King Juan Carlos I of Spain abdicates

On June 2, 2014, a royal announcement took Spain by surprise: after a 39 year reign King Juan Carlos I is to abdicate.

If you live in Spain and you’ve been watching the news, two things may have caught your attention: the historical significance of the news and the use of a word that is rarely used in Spanish.

“Abdicar” is a transitive verb that is often confused with the verb “renunciar”. According to the Royal Spanish Academy, it is “said of a king or prince: to relinquish or renounce his sovereignty”. In other words, the king will hand over his role as king to his son, Felipe de Borbón, who will likely reign as Felipe VI.

As you can imagine, the word has its own historical significance. It is not the first abdication in Spain: many of us have learned in history class all about how Carlos V, the first monarch of the Spanish empire, ceded the throne to Felipe II in 1556.

Spain’s current reigning royal house, the house Bourbon has seen several abdications: Felipe V, who was interestingly the first Bourbon to reign in Spain, abdicated the throne to his son Luis I in 1724.

Shields of the King Juan Carlos and the prince of Asturias

Shields of the King Juan Carlos and the prince of Asturias

Perhaps Spain’s most famous abdications were those of Beyonne: it would take a number of weighty books to analyze that piece of history, but to briefly summarize, the period saw a series of abdications by Carlos IV and Fernando VII, giving power to Joseph Bonaparte. This lead to one of the country’s most tumultuous periods; the War of Independence against Napoleon.

Less known (likely because 19th century history is not taught much at school) is the abdication of Isabel II in 1870. Two years after her exile to Paris, Alfonso XII proclaimed himself king, a monarch seen by many Spaniards with a certain sense of romanticism.

Until now, the most recent abdication of a Spanish king had been that of Alfonso XIII, who was exiled during Spain’s 2nd republic and later during Franco’s dictatorship. He relinquished the throne to Juan de Borbón, who would never go on to reign, passing on his rights dynastic rights to Juan Carlos I.

Now you know a little more about the history of Spain, a dramatic and at times even entertaining past. Meetings, ceremonies, and more coverage of this story will be all over the news… this is going to be one historic summer that you will get to witness if you are in Spain.

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