Alfonso XIII (1886-1941) was king of Spain from 1886 to 1931. His troubled reign was characterized by violent class conflict, political instability, and dictatorship.
Alfonso was born in Madrid on May 17, 1886, 6 months after the death of his father, King Alfonso XII. His mother, Maria Cristina of Hapsburg, served as regent during Alfonso's minority. She was very anxious to build up his physical strength, and he was encouraged to spend much time swimming, sailing, and riding. This Spartan open-air regime gradually changed the delicate child into a strong and energetic young man. His education was carefully supervised, and not for generations had a Spanish sovereign received as thorough an education. He was very fond of history and became an excellent linguist, but his chief joy was military instruction. The love of soldiering evident in his early boyhood was something he never outgrew.
On May 17, 1902, at the age of 16, Alfonso was crowned king of Spain. These were troubled times for his country. In 1898 Spain had suffered a humiliating defeat in the Spanish-American War and had lost Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines to the United States. The Catalan and Basque peoples in Spain were demanding autonomy, and in the cities socialist and anarchist labor groups were becoming increasingly violent. Political life was very unstable, and between 1902 and 1906 the young Alfonso had to deal with 14 ministerial crises and 8 different prime ministers.
In May 1921 Alfonso delivered a speech denouncing the parliamentary system in Spain, and in July a Spanish force of 10,000 men was annihilated by rebellious tribes in Spanish Morocco. The army and the monarchy came under increasing criticism. The situation became so critical that in September 1923 Gen. Miguel Primo de Rivera took over the government and set up a military dictatorship. Alfonso supported the dictator, and during a visit to Italy he introduced Primo as "my Mussolini."
In early 1930 the dictatorship came to an end; it had become so unpopular that even the army refused to support it. Alfonso's association with the dictatorship had disgraced him and the monarchy, and in the municipal elections of April 1931 the republicans won in Spain's main urban centers. Rather than risk civil war, Alfonso left the country. After traveling to Austria, Switzerland, England, and Egypt, he finally settled in Rome.
In 1931 Spain became a republic. The republicans, however, proved unable to bring political stability and social order to the country. In July 1936 the army rebelled, and the Spanish Civil War began. The war lasted until 1939 and was followed by the long dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco.
Alfonso remained abroad during the civil war, since Gen. Franco would not allow him to return. Early in 1941 Alfonso abdicated in favor of his son Don Juan, and on February 28 he died and was buried in Rome.
Good biographies of Alfonso XIII in English are Robert Sencourt, King Alfonso (1942); Sir Charles Petrie, King Alfonso XIII and His Age (1963); and Vincente R. Pilapil, Alfonso XIII (1969). For the social, political, and economic situation in Spain during Alfonso's reign, Raymond Carr, Spain: 1808-1939 (1966), is highly recommended. □