When General Franco died at the age of eighty-two in 1975 the Spanish monarchy was restored. Its new King Juan Carlos would play a critical role in the transition to democracy after Franco’s death. More recently the former monarch has faced several controversies ranging from elephant hunting in Botswana to financial scandles. Monarchs know the importance of public relations, one only needs to look across the Atlantic at the effect the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have had in renewing the public interest in the centuries old institution of the British Monarchy. In early August, the former Spanish King left Spain in what many have called a self-exile. It is yet to be seen will this latest development help improve the Spanish monarchy’s relationship with the public or has it cast doubt across its estate.
The rise and fall of Juan Carlos are symbiotic with Spanish politics and history. With the defeat of the Republicans following the Spanish Civil War, the monarchy was abolished, and Franco was installed as the new leader of Spain. Towards the end of Franco’s life, it became apparent that the monarchy was to be restored after his death, several candidates were considered including Juan Carlos own father. Franco had hoped that he would continue Francoist policies, however, once Juan Carlo took the throne, he introduced sweeping political reforms which transitioned Spain from an authoritarian regime to democracy with free and fair elections. In the months after Spain became a democracy the new king met with members of the newly legalized opposition parties; these actions only helped to consolidate this new post-civil war Spain. The single event that embodied the new democracy was the 1981 Spanish Coup d'état. Military officers who were against the reforms stormed parliament buildings, holding the Prime minister and Members of Parliament, hostage. In a dramatic turn of events King Juan Carlos appeared on national television to denounce those involved in the coup. The coup only helped to legitimize the new Spanish state but also its new King. This would also be one of the last times of the King would intervene directly in politics.
The economic crash of 2008 is estimated to be when the King began to go wrong. Spain was one of the worst hit states in Europe. Having one the highest youth employment figures in the Eurozone. During the same time Juan Carlos went of an elegant hunting trip in Botswana. Not only did it anger the general public because he was hunting an endangered species, but the trip only became public due to the King getting injured and required a specialist plane to fly him back to Spain for treatment. The cost of trip in the backdrop to the financial crisis that Spain was suffering, did not aid his public image. Further to this, it also did not help that one of his children’s spouses got caught up in a corruption scandal.
Juan Carols abdicated in 2014 to his younger son and current King Felipe VI. However, this did not stop the various controversy’s surrounding the former King. More recently, several investigations have been launched, to examine the former King’s finances and overseas accounts, most notably his dealings in the Middle East. Drawing more unwanted attention a Spanish court cleared the way for an investigation into his involvement with a high-speed rail connecting Mecca and Medina. This is now only possible because Juan Carols is no longer protected by immunity. It is to this backdrop; the former king has gone into a self-exile in the UAE in order to draw attention away from the crown and to stop causing any further damage to the Spanish Royal Family.
Destined for great things and accredited for the successful transition of Franco’s Spain into a new democracy and his intervention with the failed coup attempted help to secure the new fledgling Spanish State. However due to his actions later in life and after his abdication Joan Carlos has brought disrepute to the Spanish monarchy. Despite the best efforts of the current king and other members of the royal family to improve their public image, in particular during the Covid Crisis where they stood in solidarity with those affected by the virus. Will the Spanish monarchy be able to regain the confidence of the general public or is this the beginning of their demise?