On 22 November 1975, two days after the death of Francisco Franco, Juan Carlos was designated King according to the law of succession promulgated by Franco. He successfully oversaw the transition of Spain from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy. Polls from 2000 show that he is widely approved of by Spaniards. In 2008 he was considered the most popular leader in all Ibero-America
His name, while rarely anglicised, is rendered as John Charles Alphonse Victor Mary of Bourbon (and Bourbon-Two Sicilies). He was given these names after his father (Juan de Borbón), grandfather (Alfonso XIII) and maternal grandfather (Prince Charles of Bourbon-Two Sicilies).
Very quickly, however, rumours appeared in newspapers that the gun had actually been held by Juan Carlos at the moment the shot was fired. Josefina Carolo, dressmaker to Juan Carlos's mother, said that Juan Carlos playfully pointed the pistol at Alfonso and pulled the trigger, unaware that the pistol was loaded. Bernardo Arnoso, a Portuguese friend of Juan Carlos, also said that Juan Carlos fired the pistol not knowing that it was loaded, and adding that the bullet ricocheted off a wall hitting Alfonso in the face. Helena Matheopoulos, a Greek author who spoke with Juan Carlos's sister Pilar, said that Alfonso had been out of the room and when he returned and pushed the door open, the door knocked Juan Carlos in the arm causing him to fire the pistol.
From 1957 Juan Carlos spent a year in the naval school at Pontevedra and another in the Air Force school in San Javier in Murcia. In 1961 he graduated from the Complutense University. He then went to live in the Palace of Zarzuela, and began carrying out official engagements.
The regime of Francisco Franco had come to power during the Spanish Civil War, which had pitted republicans, anarchists, socialists, and Communists supported by the Soviet dictator Stalin and by volunteers from the entire world, against conservatives, monarchists, nationalists, and fascists, with the latter group ultimately emerging successful with the support of neighbouring Portugal and the major European Axis powers of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Despite his alliance with monarchists, Franco was not eager to restore the deposed Spanish monarchy once in power, preferring to head a regime with himself as head of state for life. Though Franco's partisan supporters generally accepted this arrangement for the present, much debate quickly ensued over who would replace Franco when he died. Monarchist factions demanded the return of a hardline absolute monarchy, and eventually Franco agreed that his successor would be a monarch.
The heir to the throne of Spain was Juan de Borbón (Count of Barcelona), the son of the late Alfonso XIII. However, Franco viewed the heir with extreme suspicion, believing him to be a liberal who was opposed to his regime. Franco then considered giving the throne to Juan Carlos's cousin Alfonso, Duke of Anjou and Cádiz. Alfonso had married Franco's granddaughter in 1972 and was known to be an ardent Francoist. In response, Juan Carlos started to use his second name Carlos to assert his claim to the heritage of the Carlist branch of his family.
Ultimately, Franco decided to skip a generation and name Prince Juan Carlos as his personal successor. Franco hoped the young Prince could be groomed to take over the nation while still maintaining the ultraconservative nature of his regime. In 1969, Juan Carlos was officially designated heir and was given the new title of Prince of Spain (not the traditional Prince of Asturias). As a condition of being named heir-apparent, he had to swear loyalty to Franco's Movimiento Nacional, which he did with little outward hesitation. Juan Carlos met and consulted Franco many times while heir apparent and often performed official and ceremonial state functions alongside the dictator, much to the anger of hardline republicans and more moderate liberals, who had hoped that Franco's death would bring in an era of reform. During those years, Juan Carlos publicly supported Franco's regime. However, as the years progressed, Juan Carlos began meeting with political opposition leaders and exiles, who were fighting to bring liberal reform to the country. He also had secret conversations with his father over the phone. Franco, for his part, remained largely oblivious to the prince's actions and denied allegations that Juan Carlos was in any way disloyal to his vision of the regime.
During periods of Franco's temporary incapacity in 1974 and 1975 Juan Carlos was acting head of state. Near death, on 30 October 1975, Franco gave full control to Juan Carlos. On 22 November, following Franco's death, the Cortes Generales proclaimed Juan Carlos King of Spain and on 27 November, Juan Carlos ascended the Spanish throne with an anointing ceremony called Holy Spirit Mass which was the equivalent to a coronation at the Jerónimos Church in Madrid.
