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King Juan Carlos of Spain - Biography

Juan Carlos is a member of the Spanish royal family who reigned as King of Spain from 22 November 1975 until his abdication on 19 June 2014.

King Juan Carlos attends La Beneficiencia Bullfight at Las Ventas Bullring on June 6, 2018 in Madrid, Spain.
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Who is Juan Carlos?

Juan Carlos is a member of the Spanish royal family who reigned as King of Spain from 22 November 1975 until his abdication on 19 June 2014.

Juan Carlos' early life

The former King of Spain was born Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María in 1938 in his family home in Rome, Italy. His parents were Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona, and Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. His Italian upbringing is due to his grandfather King Alfonso XIII of Spain and other members of the Spanish royal family's exile following the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic in 1931.

In accordance with his father's wishes that he receive part of his education in Spain, Juan Carlos arrived in Madrid for the first time in 1947. After finishing secondary school in 1954, the young Prince entered Spain's premier military academies, graduating as a naval, army and air force officer complete with pilot's wings. He completed his education at the Complutense University of Madrid, where he studied Political and International Law, Economics and Public Spending. 

Juan Carlos' wife and children

In 1962, the dashing Spanish royal married Princess Sofia of Greece in Athens. Three children followed, Elena in 1963, Cristina two years later and a son and heir, Felipe, in 1968. Determined to ensure the country's stability after his death, the dictator Franco, then head of state, designated an apparently pliant Juan Carlos his successor in 1969. The young prince was carefully groomed for his new role and started public life in earnest, making official trips at home and abroad.

On 22 November 1975, two days after Franco's death, the 37-year-old prince was proclaimed king. In his first speech as head of state in the Cortes, or Spanish parliament, Juan Carlos laid out the basic goals for his reign to re-establish democracy and be "King of all Spaniards, without exception". Six years later, on the night of February 23, 1981, the new king faced a major challenge when a group of pro-Franco military officers led by Colonel Tejero launched an attempted coup. 

Bursting into parliament as it was in full session, they held the government to political ransom. Within hours Juan Carlos had defused the situation, however, by appearing on television and ordering all military units to return to their garrisons. The king's decisive action meant any residual doubts about the return of the monarchy were effectively quashed. Juan Carlos and Sofia are proud grandparents of seven. 

Felipe and Letizia have a daughter Leonor (born October 2005) while Elena has two children Felipe Juan Froilán (born in July 1998) and Victoria Federica (born September 2000) and Cristina three sons, Juan Valentín (born September 1999), Pablo Nicolás (born December 2000) and Miguel (born April 2002) and a daughter Irene (born June 2005).

Juan Carlos' abdication

In June 2014, Juan Carlos, citing personal reasons, abdicated in favour of his son, who acceded to the throne as Felipe VI. Since August 2020, Juan Carlos has lived in self-imposed exile from Spain over allegedly improper ties to business deals in Saudi Arabia. 

Juan Carlos' health

A benign 17–19 mm tumour was removed under general anaesthetic from King Juan Carlos's right lung in an operation carried out in the Hospital Clínic de Barcelona in May 2010.

Once an action man, who enjoyed sailing and skiing, the King has also suffered from poor health, culminating in a series of operations on his hip.

In 2014, the former King of Spain underwent heart surgery.

Click here for more information on the Spanish royal family

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