Juan Carlos I
King of Spain
Reign 22 November 1975 – 19 June 2014
Enthronement 27 November 1975
Successor Felipe VI
Full name
Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias
Born 5 January 1938 (1938-01-05) (age 82)
Rome, Italy
Consort Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark (m. 1962)
Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo
Infanta Cristina of Spain
Felipe VI of Spain
House Bourbon
Father Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona
Mother Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies
Signature Juan Carlos I of Spain Signature.svg.png
Religion Roman Catholic
Spanish Royal Family
Coat of Arms of Spanish Monarch.svg

HM The King
HM The Queen

HM King Juan Carlos I
HM Queen Sofía

HRH The Duchess of Badajoz

  • HE Doña Simoneta
  • HE The Viscount de la Torre
  • HE Don Bruno
  • HE Don Luis
  • HE Don Fernando

HRH The Duchess of Soria and Hernani
HE The Duke of Soria and Hernani

  • HE Don Alfonso
  • HE Doña María

HRH The Dowager Duchess of Calabria

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Juan Carlos I (Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias, born 5 January 1938) is a member of the Spanish Royal Family who reigned as King of Spain from November 1975 until his abdication in June 2014.

Juan Carlos is the grandson of Alfonso XIII, the last king of Spain before the abolition of the monarchy in 1931 and the subsequent declaration of the Second Spanish Republic. Juan Carlos was born in Rome, Italy, during his family's exile. Generalísimo Francisco Franco, the Spanish head of state who initiated the civil war by means of a coup d'état against the constitutional republic in 1936, took over the government of Spain after his victory in the Spanish Civil War in 1939, and in 1947 Spain's status as a monarchy was affirmed and a law was passed allowing Franco to choose his successor. Juan Carlos's father, Juan, was the third son of King Alfonso, who had renounced his claims to the throne in January 1941. Juan was seen by Franco to be too liberal and in 1969 was bypassed in favour of Juan Carlos as Franco's successor as head of state.[1]

Juan Carlos spent his early years in Italy and came to Spain in 1947 to continue his studies. After completing his secondary education in 1955, he began his military training and entered the General Military Academy at Zaragoza. Later, he attended the Naval Military School, the General Academy of the Air, and finished his tertiary education at the University of Madrid. In 1962, Juan Carlos married Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark in Athens. The couple had two daughters and a son together: Elena, Cristina and Felipe. Due to Franco's declining health, Juan Carlos first began periodically acting as Spain's head of state in the summer of 1974. Franco died in November the following year and Juan Carlos became king on 22 November 1975, two days after Franco's death, the first reigning monarch since 1931; although his exiled father did not formally renounce his claims to the throne in favor of his son until 1977.

Expected to continue Franco's legacy, Juan Carlos, however, soon after his accession introduced reforms to dismantle the Francoist regime and begin the Spanish transition to democracy] This led to the approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 in a referendum, which re-established a constitutional monarchy. In 1981, Juan Carlos played a major role in preventing a coup that attempted to revert Spain to Francoist government in the King's name. In 2008, he was considered the most popular leader in all Ibero-America.[2] Hailed for his role in Spain's transition to democracy, the King and the monarchy's reputation began to suffer after controversies surrounding his family arose, exacerbated by an elephant-hunting trip he undertook during a time of financial crisis in Spain. In 2014, Juan Carlos, citing personal reasons, abdicated in favour of his son, who acceded to the throne as Felipe VI.

Early life Edit

Juan Carlos of Spain was born to the Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, and the Princess María Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in Rome, Italy, where his grandfather, King Alfonso XIII, and other members of the Spanish royal family had settled following the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931.

He was baptized as Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias. He was given the name Juan Carlos after his father and maternal grandfather, Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies.

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 it.[3] He began his studies in San Sebastián and finished them in 1954 at the Instituto San Isidro in Madrid. He then joined the army, doing his officer training from 1955 to 1957 at the Military Academy of Zaragoza.

Juan Carlos has two sisters: Infanta Pilar, Duchess of Badajoz (born 1936); and Infanta Margarita, Duchess of Soria (born 1939). He also had a younger brother, Alfonso.

Brother's death Edit

On the evening of Holy Thursday, 29 March 1956, Juan Carlos's younger brother Alfonso died in a gun accident at the family's home Villa Giralda in Estoril, on the Portuguese Riviera. The Spanish Embassy in Portugal then issued the following official communiqué:

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.

