by Claudia Willetts
The vicissitudes of the nineteenth century could be said to have begin in the year 1829 with King Ferdinand VII, who having ruled Spain for fifteen years, found himself in poor health and without an heir after the deaths of three wives, writes Theo Aronson in Royal Vendetta: The Crown of Spain 1829-1965. Over a century before, the first Bourbon king had introduced the Salic law whereby no female could succeed to the throne. If Ferdinand VII died without male issue, the crown would pass to his younger brother Don Carlos de Bourbon. During the pregnancy of his fourth wife, Ferdinand reversed this law in an enactment known as the Pragmatic Sanction, whereby a king’s daughter could succeed to the throne. In 1830 a daughter was born, followed in 1832 by a second daughter. Shortly after, Ferdinand lapsed into a coma but not before revoking the Pragmatic Sanction and reinstating Don Carlos. Ferdinand appeared to have died, but was found to be still living, and, revoking the revocation, appointed his consort regent for his eldest daughter. In June of 1833 he staged a ceremony of allegiance to the infant princess by royalty, clergy, nobles and deputies, which was shunned by Don Carlos, then he died in September 1833. Don Carlos called his followers to arms beginning a bloody internecine struggle lasting for more than a century. Meanwhile after a successful regency, the throne passed to the daughter Queen Isabel II who reigned from 1842 until 1870, when she abdicated in favor of her son King Alfonso XII. He died in 1885, leaving two daughters and a pregnant queen consort, who six months later gave birth to the baby King Alfonso XIII.
The same author in Grandmama of Europe: The Crowned Descendants of Queen Victoria, writes that King Alfonso’s mother acted as regent until his coming of age in 1902. Throughout the nineteenth century, the monarchy had been repeatedly threatened and even overthrown, so the dearest wish of his ministers was that this young monarch should marry and start a family as soon as possible. On a visit to England, he met and fell in love with the beautiful Princess Ena of Battenberg, the daughter of Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter Princess Beatrice and Prince Henry of Battenberg.
Princess Ena was born in the year of Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, 1887, writes David Duff in The Shy Princess, and was named Victoria Eugenie Julia Eua, the last being an old Gaelic name. At her baptism, the Minister of St Giles, Edinburgh though, misread “Eua” pronouncing it “Ena”, and the new name took root.
HRH Princess Pilar of Bavaria informs us in Don Alfonso XIII: A Study of Monarchy, that Spanish Infantas had gone to England to become brides, but no British Princess had married a King of Spain since the end of the eleventh century. Princess Pilar comments that Princess Ena grew up under the kindly despotism of Queen Victoria, acquiring the virtues of self-control and an upright character, though no one ever anticipated that she would wear a crown, much less occupy the great and difficult position of Queen of Spain.
Ena took seriously her responsibility to bear healthy sons, writes Gerard Noel in Ena: Spain’s English Queen, but fate was not to comply. Her first child, a son, was born with a bad case of the deadly disease haemophilia; the second child, also a son, was normal until his fourth year when he became deaf and dumb from illness and an operation. Two daughters and a stillborn son followed, succeeded by fourth and fifth sons, the last of whom also suffered from haemophilia. The result was that Alfonso estranged himself from Queen Ena, and in 1931, when republicans gained a majority, he left the country, though he refused to abdicate. He never returned to Spain, and died in Rome in 1941. General Franco eventually named the son of the fourth son, Juan Carlos, his successor as king, in 1969, and he rules Spain now.