Alfonso XIII (1886–1941)

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ALFONSO XIII (1886–1941)


A member of the Bourbon Dynasty, ruled as king of Spain from 1886 until 1931.

Alfonso XIII was born king; his father, Alfonso XII (r. 1875–1885), died six months before his birth. Alfonso XIII's mother, Queen María Christina of Habsburg-Lorraine (1858–1929), ruled as regent until he reached his sixteenth birthday. Alfonso came to his majority in 1902 in the midst of the political crisis caused by the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which Spain lost the remnants of its overseas empire. "Regenerationist" intellectuals and republicans blamed the ruling monarchist parties for the defeat and many called for an end to the monarchy.

Like many of his contemporaries, Alfonso XIII became caught up in the regenerationist fervor of the period, and during the early years of his reign he sought to use his limited constitutional powers to spur reform in the political system and modernize the economy. Deeply imbued with the military traditions of his upbringing, he also longed to restore Spanish prestige in international relations, and he supported the escalation of military operations in Spain's Moroccan protectorate. In 1909 a call-up of reservists sparked a week of bloody riots and church burnings in Barcelona in what became known as the semana trágica.

Spain remained neutral in World War I, but it could not avoid the social dislocation caused by wartime inflation and scarcity. With an Austrian mother and an English queen (Alfonso had married Princess Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg [1887–1969] in 1906), Alfonso was deeply affected by the war. He became an advocate for prisoners of war on both sides of the conflict, acting as a conduit for inquiries and money on behalf of prisoners' families. By 1917, however, his government was struggling with socialist and anarchosyndicalist strike movements, Catalan separatism, and unrest in the army. Alfonso and his ministers responded by crushing strike movements and retreating from prewar promises of reform.

The army's colonial adventures in Morocco culminated in a disastrous defeat at Anual in 1921. The setback sparked a wave of recriminations in the press and parliament. This, coupled with a surge in anarchosyndicalist violence in Barcelona, convinced many generals that the politicians were incapable of fending off the forces of revolution. By 1923 Alfonso XIII had come to share this view, and he did nothing to oppose the coup d'état of General Miguel Primo de Rivera y Orbaneja (1870–1930) in September of that year.

With the king's blessing, Primo de Rivera suspended the constitution and set up a military "directorate" that soon grew into a dictatorship lasting from 1923 to 1930. Alfonso was never entirely comfortable with the dictatorship, and republican and dynastic politicians alike accused him of violating his oath to uphold the constitution. Primo de Rivera restored order in Barcelona and in the Moroccan protectorate but failed to create a political apparatus that could stand without the backing of the army. Faced with a deteriorating economy and growing popular opposition to his regime, Primo stepped down in 1930, leaving the king to attempt to restore constitutional government amid growing social unrest. The king named General Damaso Berenguer (1873–1953) to head a government charged with holding general elections under the old constitution of 1876, but many political leaders refused to participate on the grounds that the king's connivance with the dictatorship required either abdication or a new constitution that would rein in the power of the crown and the military.

In the municipal elections of 12 April 1931, held under Berenguer's successor, Admiral Juan Bautista Aznar (1860–1933), monarchist candidates were defeated by the republican-socialist coalition in almost all major cities and provincial capitals across Spain. Spontaneous demonstrations proclaimed the Second Republic in town squares, and republican and socialist leaders demanded the king's abdication. The leaders of the army and civil guard warned that they could not vouch for the loyalty of their troops if it came to a confrontation in the streets. Most of the king's ministers counseled against resistance, and the king himself quickly realized the seriousness of the defeat. On 14 April he suspended his prerogatives and left for Paris with his family. The king spent the years of the Republic in exile in France and Italy, hoping that the republican experiment would end with his eventual return to power. He supported the uprising against the Republic led by General Francisco Franco (1892–1975) in 1936, but Franco and his nationalist backers regarded the king as too imbued with liberal parliamentarianism and prevented the royal family's return to Spain. Alfonso died in Rome in 1941.

See alsoFranco, Francisco; Primode Rivera, Miguel; Spain.


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Morgan C. Hall

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Alfonso XIII (1886–1941)

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