Churchill on King Alfonso XIII of Spain

I found this chapter in Great Contemporaries interesting primarily because I had never heard of this particular Spanish king.  It is yet another reminder that almost regardless of the subject, a good writer like Churchill can always engage his/her reader.

In his book, Great Contemporaries, Winston Churchill provides chapter-long biographies of his peers who he considers to be of historical importance.  He holds particular respect and admiration for Alfonso XIII, King of Spain.  Churchill describes Alfonso XIII as having, “vigilant care for the interest of his country, and his earnest desire for the material welfare and progress of its people,” (Churchill 153).  Churchill’s view is derived from the fact that King Alfonso XIII valued the Spanish people over himself.

While King of Spain, Alfonso XIII even risked his personal safety for the benefit of his people.  The most telling instance occurred on the day of his wedding to his English princess bride.  A terrorist exploded a bomb during the royal procession (Churchill 151).  Over fifty people were killed, but the bride and groom luckily survived.  Instead of running to safety, Alfonso XIII bravely continued the procession.  He took “an open motor-car and [drove] out unguarded and almost alone among…his subjects,” (Churchill 151-152) to assure the Spanish people that all was well.  In total, there were five attacks on Alfonso XIII’s life, and many more foiled before fruition.  Despite the continual risk to his personal safety Alfonso XIII refused to recluse himself to the safety of Madrid.  King Alfonso also sacrificed his personal views for the good of the country.  Although he personally supported the Allies during World War I, he kept Spain neutral to avoid losing Spanish life (Best 152).

The clearest example of Alfonso XIII’s deference to the Spanish people was after he was removed from power.  After spending his whole life trying to better the lives of his subjects, those same subjects turned around and removed him from power.  Much of their grievances were justified, but very few of them were in Alfonso XIII’s control.  Still, the Spanish crown served as a very identifiable scapegoat for the anger of the Spanish people.  Without thinking of fairness, Alfonso XIII respected the decision of his former subjects.  The average king would have fought to hold on to power, but Alfonso XIII considered leaving the throne as a manifestation of his purpose in life: obeying the wishes of the people of Spain.  Even after abdicating and having time to reflect, Alfonso XIII sincerely proclaimed that “I hope I shall not go back; for that will only mean that the Spanish people are not prosperous and happy,” (Churchill 159).  Alfonso XIII would have rather died rejected by the Spanish than lived vindicated if that meant even a brief period of Spanish malcontent.

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