So, Just Who Is Juan Carlos I Of Spain?

We take a closer look at just who Juan Carlos I of Spain is, and how his life has had an impact on history.

Any keen historians amongst you who happen to have an interest in royal history, particularly the Spanish royal family, will likely find the following document extremely insightful. Why? Because we’re going to be looking at one of history’s most influential figures, particularly when talking about the history of Spain – Juan Carlos I of Spain.

Nowadays, if a member of the royal family is seen wearing an unusual item of clothing, it’s deemed newsworthy. Compare how we view the royals, to how we would have viewed the royals centuries, even decades ago, and it’s easy to understand why royal history is such an interesting topic to discuss.

Juan Carlos I of Spain for example was instrumental in transforming his nation from one of dictatorship, to what is now a constitutional monarchy, and that’s after his family spent much of their time in exile.

But who was the real Juan Carlos I of Spain, and how did he transform a nation? Read on to find out more.

Who Is Juan Carlos I Of Spain?

Juan Carlos in January 2013 | Image: Irekia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Juan Carlos I of Spain is a member of the Spanish Royal Family who reigned over the country from 1975 up until 2014 when he was abdicated.

After having spent his early years in Italy, he made his way over to Spain in 1947, before becoming king in 1975, taking over from Franco. Many expected the new king to continue Franco’s legacy, but instead, he began introducing reforms to help Spain to ascend to a democratic state.

In 2008, he was voted the most popular leader in the whole of Ibero-America, largely because he was so instrumental in Spain’s transition to democracy, and, had undone a lot of the Francoist government’s work in the previous decades.

Unfortunately, controversy soon reared its ugly head and Juan Carlos I and his family’s popularity began to suffer, capped off by an elephant hunting trip he undertook when his country was in the midst of one of its worth financial crises’ in decades.

He would go on to abdicate in 2014 for personal reasons, to be replaced by his son Felipe VI. The former king has been living in exile since 2020 as a result of alleged improper ties to Saudi Arabian business deals.

Despite his final years being marred in various controversies, you cannot overlook the fact that Spain is now a democratic country, thanks largely to his hard work and his new policies whilst he was reigning over the country.

Early Years

So, Just Who Is Juan Carlos I Of Spain?
Juan Carlos and Alfonso with their father Juan in between (1950) | Image: Paco Marí, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Juan Carlos Alfonso Victor Maria was born back in 1938, on the 5th of January. Interestingly, he was actually born in Rome, Italy.

The grandson of the last king Alfonso XIII, who had been the king of Spain from 1902 up until 1931, after Spain became a republic, he spent his early years in Italy. His early life was dominated by political tension between his father and General Franco, he took charge of Spain after Alfonso XIII and invoked numerous fascist-like policies.

He moved to Spain to study in 1948, aged 10, after his father persuaded Franco to allow him into the country to study. He finished his education in 1954 in Madrid, before joining the army to undergo his officer training from 1955 up until 1957. He studied at the Military Academy of Zaragoza.

He was a bright young man, although it was clear that education wasn’t his strongest point as he struggled with dyslexia.

In 1956, tragedy struck his household, as his younger brother Alfonso sadly died in a gun accident after the two brothers aged 14 and 18 at the time, were playing with a revolver that Juan Carlos had brought back from military school. It is believed that the two were playing, and that the revolver went off, without either brother realizing that it was loaded at the time. The younger brother was shot in the head and sadly died.

Juan Carlos’ father is believed to have initially accused him of deliberately shooting his younger brother, and sent him back to the military academy just 2 days later.

In 1962, he married Princess Sofia of Greece. They had 3 children.

Juan Carlos, Sofía, and their three children in 1975 | Image: [onbekend], CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Becoming King

In 1969, Franco made an announcement, stating that, after he retired, or died, Juan Carlos I would become king of Spain, rather than Don Carlos (the father of Juan). In 1974, Franco fell ill and Juan Carlos stepped up as Spain’s acting head of state.

In 1975, Franco died, and Juan Carlos I became the king of Spain. Amazingly, he was hugely popular with Franco’s supporters, as well as the Spanish military. He was a fair ruler and clearly wanted the best for his country and his people.

A few short years later, Spain had become a democratic country, despite an attempted coup in the early 1980s.

Hunting Trip And Abdication

In 2012, the king embarked on an elephant hunting trip to Botswana. He was injured and a special aircraft was chartered to collect him. The estimated cost of this one trip was €44,000. This was around twice the average annual salary in Spain.

Spain was in the midst of an economic crisis, so the fact that the king was leaving the country to go hunting, at a cost of €44,000 angered the Spanish locals, who were struggling to make ends meet. Up until this point, he had proved very popular and had avoided media scrutiny. It was decided that he would be removed from power.

In 2014, after the trip and the fact that his daughter was involved in an embezzlement scandal, the king was removed from power and abdicated the throne.

In 2020, evidence surfaced that indicated the former king may have been involved in dodgy business practices with Saudi Arabians. He was investigated for corruption. Despite being cleared of any wrongdoings in 2021, Juan Carlos I left Spain and continues to live life in exile. Despite the final years of his reign being marred in controversy, he ultimately did a great deal of good for Spain and is still considered very popular amongst a great deal of Spaniards.

Feature Image: [onbekend], CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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