June 21, 2021

Juan Carlos I, reading guide | Babelia

Born in Rome in 1938, Juan Carlos I has occupied the throne of the Spanish parliamentary monarchy between 1975 and 2014. In June of this last year he abdicated the Crown and his son, Felipe VI, became the new King of Spain. Many articles and books have been written on the life and reign of Juan Carlos I. Some even generated great expectation, such as the famous conversations between José Luis de Vilallonga with the king in 1993. Already in the 1980s we found meritorious biographies of the monarch, the work of Nourry —with his famous “king for the republicans” – or Seco Serrano. There is no shortage of journalistic works on the most personal issues: Bardavío, Carol, García Abad, Urbano, Romero, Peñafiel, Herrero. There is also no lack of original essays (Valentí Puig, Juaristi), works focused on eminent people from the Juan Carlist environment (Soriano and Sabino Fernández Campos, Apezarena and the king’s men) or books that dedicate a good part of their content to the reign (Fuentes ).

The selection exercise is never easy. The reader will find here half a dozen works that offer a general perspective on the person of Juan Carlos I and his reign. Not all of them are there, nor is the topic exhausted at all. This is a reading guide. One of the authors who investigated the most on these questions, Charles Powell, opens the list. TO The pilot of change. The King, the Monarchy and the transition to democracy, published in 1991, followed, four years later, Juan Carlos. A King for democracy. The expression “pilot of change”, applied to the King of Spain, made a fortune. The fundamental role of Juan Carlos I in the Transition and the solid link between monarchy and democracy were clearly exposed.

The historian Javier Tusell also dedicated a couple of books to the biography of the king and his time: Juan Carlos I. The restoration of the Monarchy (1995) and Juan Carlos I (2002). This last work, which was part of a collection dedicated to the Spanish Bourbons, constitutes a rigorous approach. It contains very interesting pages about childhood, the struggle between Don Juan and Franco, the Transition or 23-F. The balance of the reign is highly positive. Tusell wrote that the monarchy of Juan Carlos I had become “a model, not only because of its identification with democracy, but also because it contributed to bringing it about and, above all, because of the new content that it seems to have given to the role of a monarch at the end of the 20th century ”.

Don Juan Carlos hugs his son on the day of his abdication ceremony, June 18, 2014.
Don Juan Carlos hugs his son on the day of his abdication ceremony, June 18, 2014. REUTERS

We are at the beginning of the 21st century, still a critical moment in the popularity and legitimacy of the king. The chronology is, without a doubt, an essential reading key of the works dedicated to the monarch and his time. In 2003 I saw the light Juan Carlos. The king of a people, a monumental biography of Paul Preston. The synthesis and interpretation work was very remarkable. The best pages are devoted to the childhood and youth of the future monarch in Francoism. The sacrifices and dedication of Don Juan Carlos, Preston argued, had allowed the monarchy, in the end, to endow itself with great legitimacy, unthinkable in 1931, 1939 or 1975. Almost a decade later, in the midst of a real scandal —Nóos, Corinna and the paquidermo de marras—, the publisher Debate released an updated edition of the biography, with the addition of a chapter on the years 2002 to 2012. The result is somewhat disappointing. In any case, the Juan Carlos de Preston remains an essential reference work.

Preston’s British gaze complements well with Laurence Debray’s French, who makes no secret of his admiration for the king. In Juan Carlos from Spain, the biography is presented as a kind of hero and icon, who managed to restore the monarchy in Spain and decisively helped to consolidate democracy. On the other hand, he did not know how, for the first time in his life, to anticipate the changes in society into the 21st century. The journalist Fernando Ónega also sympathetically addresses the figure of the now-king emeritus. Juan Carlos I. The man who could reign, from 2015, is a portrait based on biographical facts and testimonies. It forms one of the most sensitive, fine and profound texts about the monarch in his twilight stage: “Did he make mistakes? They are in everyone’s memory. Did you have hits? It seems undeniable to me ”. Ónega puts an end to the book ensuring that Juan Carlos I has been a great king.

The convulsive final stage of the Juan Carlos monarchy could conceal and mask an exercise of almost four decades. Presentism is one of the main sins of our time. King of democracy (2017), under the direction of José Luis García Delgado and with an epilogue by Vargas Llosa, attempts to break with this perspective and evaluate the reign as a whole. It brings together eight essays dedicated to analyzing and reflecting on the role of Juan Carlos I in the history of Spain. The legacy balances are hugely positive. The suggestive generational reading of Fuentes is complemented by the policy of Juliá, the constitutionalist of Carreras and the military of Puell de la Villa. Three facets of the king’s performance receive special attention: the external projection (Powell), the cultural legacy (Mainer) and the construction of citizenship (Camps). The contributions insist on the close link between the Juan Carlos monarchy and democracy.

The reign of Juan Carlos I ended in 2014, but life continues. The definitive biography, in the event that the definitive exists in some way, is not elaborated. We also find open fronts about which we have little knowledge. A television talk show or a circumstance article may suffice, but not for objective work. The last stage of the reign and the years as king emeritus must be treated with the same rigor as the preceding stages. It is to be done. A life consists of many lives and only the perfect integration of all of them allows, in purity, to understand a person. Or, even more so, a character.

Jordi Canal He is the author of The monarchy of the 21st century. Turner, 2019.


Author: Charles powell

Translation: Angela Pérez.

Editorial: Planet, 1995.

Format: 432 pages.


Author: Javier Tusell.

Editorial: Arlanza, 2002.

Format: 263 pages.


Author: Laurence Debray.

Translation: Elena M. Cano and Íñigo Sánchez-Paños.

Editorial: Alliance, 2014.

Format: soft cover (544 pages, 22.45 euros).

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Author: Fernando Ónega.

Editorial: Plaza and Janés, 2015.

Format: hard cover (357 pages, 19.90 euros) and e-book (10.99 eurtos).

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Various authors

Edition: José Luis García Delgado.

Editorial: Gutenberg Galaxy, 2017.

Format: hard cover (296 pages, 20 euros).

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