As the 25th anniversary approaches, and with mounting unrest among the ranks of the military over president Zapatero's social and statutory reform programme, we take a look back at the failed military coup on the 23rd February 1981, and the crucial role played by King Juan Carlos, who will doubtless go down in history for appearing on television that same night to face down the rebels, who were led by Lieutenant General Jaime Milan del Bosch. Earlier the same evening, a group of around 200 soldiers and paramilitary Guardia Civil officers, led by Guardia Civil Lt. Colonel Antonio Tejero Molina, had stormed the Spanish parliament, shouting orders, firing automatic weapons and holding around 350 MPs hostage. Meanwhile, rebels in Madrid took control of national radio and television stations, and, in Valencia, Lt. General del Bosch ordered tanks onto the streets, and declared a state of emergency. However, the rebels failed to understand two key issues; that the man who had been personally groomed by Franco to succeed him as Head of State, was such a staunch supporter of democracy; and that, having served in all three branches of the armed forces, he enjoyed the loyalty and strong support of the military. In the end, Madrid-based troops refused to join the rebellion, and the king's order for all units to return to barracks, was obeyed.
Juan Carlos De Borbon y Borbon was born in exile in Rome on the 5th January 1938 at the height of the Spanish Civil War. His father, Don Juan de Borbon y Battenburg, took over as Head of the Spanish Royal Household and Count of Barcelona, after his father, King Alfonso XIII, gave up the crown after being forced into exile in 1931, when the Republic was proclaimed following two turbulent decades for the Spanish monarchy. Five years after the death of the former king, Don Juan moved his family to Lisbon in 1946, but insisted that his son be educated in Spain. Juan Carlos thus arrived in Spain for the first time as a nine year old in 1947, when he started at Madrid's San Isidro School. Having completed his Baccalaureate in 1954, he started his military career the following year, graduating as an officer from the Army, Navy and Air Force Academies. Returning to his studies at the Complutense University of Madrid, he read Political and International Law, Economics and Public Spending.
The future king married Princess Sofía of Greece, the eldest daughter of King Paul I and Queen Federika, in Athens on the 14th May 1962. Following the honeymoon, the couple moved into the Zarzuela Palace in Madrid, which remains their home today. Their first child Elena was born the following year, and two years later they had a second daughter, Cristina, neither of whom would have been eligible to succeed their father in the event of a possible restitution of the monarchy. A male heir, Felipe, was born in 1968.
General Franco surprised many when he named Juan Carlos as his successor as Head of State in 1969, after which the young prince began to take on official duties at home and abroad as part of his grooming to take over the reins of power. Franco's dream, and the hope that quietened the fears of many on the extreme right wing, was that the appointment of Juan Carlos as a puppet monarch, would ensure the continuance of the political status quo. Many staunch pro-Francoists were outraged, therefore, when in his first public statement following Franco's death on the 22nd November, 1975, the new king declared his intent to restore democracy. Spain's transition to democracy began in earnest with the passing of the Political Reform Act in in 1976. In May of the following year, the Count of Barcelona relinquished his dynastic rights and his position as Head of the Royal Household to his son. The first free elections since 1936 were held in June 1976, and the new parliament set about drafting the text of the Spanish Constitution, which was approved by referendum on the 6th December, 1978.
Although there is much current debate about possible reforms to the Constitution to satisfy the demands of some of Spain's more separatist regions such as Cataluña and the Basque country, democracy has not been seriously threatened since the dramatic events of the 23rd February, 1981. This stability has allowed the king, who holds regular meetings with the president of his government, to focus his efforts on fostering improved political, economic and cultural relations internationally. He attaches special importance to Spain's relationship with Latin America, based on historical ties and linguistic unity, and the need to undertake joint initiatives and cooperate on all levels. A committed European, King Juan Carlos has played a key role in Spain's integration into the European unity, and was awarded the Charlemagne Prize in 1982.
A keen sportsman, the king enjoys a number of outdoor sports such as sailing and skiing, and is never happier than when surrounded by his family, and his growing number of grandchildren. Including the Infanta Leonor, who was born on the 31st October last year, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia now have seven grandchildren. The Infanta Elena has two children: Felipe Juan Froilán (born July 1998) and Victoria Federica (born September 2000), while her sister, the Infanta Cristina, has four: Juan Valentín (born September 1999), Pablo Nicolás (born December 2000), Miguel (born April 2002), and Irene (born June 2005).