Two sad, unlucky men: Alfonso XIII & the Duc d’Enghien

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Two sad, unlucky men: Alfonso XIII & the Duc d’Enghien


The execution of the Duke /

The execution of the Duke /

Alfonso was born in 1896 and was King of Spain from that day, until 1933. His father, XII of that name, had died before the son was born. His mother, a melancholy lady called Maria Cristina was made Regent until the boy’s 16th birthday.

Throughout Alfonso XIII’s reign there was trouble; the anarchists had found a wonderful country in which to molest the normal life. Spain was mostly desert lonely but beautiful beaches, mountains and valleys, with underpopulated villages and hamlets (where bandits hid), negligently policed cities and of course the permanent dissaffection shown by the Basque Country, Galicia and (worst of all) Cataluña towards the capital, Madrid.

Alfonso was tall, not at all handsome smoked constantly and had bad breath but like all the male Borbons he was addicted to most women. One of the ladies he was not addicted to was Ena, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. The couple were married in Madrid in May, 1906, the ceremony being much marred by an anarchist who threw a bomb hidden in a bouquet of flowers at the royal wedding coach. Alfonso and his English bride survived, but several bystanders, royal guards and horses were killed. It was altogether a tragic start.

The Semana tragica in Barcelona was from 26 July to the Ist August. The violent demonstrations orchestrated as always by pressure groups, were basically anti-Church, which in Spain’s case was the Roman Catholic Church. Many churches were burnt, and many priests and people died. Alfonso, never known for being bright, thought that severe repressive actions might solve the problems, so he turned to Army leaders for assistance. He put General Primo de Rivera into totalitarian power as Dictator, and took a back seat. It did not work. It could not work. The Dictatorship discredited the Monarchy, and was greatly responsible for the elections in April 1931 which were so damaging to Primo de Rivera’s government that Alfonso decided to quit the country. He did so, leaving his wife Ena of Battenberg and the family to look after themselves.

Alfonso never formally abdicated. His son the Conde de Barcelona was never popular with General Franco, who with others fought the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) against the constitutionally elected Republic. Spain remained a monarchy without a monarch until the accession of Alfonso’s grandson, Juan-Carlos, in November, 1975.

The King died in Paris in 1941. His wife the Queen lived on for many years, an enormously popular lady in both Spain and Britain. While no-one in their right mind could blame Alfonso for the Spanish Civil War (there were dozens of much more pertinent reasons) European society never forgave him for abandoning his family and the capital as a result of municipal elections, whose results are now being questioned by historians. Some say that the terrible Civil War could have been avoided, but this is in doubt. The last President of the 2nd Republic (Azaña) was inclined to add Spain to the list of Stalin’s Soviet Socialist Republics, and this notion was unacceptable enough to incite certain sectors of the public to go to war to prevent it.

Louis Antoine de Bourbon Condé, Duc d’Enghien

The French dukedom of Enghien was one of the oldest established, richest and most influential of all the dukedoms in the former monarchy. Our subject was to be the last member of the distinguished family of Condé, and through his mother – first cousin of Louis Philippe, eldest son of the Duc d’Orléans and descendent of Louis XIII (see the Dumas stories of the Musketeers).

Louis Antoine was born in the family château at Chantilly, and was brought up in exemplary but severe French style. He joined the emigré Royal Army and served without much distinction in it from 1792 (when he was twenty) to 1801.

His monstrous bad luck started when he left the army and settled down to what he hoped would be a quiet life at Baden. The problem was two-fold; first, he was who he was, a near-royal duke who might have been supposed to exercise enormous influence. Second, Napoleon Bonaparte was well in the French saddle by then, and when whispers came to the Corsican of possible conspiracies, he acted in a manner not far distant from paranoia.

Louis Antoine was abducted from Baden by Bonaparte’s agents in March, 1804 when he was thirty-two. Napoleon had believed those ‘enemies of all nobles’ who had survived the end of the Revolution, when they insinuated that d’Enghien was involved in a plot to assassinate him. This was entirely untrue, but Louis Antoine was brought to Vincennes, tried by a military court (he was still offically an army officer) on charges (all false) of being connected with the enemies of France. He was shot on 21 March.

Just as in the time of the Revolution, England was shocked by what was happening in France. In the Royal Courts across Europe, it was felt that Napoleon Bonaparte had committed regicide, because of Louis Antoine’s royal blood. There is some truth in this. Where there was no truth at all was in the lies about the young man’s ‘connections’ with any enemy. There were no such connections, or associations, or conspiracies.

Though France is a Republic, titles still exist, and the d’Enghiens are still dukes, though, like all sensible nobles, they maintain the lowest profile possible.

By | 2012-03-13T17:31:07+00:00 March 13th, 2012|French History, Spanish History, World History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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