Juan Carlos I was born January 5, 1938, in Rome, Italy. The son of the last sitting Spanish king, Juan Carlos first went to Spain in 1947 to further his studies. That same year, Spain’s republican government was abolished and Spain was declared a “representative monarchy.” In 1969, Francisco Franco, a supporter of Spain’s monarchy, presented parliament with a law designating Juan Carlos the future king of Spain, and he took the throne two days after Franco’s death in 1975. Juan Carlos was a well-respected ruler for 39 years before announcing on June 2, 2014 that he would abdicate the Spanish throne, saying it was time to hand the country over to “a new generation.”
Early Years and Education
Juan Carlos Alfonso Victor Maria de Borbon y Borbon was born on January 5, 1938, in Rome, Italy. Juan Carlos I is the grandson of the last king of Spain, Alfonso XIII, who left the country in 1931.
Juan Carlos spent his first decade of life in a variety of European locales, moving to Spain in 1947 to pursue his education. That same year, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco abolished Spain’s republican form of government and returned it to its previous state as a “representative monarchy.” (Spain would not have another ruling monarch until Franco died and Juan Carlos became king.)
In 1955, Juan Carlos entered the General Military Academy at Zaragoza and later continued his military and general education at the Naval Military School at Marín in Pontevedra, the General Academy of the Air at San Javier in Murcia, and the University of Madrid. During this period, Juan Carlos married Princess Sofia of Greece (May 14, 1962). The couple went on to have two daughters, Elena and Cristina, and a son, Felipe.
The Crown Prince Becomes King
On January 7, 1969, Juan Carlos finally declared publicly that he would accept the throne if offered. And in July 1969, Franco put forth to parliament a law that would name Juan Carlos as the future king of Spain. On November 20, 1975, Francisco Franco died, ending the dictator’s 36-year totalitarian reign. Two days later, democracy swept into the country as Juan Carlos was crowned king of Spain, providing the people with a monarch after a 44-year hiatus.
Juan Carlos was always loyal to Franco, but once he was crowned his stance on a variety of issues became far more progressive than anything the dictator would have allowed. Notably, he encouraged the reformation of political parties, which were previously tightly controlled or suppressed, and granted amnesty to political prisoners. In 1981, he also stifled a Franconian military coup that would have upended Spain’s newly established democracy.
Abdication From Throne
After nearly 40 years on the Spanish throne, on June 2, 2014, Juan Carlos announced that he would be stepping down. Generally held in high regard both domestically and internationally for a long span of time, he has contended with much controversy in recent years. Princess Cristina and her husband were accused of money laundering while the king's royal expenditures were called into question at a time when the country has been facing a major economic crisis, with an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent. Juan Carlos was also experiencing significant health problems, undergoing a number of operations.
Juan Carlos stated that he wants to turn the monarchy over to “a new generation—younger, with a lot of energy—that can, with determination, take on and carry out the changes that the current situation demands, and to face with intensity and determination the challenges of tomorrow.”
Juan Carlos’ son, Crown Prince Felipe, 46, will succeed his father, while Felipe's wife Letizia will succeed Sofia.
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