King Alfonso XIII of Spain (1886-1941) was born a reigning monarch. The death of his father Alfonso XII aged twenty-seven left the throne vacant and his wife Maria Cristina of Austria expecting his child. King Alfonso XIII’s minority necessitated Queen Maria Cristina been named regent until the boy reached his sixteen birthday in 1905. As Julie Gelard writes in her 2004 biography Born to Rule: Granddaughters of Queen Victoria, Queens of Europe ‘the young boy king grew into a lively and spirited individual. Maria Cristina noted that he is good but so eager, so turbulent, so desperate for liberty’.
King Alfonso’s reign would prove to be a turbulent period in Spanish history. Under the Regent, Spain lost its colonial territories of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines during the Spanish-American Wars of 1898 that saw Cuba gain independence with the support of the US navy. Seeking diplomatic alliance with England, the young king embarked on a state visit to the court of Queen Victoria in 1905 where he met The Queen’s granddaughter Princess Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg at a Buckingham Palace ball. The King began a correspondence with Victoria Eugenia and resolved to make her his queen.
The objections to the marriage, led by the regent Maria Cristina, were twofold. Princess Victoria Eugenia would have to convert to Catholicism and there was a distinct possibility that she had inherited the gene that carried haemophilia from her grandmother Queen Victoria whose youngest son Prince Leopold had died of the bleeding disease. Objections were resolved in a meeting between Victoria Eugenia and Maria Cristina in Biarritz and King Alfonso married his queen in Madrid in 1906.
The wedding was blighted by a Catalan anarchist Mateu Morral who threw a bomb at the royal carriage killing several bystanders. The future King George V and Queen Mary attended the wedding and wrote to Queen Victoria describing the sight of Queen Victoria Eugenia returning to the Royal Palace in Madrid her white wedding dress spattered with the blood of her subjects. In 1907 an heir Alfonso, Prince of the Asturias was born. When the infant was circumcised, he did not cease to bleed for hours confirming that the heir was indeed hemophiliac.
King Alfonso was said to hold Queen Victoria Eugenia responsible for tainting the Spanish royal bloodline – another son Gonzalo born in 1914 also had the disease – and the couple were estranged. The king subsequently had five illegitimate children. King Alfonso was, however, a benign and diligent ruler who kept Spain’s neutrality during World War I. In his 1938 memoir Great Contemporaries, Winston Churchill praised King Alfonso’s ‘vigilant care for the interest of his country and his earnest desire for the material welfare and progress of its people’ noting that the king refused to retreat behind palace walls despite five further attempts on his life.
Between 1920 and 1926 Spain fought the Rif War to preserve colonial rule over Northern Morocco. King Alfonso supported the military coup of 1923 when General Miguel Primo de Rivera seized power but the alliance foundered as the Spanish economy faltered. By 1931 the Republican Party won a landslide victory and the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed. Though King Alfonso refused to abdicate, he fled the country and remained in exile for the rest of his life.
The wandering king took up residence at Le Meurice in Paris and Brown’s hotel in London before establishing a permanent residence in Rome. Queen Victoria Eugenia returned to England but eventually settled in Lucerne. The royal children proved to be a disappointment. His heir Alfonso renounced his claim to the throne and married a commoner in 1933. Second son Jaime, a deaf mute following a botched operation in childhood, also renounced all rights to the Spanish throne in the same year. The youngest son Gonzalo died in a car crash in 1934 making his elder brother Juan, Count of Barcelona heir apparent.
When General Franco came to power in 1936, he declared that King Alfonso XIII would not be reinstated. Four years later King Alfonso abdicated in favour of the Count of Barcelona and died in Rome where he was interred in the Spanish national church. Five years after King Alfonso XIII’s grandson King Juan Carlos I restored the Spanish monarchy, his body was repatriated and buried in El Escorial. King Alfonso was only ten-years old when his name first appears in the Henry Poole & Co ledgers. The order was made on his account for the household of the Spanish royal family’s French Chateau d’Epinay-sur-Seine. The fastidious company clerks erased his title to replace it with Ex-King after he went into exile in 1931 though he continued to order suits from Poole’s as well as Savile Row rival firms Huntsman and Davies & Son.