Alfonso had won a local junior golf tournament earlier in the day, then went to evening Mass and rushed up to the room to see Juan Carlos who had come home for the Easter holidays from military school. It is alleged that Juan Carlos began playing with a gun that had apparently been given to Alfonso by General Franco.[4][5] Rumors appeared in newspapers that the gun had actually been held by Juan Carlos at the moment the shot was fired.

As they were alone in the room, it is unclear how Alfonso was shot, but according to Josefina Carolo, dressmaker to Juan Carlos's mother, Juan Carlos pointed the pistol at Alfonso and pulled the trigger, unaware that it was loaded. Bernardo Arnoso, a Portuguese friend of Juan Carlos, also said that Juan Carlos fired the pistol not 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.[6]

Education Edit

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. In 1957, Juan Carlos spent a year in the naval school at Marín, Pontevedra, and another in the Air Force school in San Javier in Murcia.

From 1960–1961 he studied Law, International Political Economy and Public Finance at Complutense University.[7] He then went to live in the Palace of Zarzuela, and began carrying out official engagements.

Juan Carlos is fluent in several languages. He speaks Spanish, English, and French. The king also speaks fluent Italian and Catalan. Unlike the queen, Juan Carlos does not speak any German, nor her native language, Greek, a fact he regrets.

Personal lifeEdit


Juan Carlos was married in Athens at the Church of Saint Dennis on 14 May 1962, to 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. Also in 1962, a Roman Catholic wedding was performed in the Pauline Chapel the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.


They have two daughters and a son:

Juan Carlos is also the alleged illegitimate father of Alberto Sola, born in Barcelona in 1956, of María A. L. A, born in Catalonia in 1964,[9] and of a Belgian woman, Ingrid Sartiau, who has filed a paternity suit but complete sovereign immunity had prevented the suit prior to his abdication.[10]

Interests Edit

In 1972, Juan Carlos, a keen sailor, competed in the Dragon class event at the Olympic Games, finishing 15th. 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, the family often go skiing in Baqueira-Beret and Candanchú (Pyrenees). At present, his hobbies include classic sailing boats.[11]

Juan Carlos also hunts bears; in October 2004, he angered environmental activists by killing nine bears, one of which was a pregnant female, in central Romania.[12] It was alleged by the Russian regional authorities that in August 2006 Juan Carlos shot a drunken tame bear (Mitrofan the Bear) during a private hunting trip to Russia; the Office of the Spanish Monarchy denied this claim.[13]

Juan Carlos is a member of the World Scout Foundation[14] and of the Sons of the American Revolution. Juan Carlos I is also a black belt in karate.[15]


A benign 17-19mm tumour was removed under general anaesthetic from King Juan Carlos's right lung in an operation carried out in the "Hospital Clínic" of Barcelona in May 2010.[16] The operation followed an annual check-up, and Juan Carlos was not expected to need any further treatment.[17]

In April 2012, the King underwent surgery for a triple fracture of the hip at the San Jose Hospital, Madrid, following a fall on a private elephant-hunting trip to Botswana.[18] He also underwent a hip operation in September 2013 at Madrid's Quirón hospital.[19] In April 2018, Juan Carlos was admitted to hospital for a surgery on his right knee.[20]

On 24 August 2019 he had heart surgery.[21]

Royal lifeEdit

Prince of Spain, 1969–1975Edit

The dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco had come to power during the Spanish Civil War, which had pitted democrats, anarchists, socialists, and communists, supported in part by the Soviet Union and by international volunteers, against conservatives, monarchists, nationalists, and fascists, with the latter group ultimately emerging successful with the support of neighboring 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 by some accounts, 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. In 1961, Franco offered the crown to Archduke Otto of Austria, but he declined on account of the Habsburg dynasty's long absence from the Spanish throne, and recommended Juan Carlos. 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 Juan de Borbón's son, 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.

Prince Juan Carlos met and consulted Franco many times while heir apparent and often took part in official and ceremonial state functions standing 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 1969–1975, Juan Carlos publicly supported Franco's regime. Although Franco's health worsened during those years, whenever he did appear in public, from state dinners to military parades, it was in Juan Carlos company as he continued to praise Franco and his government for the economic growth and positive changes in Spain. However, as the years progressed, Juan Carlos began meeting secretly 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 telephone. Franco, for his part, remained largely oblivious to the prince's actions and denied allegations from his ministers and advisors 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 king in a ceremony called Holy Spirit Mass, which was the equivalent of a coronation, at the Jerónimos Church in Madrid.

Restoration of the monarchyEdit

Juan Carlos 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.

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. 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.

