King Juan Carlos I of Spain ends 40 year rule

By Alejandro Freixes, CCNN Head Writer

Crowned Prince
The Crown Prince Felipe de Borbon and his wife Letizia Ortiz, a former television news anchor.

For almost 40 years, Spain has been ruled by King Juan Carlos I. Now, he’ll be stepping down to make way for his son, Crown Prince Felipe, and leave behind a legacy of protecting Spain’s relatively young democracy.

From 1936 to 1939, Spain was torn apart by war as Republicans loyal to the democratically elected Spanish Republic fought pro-military rebel Nationalists led by General Francisco Franco. The brutal Spanish Civil War ended with Franco as the nation’s all-powerful dictator, and he controlled the country until his death in 1975. Franco was so confident in his power, that he actually named Juan Carlos as his eventual replacement, expecting the royal family to be easily controlled.

So, when Juan Carlos took over in 1975 amidst a bitterly divided Spain, many thought he would be a short-term leader who couldn’t handle the balancing act. Instead, he guided his nation from a military-controlled state to a more democratic government. Less than 2 years after Franco’s death, Spain held its first post-war elections! He even held off an attempt by the military when they tried to take over in 1981, by refusing to give in to their desire for greater power over elected representatives.

His personal life was filled with excitement and partying, like riding motorcycles and going club hopping. However, he still managed to maintain positive relations with leaders across the globe and kept a peaceful political environment at home. Will the Crown Prince be able to fill his father’s shoes? Only time will tell.

Images courtesy of Casa de Su Majestad el Rey de España.