If he had not been assassinated, this 19th century Spanish soldier and politician would probably have been forgotten, but as his death added to the unattractive list of conspiracy theories, the neglect historians usually apply to failed politicians has not been forthcoming.
He was born in 1814. At twenty-five he had joined the Progressives and directly opposed the dictatorship of Baldomero Espartero, for which he was sent into involuntary exile, but Juan came back as a soldier and defeated Espartero in 1843.
He went to Puerto Rico, then still in the fading Spanish Empire, where he was Captain-General from 1847 – 48, while still a young man. From 1850 – 56 he was a deputy in the Spanish Cortes (Parliament). In debates he was hardly noticed, but he did fail in an insurrection attempt in 1866, and had to escape to England and from thence to Brussels. It was from this city that he directed the 1868 movement which eventually threw Queen Isabel II of Spain off the throne.
Returning in moderate triumph to his country he became War Minister under Francisco Serrano, Duque de la Torre, but overrode him to become a virtual dictator. Now the conspiracy theory begins: It was Prim y Prats who craftily secured the choice of Amadeus I Savoy as King of Spain in 1870, but in that year his carriage was blocked in the street by two other conveyances, and four men armed with rifles shot Prim (who was travelling with two friends) at almost point blank range. No-one seemed to know what was happening but Prim was taken, severely wounded to a hospital. Once the bullets had been removed it appeared he would survive, but was found dead in the bed shortly afterwards. The official version of his death was that he had died of bullet wounds, but the body was embalmed, and years later forensic surgeons found distinct marks of strangulation on his throat. Most historians agree that Prim had been turned off, certainly by persons he assumed were friends visiting the bedside.
Who exactly was behind this coup has never been established, though suitable candidates abound, including Amadeus himself, Alfonso de Borbón (Prim publicly loathed all Borbónes) and other important suspects. What is obvious is that the shooting in the street was found lacking, and those who wished Prim y Prats dead had to finish the job in a hospital.