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Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbón: 1938—: King of Spain

Attempted To Bridge Gap In Politics

In November of 1948 the ten-year-old Juan Carlos set foot for the first time on Spanish soil. He was schooled in Madrid and San Sebastián, finishing with a bachill-erato in 1954. Against the wishes of his father, he agreed to attend Spain's three military academies at Franco's urging. His education was completed in 1961 at Madrid University with courses in law, political science, and philosophy. Eight years later, Franco formally proclaimed him successor, bypassing Don Juan and causing a rift that would endure for years. Juan Carlos' father refused to abandon his claim to the throne, and claimed that Juan Carlos sided with Fran-co's fascist politics. On the other hand, supporters of the Franco regime believed that Juan Carlos harbored leftist views, and because he made almost no political pronouncements that would jeopardize his neutral stance, he was sometimes derided as the idiota per-dido, or "lost fool."

At a Glance . . .

Born Juan Carlos Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón, on January 5, 1938, in Rome, Italy; son of Don Juan de Borbón y Battenberg and Maria de las Mercedes de Borbón y Orleans; married Sofia de Grecia de y Hannover, May 14, 1962; children: Felipe, Elena, Christina. Education: Graduate of Spain's three military academies, late 1950s; Madrid University, BA, 1961. Religion: Roman Catholic.

Career: King of Spain, 1975–.

Awards: Charlemagne prize, 1982; UNESCO, Bolivar prize, 1983; Candenhove Kalergi prize, Switzerland, 1986; Nansen medal, 1987; Elie Wiesel Humanitarian award, 1991; UNESCO, Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace prize, 1995; Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms award, 1995.

Juan Carlos did say later that he realized there was a great generational chasm between him and his father. Should Franco have appointed a successor from the ranks of Spain's military brass, it would have brought permanent military rule to the country. Yet he also realized that the imperial era that his father had known—that of King Alfonso XIII, which dated back to 1886—was a long vanished one after two world wars had sundered Europe. "I realized the Spain my father was always talking about no longer existed," he recalled of this moment in an interview with Europe journalist Robert Latona. "The men and the women I met were nothing like those my father had known when he was 18 and had to go off into exile."

In the six years between his formal proclamation and Franco's 1975 death, Juan Carlos clandestinely began courting members of Spain's intelligentsia—the liberal politicians, writers, and other estimable personalities who had either been forgotten or harassed by the authoritarian Franco regime. Sometimes they were even smuggled into the Zarzuela Palace, a hunting lodge outside of Madrid that Juan Carlos had made his family home after his 1962 marriage to Sofía de Grecia de y Hannover, a princess of Greece. The couple had three young children by the time Juan Carlos ascended to the throne on November 22, 1975, giving Spain its first monarch since 1931.

Juan Carlos promptly announced himself the "king of all Spaniards"—meaning those who had fought on the losing Republican side during the bloody Civil War of the 1930s, and the Francoists who were victorious. His investiture speech made some hints at democracy, but it was his appointment of Adolfo Suárez, once a Franco acolyte, as prime minister in 1976 that served as the beginning of the end of fascism in Spain. Unbeknownst to many except the king, Suárez had democratic leanings, and the two began making sweeping changes. The important Law of Political Reform was passed by the Cortes, or Spanish parliament, in November of 1976, and this formally ended the military dictatorship. It established a two-chamber legislature to be elected by universal suffrage, and within a few months the political parties outlawed under Franco were legalized. In June of 1977 the country held its first free, multiparty elections in 41 years.

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