – present
Felipe, Prince of Asturias
Political offices
Preceded by
Francisco Franco
as Head of State
since 1947 also Regent
Head of State of Spain
As King of Spain

1975 – present
Felipe, Prince of Asturias
Spanish royalty
Title last held by
Prince Alfonso
(styled Prince of Asturias)
Prince of Spain
Succeeded by
Prince Felipe
(styled Prince of Asturias)
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Juan III
King of Spain Succeeded by
Pretense ended with restoration of actual title
Preceded by
Louis Alphonse, Duke of Anjou
Legitimist line of succession to the French throne
1st position
Succeeded by
Felipe, Prince of Asturias
Title last held by
Alfonso XIII of Spain
King of Jerusalem
King of Gibraltar
Duke of Burgundy
Duke of Athens

1975 – present
Felipe, Prince of Asturias


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