Alfonso XII ( 28 November 1857 – 25 November 1885) was King of Spain, reigning from 1874 to 1885, after a coup d’état restored the monarchy and ended the ephemeral First Spanish Republic.
Having been forced into exile after the Glorious Revolution deposed his mother Isabella II from the throne in 1868, Alfonso studied in Austria and France. His mother abdicated in his favour in 1870, and he returned to Spain as king in 1874 following a military coup. Alfonso died aged 27 in 1885, and was succeeded by his unborn son, who became Alfonso XIII on his birth the following year.
Alfonso was born in Madrid as the eldest son of Queen Isabella II. Officially, his father was her husband, King Francis. Alfonso’s biological paternity is uncertain: there is speculation that his biological father may have been Enrique Puigmoltó y Mayans (a captain of the guard). These rumours were used as political propaganda against Alfonso by the Carlists.
His mother’s accession created the second cause of instability, which was the Carlist Wars. The supporters of the Count of Molina as king of Spain rose to have him enthroned. In addition, within the context of the post-Napoleonic restorations and revolutions which engulfed the West both in Europe and the Americas, both the Carlistas as well as the Isabelino conservatives were opposed to the new Napoleonic constitutional system.
Much like in Britain, which subtracted itself from the liberal constitutional process, Spanish conservatives wanted to continue with the Traditional Spanish Organic Laws such as the Fuero Juzgo, the Novísima Recopilación and the Partidas of Alfonso X. This led to the third cause of instability of note, the “Independence of the American Kingdoms”, recognized between 1823 and 1850.
When Queen Isabella and her husband were forced to leave Spain by the Revolution of 1868, Alfonso accompanied them to Paris. From there, he was sent to the Theresianum at Vienna to continue his studies.
On 25 June 1870, he was recalled to Paris, where his mother abdicated in his favour, in the presence of a number of Spanish nobles who had tied their fortunes to that of the exiled queen.
He assumed the title of Alfonso XII, for although no King of united Spain had borne the name “Alfonso XI”, the Spanish monarchy was regarded as continuous with the more ancient monarchy represented by the 11 kings of Asturias, León and Castile also named Alfonso.
On 29 November 1879 at the Basilica of Atocha in Madrid, Alfonso married a much more distant relative, Maria Christina of Austria, daughter of Archduke Karl Ferdinand and Archduchess Elisabeth of Austria. During the honeymoon, a pastry cook named Otero fired at the young sovereign and his wife as they were driving in Madrid.
The children of this marriage were:
María de las Mercedes, Princess of Asturias, (11 September 1880 – 17 October 1904), married on 14 February 1901 to Prince Carlos of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, and titular heiress from the death of her father until the posthumous birth of her brother María Teresa, (12 November 1882 – 23 September 1912), married to Prince Ferdinand of Bavaria on 12 January 1906
Alfonso XIII (17 May 1886 – 28 February 1941). Born posthumously. He married Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg
Alfonso had two sons by Elena Armanda Nicolasa Sanz y Martínez de Arizala (Castellón de la Plana, 15 December 1849 – Paris, 24 December 1898):
Alfonso Sanz y Martínez de Arizala (28 January 1880, Madrid – 1970), married in 1922 to María de Guadalupe de Limantour y Mariscal (d. 1977, Marbella), daughter of Julio de Limantour y Marquet (17 June 1863, Mexico City – 11 October 1909, Mexico City) and wife Elena Mariscal y …, paternal granddaughter of French Joseph Yves de Limantour y Rence de la Pagame (1812, Ploemeur – 1885, Mexico City) and wife Adèle Marquet y Cabannes
Fernando Sanz y Martínez de Arizala (28 February 1881, Madrid – 1922, Nice, France), unmarried and without issue
In 1881 Alfonso refused to sanction a law by which the ministers were to remain in office for a fixed term of 18 months.
Upon the consequent resignation of Canovas del Castillo, he summoned Práxedes Mateo Sagasta, the Liberal leader, to form a new cabinet.
In November 1885, Alfonso died, just short of his 28th birthday, at the Royal Palace of El Pardo. He had been suffering from tuberculosis, but the immediate cause of his death was a recurrence of dysentery.
In 1902, his widow Maria Cristina initiated a national contest to build a monument in memory of Alfonso. The winning design, by José Grases Riera, was erected in an artificial lake in Madrid’s Parque del Buen Retiro in 1922.
Coming to the throne at such an early age, Alfonso had served no apprenticeship in the art of ruling, but he possessed great natural tact and a sound judgment ripened by the trials of exile.
Benevolent and sympathetic in disposition, he won the affection of his people by fearlessly visiting districts ravaged by cholera or devastated by earthquake in 1885.
His capacity for dealing with men was considerable, and he never allowed himself to become the instrument of any particular party.
During his short reign, peace was established both at home and abroad, finances were well regulated, and the various administrative services were placed on a basis that afterwards enabled Spain to pass through the disastrous war with the United States without the threat of a revolution.