After Franco's death, Juan Carlos I quickly instituted reforms, to the great displeasure of Falangist and conservative (monarchist) elements, especially in the military, who had expected him to maintain the authoritarian state. He appointed Adolfo Suárez, a former leader of the Movimiento Nacional, as Prime Minister of Spain.
On 20 May 1977, the leader of the only recently legalized Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) Felipe González, accompanied by Javier Solana, visited Juan Carlos in the Zarzuela Palace. The event represented a key endorsement of the monarchy from Spain's political left, who had been historically republican. Left-wing support for the monarchy grew when the Communist Party of Spain was legalized shortly thereafter, a move Juan Carlos had pressed for, despite enormous right-wing military opposition at that time, during the Cold War.
On 15 June 1977, Spain held its first post-Franco democratic elections. In 1978, a new Constitution was promulgated that acknowledged Juan Carlos as rightful heir of the Spanish dynasty and King. This language justified Juan Carlos' position by deeming him Head of State of a historical monarchy, and not simply the appointed heir of the dictator Franco. The Constitution was passed by the democratically elected Constituent Cortes, ratified by the people in a referendum (6 December) and then signed into law by the King before a solemn meeting of the Cortes.
Further legitimacy had been restored to Juan Carlos´ position on 14 May 1977, when his father, Don Juan (whom many monarchists had recognized as the legitimate, exiled King of Spain during the Franco era), formally renounced his claim to the Throne and recognized his son as the sole head of the Spanish Royal House, transferring to him the historical heritage of the Spanish monarchy, thus making Juan Carlos both the de facto and the de jure (rightful) King in the eyes of the traditional monarchists. Juan Carlos, who was already King since Franco's death, gave an acceptance address after his father’s resignation speech and thanked him by confirming the title of Count of Barcelona that Don Juan had assumed in exile. It was a sovereign title associated to the crown.
Under the new 1978 Constitution Juan Carlos relinquished absolute power and became a reigning but non-ruling monarch. The reforms of these years attracted considerable animosity from the armed forces, which ultimately culminated in an attempted military coup on 23 February 1981, in which the Cortes was seized by members of the Guardia Civil in the parliamentary chamber (see 23-F). According to the widely accepted version, the coup ended up being thwarted by the public television broadcast by the King, calling for unambiguous support for the legitimate democratic government. In the hours before his speech, he had personally called many senior military figures to tell them that he was opposed to the coup, and that they had to defend the democratic government. However, some authors (like Ronald Hilton) cast doubt over the King's role in the events. According to an unauthorized biography of Juan Carlos, the coup was actually organized by the Spanish establishment to neutralize the risk of a real coup by the army, moderate the leftwingers' reformist demands, and increase Juan Carlos's popularity.
When Juan Carlos became King, Communist leader Santiago Carrillo nicknamed him Juan Carlos the Brief, predicting that the monarchy would soon be swept away with the other remnants of the Franco era. After the collapse of the attempted coup mentioned above, however, in an emotional statement, Carrillo told television viewers: "God save the King". The Communist leader also remarked: "Today, we are all monarchists". If public support for the monarchy among democrats and leftists before 1981 had been limited, following the King's handling of the coup, it became significantly greater. According to a poll in the newspaper El Mundo in November 2005, 77.5% of Spaniards thought Juan Carlos was "good or very good", 15.4% "not so good", and only 7.1% "bad or very bad". Even so, the issue of the monarchy re-emerged on 28 September 2007 as photos of the King were burnt in public in Catalonia by relatively small groups of protesters wanting the restoration of the Republic.
The election of socialist leader Felipe González to the Spanish prime ministership in 1982 marked the effective end of Juan Carlos' active involvement in Spanish politics. González would govern for over a decade, and his administration helped consolidate the democratic gains and thus maintained the stability of the nation. Today the King exercises little real power over the country's politics, but is regarded as an essential symbol of the country's unity. Under the constitution, the King has immunity from prosecution in matters relating to his official duties. This is so because every act of the King as such (and not as a citizen) needs to be undersigned by a government official, thus making the undersigner responsible instead of the king. Offenses against the honour of the Royal Family are specially protected by the Spanish Penal Code. Under this protection, Basque independentist Arnaldo Otegi and cartoonists from El Jueves were tried and punished.