An attempted military coup, known as 23-F, occurred on 23 February 1981, when the Cortes were seized by members of the Guardia Civil in the parliamentary chamber. Believed to be a major factor in foiling the coup was the public television broadcast by the king, calling for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. Certainly, 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.


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 small groups of protesters wanting the restoration of the Republic.

In July 2000, Juan Carlos was the target of an enraged protester when Juan María Fernández y Krohn, who had previously tried to take the life of Pope John Paul II, began shouting "Murderer! Murderer!" at the king and then approached him in a very threatening manner.

Role in contemporary Spanish politicsEdit

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. While the king is generally reckoned as having a merely ceremonial role in politics, he commands great moral authority 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 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.

When the media asked Juan Carlos in 2005 if he would endorse the bill legalising 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. The King gave his Royal Assent to Law 13/2005 on 1 July 2005; the law legalising gay marriage was gazetted in the Boletín Oficial del Estado on 2 July, and came into effect on 3 July.

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?" using the familiar "tu" you form to underline the disdain). 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. This was an unprecedented diplomatic incident and a rare display of public anger by the King.

Popularity in Portugal and the Iberian Union questionEdit

A 2006 poll taken in Portugal showed that 28% of the Portuguese were in favor of an Iberian Union and wanted to become Spanish, with Juan Carlos I as their King (which could also be a sign of discontent with local politicians), and followed attentively the lives of the Spanish Royal Family; while a similar poll taken in Spain stated that 45.7% of the Spanish would also favor an Iberian Union, a number that rises to 50.8% in the age group between 18 and 24. A new poll from 2011 presents a rise in the Portuguese supporters of such a union from 45.6% to 46.1% and in the Spanish supporters from 31% to 39.8%.


In early 2014, speculation appeared in the Spanish media about the king's future. A briefing by the king's chief of staff had denied that the 'abdication option' was being considered.[1]On 2 June 2014, the King announced that he would abdicate the throne in favor of his eldest son, Felipe, Prince of Asturias. Royal officials described the king's choice as a personal decision which he had been contemplating since his 76th birthday at the start of the year. He has signed the abdication instrument and now must await for a constitutional amendment to be passed by parliament before his abdication takes effect.

Titles, styles and honorsEdit

Main article: List of titles and honours of Juan Carlos I of Spain

In 1969, Juan Carlos was named as General Franco's successor and was given the title of 'Prince of Spain'. Upon the death of Franco in 1975, Juan Carlos acceded to the throne of Spain. The current Spanish constitution refers to the monarch by the simple title "King of Spain". Aside from this title, the constitution allows for the use of other historic titles pertaining to the Spanish monarchy, without specifying them. This was also reiterated by a decree promulgated on 6 November 1987 concerning titles of members of the royal family. Since his abdication in 2014, King Juan Carlos has retained, by courtesy, the title and style of King that he enjoyed during his reign.

References Edit

  1. Those Apprentice Kings and Queens Who May – One Day – Ascend a Throne, New York Times
  2. Juan Carlos most popular leader in Ibero-America. Elmundo
  3. Profile: Spain's Juan Carlos. BBC News
  4. Royal Foibles
  5. Juan Carlos lays to rest a haunting Spanish tragedy. The Independent
  6. A Royal Mystery at
  7. Su Majestad el Rey Don Juan Carlos. Página oficial de la Casa de Su Majestad el Re
  8. Spain's Princess Cristina acquitted in tax fraud trial. The Guardian
  9. Juan Carlos I es mi padre. El Español
  10. Former Spanish King Faces Paternity Suit. Time
  11. El Rey Don Juan Carlos adquiere un velero de 1929, en Finlandia. El Mundo
  12. Romania: Elite Hunting Spree Sparks Calls For Better Animal Protection. RFE/RL
  13. "Royal row over Russian bear fate". BBC
  14. Einladung zun Pressegespräch am 18.September-World Scout Foundation in Österreich-Seine Mäjestät Carl XVI von Schweden zu Gast in Wien. Pfadfinder und Pfadfinderinnen Österreichs
  15. Spain's King‐Designate in Power. Prince Juan Carlos. New York Times
  16. Finaliza la operación al Rey para extirparle un nódulo en un pulmón. El Mundo
  17. Los cirujanos descartan que el Rey. El País
  18. Spanish King Juan Carlos in hip surgery after fall. BBC News
  19. Spain's King to undergo hip surgery tuesday. Associated Press
  20. Queen Letizia and Queen Sofia Reunite After Their Tense Exchange on Easter Was Caught on Camera. People
  21. El rey Juan Carlos se someterá a una operación de corazón el próximo sábado. La Vanguardia

External linksEdit

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