It was a calm evening in the seaside town of Estoril, Portugal when a gunshot shattered the silence. It was March 29th, 1956 and a member of Spain’s exiled Royal Family had just been killed.
The would-be king’s son, 14-year-old Prince Alfonso, was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. The official account ruled it an accident, claiming that Alfonso had shot himself by mistake when he was playing with a gun with his older brother Juan Carlos.
“Prince Juan Carlos rushed down to tell his family that his brother had been shot.”
After the tragic incident, the Royal family went strangely silent. To some, this was an admission of guilt which suggested the young Prince’s death had been deliberate. Was Alfonso’s brother more involved in the Prince’s death than the family wanted to admit?
A brief history of the Spanish monarchy in exile
Infante Juan of Spain, Count of Barcelona, also known as Don Juan, was the father of Alfonso and Juan Carlos and would have been King of Spain – had his family not fled the country to live in exile after the proclamation of the second Spanish republic in 1931.
The Bourbón Royal family, which Don Juan and his children belonged to, were known for being bad rulers with poor moral standards due to their adulterous and alcoholic tendencies. In 1931, the grandfather of Prince Juan Carlos – King Alfonso XIII of Spain – fled the country after anti-Royalists were elected to parliament.
While King Alfonso’s self-imposed exile stopped a tragic war, he had always planned to return and take back his throne. He died ten years later, however, without ever returning to power.
In the 1940s, Don Juan and his wife, Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies, were living with their four children – two girls and two boys – in Villa Geralda in Portugal. They had a happy life in a lavish mansion, but Don Juan was dissatisfied with having to live off donations from noble families and dreamed of retaking the throne.
General Franco of Spain, who gained power in 1939, gave Don Juan a ray of hope when he said he was a monarchist who would restore order and then reinstate the monarchy… but it would come at a price.
Prince Juan Carlos and Prince Alfonso of Spain
In 1948, the exiled King and General Franco met on the latter’s yacht to discuss the future of Juan Carlos. Franco asked that the young Prince move to Spain and attend school there, explaining that Don Juan would be giving up the throne if he did not comply.
Juan Carlos moving to Spain gave Franco a great deal of control over the boys’ upbringing. Franco had no children of his own and Juan Carlos seemed lonely. Most likely feeling abandoned by his family, Juan Carlos became close to Franco as the pair developed what many saw as a father-son bond.
Franco did eventually fulfill his promise of reinstating the monarchy, but he decided the crown would go to Juan Carlos instead of his father Don Juan. For Franco, this was a way of keeping control over the country even after death by giving his protégé the power.
For the next eight years, Juan Carlos was educated at a string of military schools. In 1956, however, the 18-year-old Prince was staying at home on a rare visit during the Easter holidays.
On the fateful Thursday of Alfonso’s death, the family had gone to church and then the parents settled downstairs while 14-year-old Alfonso and 18-year-old Juan Carlos went upstairs. A loud bang was heard shortly after. Prince Juan Carlos rushed down to tell his family that his brother had been shot and was discovered lying on the ground, a bullet wound to his head.
After his brother’s death, Juan Carlos was quickly taken back to Spain without testifying to the police. A statement was rushed out by the Spanish embassy in Lisbon which did not mention Juan Carlos’ involvement in any way. Don Juan reportedly asked his son whether Alfonso’s death had really been an accident.
Is it possible that the young prince shot himself, or that Juan Carlos – a young man with military training – accidentally killed him? What did Juan Carlos, the elder brother and heir to the throne, have to gain by killing his brother if it wasn’t an accident? Could General Franco have been involved? Discover the full story in Royal Inquest: The King Who Killed exclusively on True Royalty TV.