Alfons 13

Alfons 13

King of Spain
Date of Birth: 17.05.1886
Country: Spain

  1. Biography of Alfonso XIII of Spain
  2. Early Life
  3. Upbringing and Education
  4. Intellectual Interests and Physical Attributes
  5. Political Challenges
  6. Political Influence

Biography of Alfonso XIII of Spain

Early Life

Alfonso XIII was born on May 17, 1886 in Madrid, six months after the death of his father, King Alfonso XII. Until he reached the age of 16, his mother, Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria, served as regent. The young king was known for his sincerity, courage, and friendliness. His popularity greatly increased after his marriage to Victoria Eugenie, the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. However, as a ruler, he showed indifference to many social and economic issues. His biggest mistake was recognizing the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera from 1923 to 1929. On April 14, 1931, Alfonso accepted an ultimatum from Republican leaders and left Spain.

Upbringing and Education

Alfonso XIII was raised under the direct supervision of two women: his mother, Queen Maria Christina, and her aunt, Infanta Isabel. They had a strong influence on his development. They nurtured his strong-willed character, which he had demonstrated from an early age. The future king grew up in a strict and conservative atmosphere, deeply influenced by the Catholic Church and shielded from external influences. Unlike his father, who was educated in Vienna and England during his exile, Alfonso XIII grew up in Spain and was educated by a group of selected teachers. Most of them were military, aristocrats, and clergy. However, during his reign, he managed to break free from this isolation. He frequently traveled abroad and strengthened relations with other European countries, especially after his marriage to Victoria Eugenie - with the English court. Despite his elitist upbringing, which isolated him from the outside world, Alfonso XIII proved to be a liberal and forward-thinking monarch after his coronation. His aunt, Infanta Eulalia, wrote in her memoirs: "His main merit and proof of his talent is that he overcame his upbringing and managed to become a liberal, even though he grew up among those who always agreed with him and was exposed to unhealthy influences that, in fact, should have made him an autocrat." Although not an authoritarian monarch, he was able to deal with parliamentary liberalism. However, he failed to distance himself from the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera and open the country to democracy, which may partly explain the downfall of the monarchy in 1931 and the king's lifelong exile.

Intellectual Interests and Physical Attributes

While Alfonso XIII cannot be called an intellectual, he was undoubtedly an enlightened and cultured polyglot monarch. He spoke German, French, English, and Italian fluently. However, his main passion was sports, particularly horseback riding, sailing, and car racing. He had excellent physical attributes. According to one biographer, he was "well-built, yet muscular, without excess fat, broad-chested and hairy, as one would expect from his fair appearance, although his moustache was nothing more than pitiful tufts of hair, resembling two sharp mouse tails." When Alfonso XIII began his reign in 1902, the wounds caused by the loss of the last colonies - Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines - had not yet healed. The end-of-century crisis sparked a strong reaction among a group of intellectuals and politicians regarding the country's backwardness. They proposed orienting Spain towards Europe, without abandoning its national characteristics, and renewing its political life. Alfonso XIII, known as an innovative monarch, became one of the initiators of this policy and often contrasted royal Spain with the future official Spain, dominated by oligarchy, local cliques, the Church, and the army, which wielded immense power. They formed the backbone and support of the governance system established by the former Prime Minister Canovas del Castillo, who died in 1897.

Political Challenges

Just three years after his coronation, Alfonso XIII faced his first institutional conflict, arising from military intervention in political life. In November 1905, a group of officers attacked the offices of the newspaper "La Veu de Catalunya," the mouthpiece of the Catalan separatist party, Lliga. This was in retaliation for a series of articles and cartoons published by the newspaper and the weekly "Cut-Cut" that satirized and criticized the army. This event not only led to the downfall of liberal Prime Minister Eugenio Montero Rios but also resulted in the passing of a law on judicial proceedings in May 1906, which restricted freedom of speech and granted military courts the power to prosecute punishable opinions about the military. This law violated the unity of jurisdiction provided for in the 1876 Constitution and served to strengthen the corporatism of the military, as well as their influence on political institutions, which, if necessary, could even lead to military dominance. The king never dared to oppose the military, and they could always count on his support, even when conflicts with the government or political parties arose due to their actions. Another event that contributed to the crisis of the system and forced the monarch to intervene was related to the army, especially colonial policy in North Africa. The general opposition to the war in Morocco found its most vivid expression during the so-called "Tragic Week" in Barcelona, from July 26 to 31, 1909, when the masses protested the government's decision to send reservists to defend the city of Melilla, which was fiercely attacked by Rif tribes. Deep antipathy towards the army and government policy in Morocco mixed with social protest and anti-clerical sentiments among a significant portion of Barcelona's residents. Therefore, a serious task was presented to the king: to replace the conservative Prime Minister Antonio Maura with a liberal, Segismundo Moret, in violation of the practice of a coordinated rotation of governments, as failure to do so would have further exacerbated the government crisis.

Political Influence

Due to the fierce campaign launched against Maura abroad and supported by the majority of Spanish parties, Alfonso XIII had no choice but to sacrifice this conservative politician. Maura was made responsible for the execution of anarchist Francisco Ferrer Guardia, without sufficient evidence linking him to the violent attacks during the "Tragic Week." The king's position, taken to avoid conflict with half of Spain and the European world, did not sit well with the leader of the conservatives. He never forgave the king for interfering in government affairs. Another example of royal intervention can be characterized by the appointment of liberal Jose Canalejas as Prime Minister in 1910. This was done without consultation with Moret or Montero Rios, the leaders of the most important factions within the liberal party. However, it was undoubtedly an excellent choice that demonstrated the spirit of renewal and progressive sentiments of the king. Alfonso not only placed trust in this restoration politician, who diligently sought to integrate republicans and socialists into the political system, but also supported his reformist activities for two years.

To better understand the king's inclination towards intervention, it is necessary to consider that in the complex political system of the Restoration era, the monarch occupied a central position and, like almost all his counterparts in Europe, held extensive constitutional powers, as well as important responsibilities in military and foreign affairs, sharing sovereignty with the Cortes. His main influence on policy undoubtedly relied on his decisive role in forming a government, using the so-called "royal prerogatives" to appoint and remove the head of the government. His goal was to facilitate the coordinated change of government and the convening of new Cortes, in which the ruling party would have a sufficient majority to dominate. This system, which assigned the role of not mediator but political instrument to the king in forming a government, greatly subordinated the government to the monarch and supported the crown's tendency to intervene in intra-party matters. During Alfonso XIII's reign, intervention in government affairs occurred quite often. A notable example was the forced resignation of Maura in 1909, pressure exerted by the crown on army and foreign policy matters, the frequent formation of "concentration governments" from 1918 to 1923 without cooperation from the parliament, and Alfonso XIII's unjustified objections to the liberal "concentration" in 1922 and 1923. During the crisis of the Restoration era, dynastic parties began to disintegrate into multiple factions. In most cases, it was up to the king to decide which of the liberal or conservative groups to entrust with government responsibility. And invariably, Alfonso found himself in a difficult position that elicited hostile reactions from deprived political factions. Moreover, he was accused of interfering in internal affairs and showing preference for certain candidates at the expense of others, as it was assumed that the appointed head of government should also take on party leadership. This was the case, for example, in 1913 when Dato was appointed instead of Maura or when Count Romanones was appointed to replace Manuel Garcia Prieto in the same year.