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Franco, Carmen Polo de (1902–1988)

Franco, Carmen Polo de (1902–1988)

Spanish wife and adviser of Francisco Franco, dictator of Spain. Name variations: María del Carmen Polo y Martínez Valdés de Franco. Born María del Carmen Polo y Martínez Valdés in Oviedo, Spain, in 1902; died in 1988; married Francisco Franco (head or Caudillo of the Spanish state), in October 1923; children: María del Carmen, called Carmencita (who married Cristóbal Martínez Bordiu).

A native of Oviedo, Spain, Carmen Polo was born in 1902 to parents from the provincial aristocracy. When Carmen's mother died and left her father Felipe with several young children, his sister Isabel helped raise the family. Convent-educated, Carmen met a young military officer, Francisco Franco, in 1917. He began courting her, despite opposition from her family, which considered him socially inferior. Franco's military successes in Morocco and his persistence eventually won the family's support, and they were married in October 1923.

Carmen played her chosen part well as devoted wife of, depending on one's political inclinations, a hero or rogue destined to transform his country. In 1926, she had the couple's only child, María del Carmen, called Carmencita Franco . Meanwhile, she endured postings to Morocco. Their fortunes apparently receded in 1931, with the abdication of Alphonso XIII and the proclamation of Spain's Second Republic. The liberal government distrusted the military, and abolished the Academy, which Franco headed. She fed his bitterness, and her religious conservatism confirmed her dislike of the liberals. As social and political chaos descended on Spain in the mid-1930s, the government posted the Francos to the Canary Islands and placed him under surveillance, hoping to prevent him from plotting against the Republic.

Civil war erupted in July 1936. Carmen took her daughter to France aboard a German ship while Franco successfully led the Foreign Legion into Spain. They rejoined him two months later. On October 12, Carmen performed one of her most famous acts. Present at Día de la Raza (Day of the Hispanic Race) celebrations in Salamanca when the great Spanish philosopher and educator Miguel de Unamuno publicly challenged the anti-intellectual ravings of General Millán Astray, Carmen protected the writer by escorting him to his home. Franco's victory in 1939 made her supreme in Spain for the next 35 years.

She and Franco moved into El Pardo palace on the outskirts of Madrid. He insisted that Spaniards treat her almost like a queen: they played the royal march for her at state functions and called her La Señora. Carmen attempted to rewrite her husband's ancestry to make it more aristocratic. Her avarice knew few bounds. She melted down the gold medals presented by cities and provinces to her husband and collected jewelry and antiques from sycophants and influence seekers. She secured her daughter's marriage to Cristóbal Martínez Bordiu in a royally ostentatious wedding and revelled in her granddaughter's marriage to Alphonso de Borbón-Dampierre, member of Spain's old royal family.

When Franco died on November 20, 1975, King Juan Carlos allowed her to stay on in El Pardo palace for several months. Carmen then moved to an apartment in Madrid, where she lived quietly until her death in 1988.

sources:

Garriga, Ramón. La Señora de El Pardo. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1979.

Preston, Paul. Franco. London: HarperCollins, 1993.

Kendall W. Brown , Professor of History, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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