King Juan Carlos I of Spain was born in Rome, Italy on January 5, 1938. He was the son of Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona and Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. His grandfather, King Alfonso XIII had been forced into exile in 1931 due to a military uprising in Spain, leaving the Spanish throne vacant.
He spent his childhood growing up between Italy and Portugal before eventually being sent to study at the Estado Navas Military Academy in 1954. After completing his studies he joined the army as a lieutenant colonel and began traveling around Spain. In 1962 he married Sofia of Greece and from that union two more children were born; Elena (1963) and Cristina (1965).
In 1969, Juan Carlos was chosen by the Spanish government to become the new king of Spain. He became Spain’s first monarch in over 40 years and immediately got to work restoring democracy and civil liberties to the country. His first act as king was an address to the people of Spain outlining his commitment to democracy and human rights.
Throughout his reign, King Juan Carlos I focused on modernizing Spain’s economy and society while maintaining key traditions such as regional autonomy. In 1975 he dissolved Parliament when it refused to accept austerity measures proposed by him, instead opting for a referendum which overwhelmingly supported his reforms. Following this victory he called for free elections in 1977 which resulted in a democratic regime taking control of the country.
King Juan Carlos I is also remembered for his role in the peaceful transition to democracy, playing a key part in negotiations between various political parties. In 1981 he was involved in stopping a military coup attempt and restoring order to the country.
In 2014, King Juan Carlos abdicated the throne due to health issues, giving way to his son Felipe VI becoming king of Spain. He died four years later on April 2nd, 2020 at the age of 82. His legacy will continue to live on through his efforts towards restoring Spanish democracy and his commitment to human rights. He will always be remembered as one of the most important figures in the history of modern Spain.