The King gives an annual speech to the nation on Christmas Eve. He is the commander-in-chief of the Spanish armed forces. He does however have informal powers such as giving speeches. This has been known to cause controversy when he spoke in order to see the handing back of Gibraltar in 1991 at the United Nations General Assembly, during which he described the issue as an unresolved colonial problem which affects Spain's territorial integrity.
In 1979, King Juan Carlos I instituted the Ruta Quetzal as a way to promote cultural exchange between students from Spain and Latin America. In 1987, he became the first King of Spain to visit the former Spanish possession of Puerto Rico.
He travels across Spain and the world representing Spain. His personal friendship with Hassan II of Morocco has eased tensions. In November 2007 at the Ibero-American Summit in Santiago de Chile, during a heated exchange, Juan Carlos interrupted a speaking Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and asked him, "¿Por qué no te callas?" ("Why don't you shut up?"). Chávez had been interrupting the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, while the latter was defending his predecessor and political opponent, José María Aznar, after Chávez had referred to Aznar as a fascist and "less human than snakes". The King shortly afterwards left the hall when President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua accused Spain of intervention in his country's elections and complained about some Spanish energy companies working in Nicaragua. This was an unprecedented diplomatic incident and a rare display of public anger by the King.
Juan Carlos was married in Athens on 14 May 1962, to HRH Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, daughter of King Paul. She was Greek Orthodox but converted to Roman Catholicism in order to become Spain's Queen. They have two daughters, Elena and Cristina, and a son, the heir apparent, Felipe.
In 1972, Juan Carlos, a keen sailor, competed in the Dragon class event at the Olympic Games, though he did not win any medals. In their summer holidays, the whole family meets in Marivent Palace (Palma de Mallorca) and the Fortuna yacht, where they take part in sailing competitions. The king has manned the Bribón series of yachts. In winter, they usually go skiing in Baqueira-Beret and Candanchú (Pyrenees), where the king has occasionally ended with a broken leg.
Juan Carlos also enjoys bear hunting. In October 2004, he angered environmental activists after killing nine bears (of which one was a pregnant female) in central Romania. In August 2006, it is alleged that Juan Carlos shot a drunken tame bear (Mitrofan) during a private hunting trip to Russia. The office of the Spanish Monarchy denies this claims, which is made by the Russian regional authorities..
Juan Carlos and Sophia are fluent in several languages. They both speak Spanish, English, and French. Unlike the Queen however, Juan Carlos does not speak German, nor her native language, Greek, a fact he regrets. In addition to the above languages, the King speaks fluent Italian, Portuguese and Catalan.
Juan Carlos is member of the World Scout Foundation.
King Juan Carlos I is a direct descendant of many famous European rulers from different countries, such as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (who reigned in Spain as Carlos I), King Louis XIV of France and Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. Therefore, he is related to all the current monarchs of Europe.
The current Spanish constitution refers to the monarchy as "the Crown of Spain" and the constitutional title of the monarch is simply Rey/Reina de España: that is, "king/queen of Spain". However, the constitution allows for the use of other historic titles pertaining to the Spanish monarchy, without specifying them. A decree promulgated 6 November 1987 at the Council of Ministers regulates the titles further, and on that basis the monarch of Spain has a right to use ("may use") those other titles appertaining to the Crown. Contrary to some belief, the long titulary that contains the list of over 20 kingdoms, etc., is not in state use, nor is it used in Spanish diplomacy. In fact, it has never been in use in that form, as "Spain" was never a part of the list in pre-1837 era when the long list was officially used.
King Juan Carlos is a descendant of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom through his grandmother, Victoria Eugenie; of Louis XIV of France through the House of Bourbon; of the Emperor Charles V, who belonged to the Habsburg dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire; of the House of Savoy of Italy; etc. The Capetian dynasty to which he belongs is the oldest in Europe.