Alfonso XIII: the biography of a Spanish failure

As there are around a hundred biographies of Alfonso XIII, one might think that The Patriotic King could do little more than plow over the plough.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
17 March 2023 Friday 23:48
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Alfonso XIII: the biography of a Spanish failure

As there are around a hundred biographies of Alfonso XIII, one might think that The Patriotic King could do little more than plow over the plough. Just the opposite. An inexcusable reference work, this dazzling and unusually entertaining book brings fundamental innovations. The first, by establishing the relationship between the king and the construction of Spanish nationalism in its most traditional variant. The second, when analyzing the role of the monarchy as an agent of nationalization at the hands of a man who "wanted to go down in history with a nationalist ambition that did not always calibrate the material limitations suffered by the Spaniards...".

It is not the classic internal biography, which follows the character from the cradle to the grave and abounds in his psychology and personal and family relationships, although the author does not neglect these aspects. Hence, attention is paid both to his interest in agriculture and to his enthusiasm for the elitist sports typical of his social class (hunting and polo), or to his frequent infidelities and his disputed role as the first producer. of pornographic films in Spain.

Nor is it a political biography that focuses solely on the exercise of power and his relations with party leaders or the army. Of course, the close ties between the crown and the militia are conveniently analyzed, with special attention to the army of Africa, a personal reserve of the king to which he linked his fate to a large extent with disastrous consequences. In large part because "royal aspirations were not matched by his botched militia skills."

Alfonso XIII began his reign as a young liberal promise that generated expectations of social progress. However, from the middle of his reign, he veered towards increasingly reactionary positions until he became, in 1923, "the mature consenter of an exceptional regime"; the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. This journey is described by Moreno Luzón with equanimity and excellent narrative pulse.

The evolution can be noticed by comparing two monuments. On the one hand, the memorial of Alfonso XII in the Retiro Park, a Monument to the Spanish Homeland of an absolutely liberal nature, without the slightest religious connotation. On the other, the monument of Cerro de los Ángeles from 1919, when Alfonso XIII, in an initiative that still amazes, consecrated Spain to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Between them, the First World War and the Soviet Revolution had progressively slid the king down the path of no return of reaction.

The patriotic king is a magnificent biographical story that, broadening the focus, allows us to appreciate a political-cultural mosaic full of nuances and aspects that had not previously been highlighted, such as the king's nationalist projects, or his role as a scenic monarch given to constant baths of masses. Likewise, the description of the monarchical civil society, the support for the creation of the boy-scouts or the brilliant Alfonso cultural circle – of which Joaquín Sorolla or Mariano Benlliure were a part – illuminates, as much as commercial advertisements or the cinematograph, the spirit of those times.

Alfonso XIII was a popular king, but ended up alone, virulently reviled even by Primo de Rivera. He had linked his legitimacy with the results of his actions, but his action did not meet the expectations generated and disappointed everyone, with the exception, perhaps, of Cardinal Segura. Not even the army, of which it considered itself the guarantor, regretted his departure in 1931. He died in Rome in 1941 embracing the mantle of the Virgen del Pilar, whom he had named patron saint of a Civil Guard that, when he was overthrown, did not even raise a bow. eyebrow.