Except for the two short-lived Spanish Republics, Spain has been governed by a monarch or dictator. This is true today.
Felipe VI, Spain’s new monarch, is named for a succession of rulers, most recently Felipe V who was the first Bourbon king. He abdicated the throne for his son, Louis, but then reascended when Louis died seven months later of smallpox. There is only speculation why Felipe V abdicated to Louis, only seventeen at the time.
Fernando VI, the second son, succeeded Felipe V in 1746, then Carlos III, the third son, succeeded him. Carlos IV, son of Carlos III, ascended the throne in 1788. What followed was one of the greatest political intrigues in Spanish history.
Carlos IV abdicated the throne in March of 1808; Fernando VII, his oldest son, in May of 1808. The closeness of dates, on the eve of Napoleon’s invasion of Spain, shows the son’s trickery. He made a backroom deal with Napoleon to force his father’s abdication, in favor of his own accession, only to be imprisoned by the French invaders for five years. When Spain overthrew Joseph Bonaparte, Fernando VII became the Felon king ruling until 1833. He is known today as a tyrant.
His offspring, Isabel II, was a brilliant monarch, and Spain’s only modern queen. Her uncle, however, jealously plotted her overthrow spawning the carlist wars which lasted right through Spain’s Civil War. The conservative vision of Carlos V, the uncle, and his follower, explains the ideological divisions that culminated in civil war later. These divisions first came to a head during the 1868 Spanish Revolution, a conflict which deposed Isabel II.
Amadeo I was elected by parliament to provisionally rule Spain’s First Republic, but he abdicated in 1873.
When the first son of Isabel II, Alfonso XII, ascended the throne, the Spanish monarchy was restored in 1874. His reign was brief and he was succeeded by his son, Alfonso XIII.
Alfonso XIII abdicated the throne in 1931 to make way for the Second Spanish Republic. He proved a weak monarch; Primo de Rivera, leader of the Falange, was the de facto dictator from 1923 to 1930.
When the Republicans lost the war, Franco, Primo de Rivera’s Falange descendant, began his totalitarian rule from 1936 to 1975.
During this thirty-nine year regime, Alfonso XIII and his family lived in exile in Italy. When Franco declared his successor to the monarchy, Juan, Conde of Barcelona, was not considered. Instead, his son, Juan Carlos I, grandson to Alfonso XIII, was invited to live and study in Spain from 1957 forward. He began to carry out official duties for the state as early as 1962 from the Palacio de Zarzuela, still his primary residence. Today the term “juancarlistas” refers to people loyal to the king’s actions to dismantle the Franco regime and effect Spain’s transition to democracy.
Spain’s social unrest may have informed his decision to give the throne to his son, Felipe VI. The Prince of Asturias was married to Letizia during another turbulent period in Spain’s history: they celebrated marriage just a few months after the March 11 train bombings followed by Zapatero’s electoral upset four days later in 2004.
The Infanta Leonor, first daughter of Felipe and Letizia, is next in line but the constitution will need revising first. Currently women, including daughters and consorts, are not allowed to succeed the Spanish throne.