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The Monarchy through History
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The Monarchy through the History of Spain

The Monarchy in its different conceptions and modes, has been the prevalent form of government or the institution holding the utmost political power in Spain and its adjacent territories throughout history. Hence the political and institutional history of Spain, like that of other European countries, is, in part, the history of its Monarchy and its kings and queens.

"Regnorum Hispaniae nova descriptio". 1631. Willem Blaeu.

Dating back to mythical kingdoms in antiquity, such as Tartessos in the south of the mainland, or the peoples traditionally settled all over Iberia since the Metal Ages (Iberians, Celts and others) largely employed monarchical forms of government and of defining power and structure.

The Roman civilisation on the mainland at the end of the 3rd century B.C. consolidated that trend when it incorporated the Iberian Peninsula, then known as Hispania, into the Roman Empire. This was a political construction that was ostensibly monarchical from the full incorporation of Hispania in the times of the first emperor, Augustus. Hispania gave Rome some of its most important emperors, such as Trajan (who enlarged its frontiers from the British Isles to Mesopotamia, including what is today Romania); Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, famous for the cultural, philosophical and artistic inheritance they bequeathed; or Theodosius the Great, who split the empire into two parts, thus enabling the existence and continuity of a great State bearing the Greek-Latin mark in the eastern world, the Eastern Roman Empire, commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, until the dawning of the Middles Ages midway through the 15th century.
The collapse and disintegration of the Western Roman Empire, largely fostered by the incursion of Germanic tribes, also organised monarchically, led to the articulation of independent kingdoms in the former Roman provinces. In the 5th century AD, Hispania became home to the Visigoths, a people indigenous to the north of Europe that had been migrating through Roman territory for several centuries. King Ataúlfo, the first Visigoth monarch to reign in Hispania, still then formally under Roman sovereignty, exercised kingly prerogatives 1,600 years ago in what is considered a demonstration of autonomous royal power in Spain. Subsequently, in the 6th and 7th centuries, after defeating some rival powers such as the Suebi Kingdom, settled in the Northwest of the mainland, and after unifying legal codes to govern all the inhabitants regardless of whether they were of Roman or Goth origin and achieving religious unity in Catholicism after Arianism had been eventually pushed aside, a form of political, territorial, legal and religious unity was achieved in Hispania with King Leovigildo and his successors.
The Hispanic-Goth Monarchy, which was acknowledged politically and legally as the heir and successor to Rome on the Peninsula, was the first effective realisation of an independent Kingdom or State of wholly Hispanic territories and scope. Its crown or utmost leader was appointed by election, its monarchs being selected from within a particular lineage.
The collapse of the Hispanic-Goth Kingdom, due to its internal conflicts and the Muslim conquest gave rise to the process conventionally and historically known as the Reconquest. Several Christian hubs in the north of the mainland, particularly in Asturias, founded kingdoms and monarchically governed spaces which, gradually and without respite, went on to recover the mainland, their figurehead being the extinct Hispanic-Goth Kingdom and their object its full restoration to power.
Asturias, Galicia, León, Castile, and Navarre, Aragon and the Catalan counties consolidated their original lands and extended their territories, also fostering the creation of new kingdoms in the adjacent regions. Hence the mainland and islands saw the founding of other kingdoms, such as Portugal, Valencia and Majorca. In those centuries, the part of the mainland known as al-Andalus was governed monarchically, as were the Christian territories, in the various ages forming the Emirate and Caliphate of Córdoba and, afterwards the Taifas.
Worthy of mention is the fact that both in Christian Hispania, heir of the Hispanic-Roman and Hispanic-Goth tradition and in al-Andalus, institutions were founded with monarchic competencies of the highest level existing at that time. Hence, while in Western Europe the highest formal political rank was held by the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in Christian Spain there were several kings, Alfonso VI and Alfonso VII of León and Castilla in particular, who held the title of Emperor of Spain or of the Spains. In Spanish-Muslim lands, the monarchs of Córdoba took the titles of Emir and Caliph, like their counterparts in the Afro-Asian Islamic universe with centres in Damascus and Baghdad.
The culmination of the Reconquest at the end of the 15th century resulted in the disappearance of the Spanish-Muslim space and the political and territorial convergence of the most important Spanish crowns (Castile and Aragon) under the same monarchs, the Catholic Monarchs, Isabel and Fernando. This merger of monarchies was shortly joined by Navarre, and, with Felipe II, at the end of the following century by the Kingdom of Portugal, thus achieving the full union of the Hispanic or Iberian Peninsula, under a shared Monarchy. At that time, and also later on, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Spanish Monarchy took on a world-wide dimension with the subsequent inclusion of lands and kingdoms in different continents. The peoples and territories in America were organised like those in Andalusia after the conquests in the times of Fernando III the Saint. As in Andalusia, kingdoms were formed (those of Jaén, Córdoba, Seville, and subsequently Granada) in the Indies with Viceroys as the monarch's delegates in New Spain, Peru and subsequently in New Granada and in el Plata, whereby the King was considered successor to the emperors, as the sculptures of Moctezuma, the last Aztec emperor, and of Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, located on one of the façades of the Royal Palace in Madrid.
Catholic, the traditional title or form of address granted to the Monarchs of Spain by Pope Alexander VI in 1496 to Fernando, Isabel and their successors, referred in its time to the specific religion professed by the Monarchs and their defence of the Catholic faith, although according to certain interpretations it also inferred their ecumenical and universalist nature at a time in which, for the first time ever in the world, a political power, in this case the Spanish Monarchy, had attained a global dimension, with sovereignty and effective presence in all the continents (America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania) and in the main seas and oceans (the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and Mediterranean).
The specific titles used by the Kings of Spain were fruit of this accumulation and incorporation process undertaken by the Spanish Monarchy. Together with the short title - King of Spain or of the Spains, which makes summary reference to the Monarchy's place of origin, the grand or long title was used officially in each reign up until the 19th century. Said long title explicitly mentioned the territories and titles with which the Spanish monarch reigned, with which his ancestors had reigned or over which he was considered to have legitimate rights. By way of an example the vast titles of Carlos IV, still in 1805, laid down in the Royal Letter preceding the Novísima Recopilación de las Leyes de España on its enactment: "Carlos by the grace of God, King of Castile, León, Aragon, the Two Sicilies, Jerusalem, Navarre, Granada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Minorca, Seville, Sardinia, Córdoba, Corsica, Murcia, Jaén, the Algarve, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Isles, the East and West Indies, islands and solid land in the Ocean sea; Archduke of Austria; Duke of Burgundy, Brabante and Milan; Count of Hapsburg, Flanders, Tirol and Barcelona; Lord of Vizcaya and of Molina". It should be mentioned that article 56.2 of the current Spanish Constitution indicates that the title of the Head of State "is that of King of Spain (Rey de España) and he can use the others corresponding to the Crown".
As the apex of the monarchic state, in medieval times and in the Old Regime, the Crown enjoyed the utmost and broadest governmental functions and hence a special responsibility both as regards the successes and failures.
Sancho III the Older, King of Navarre, in the 11th century brought together under his throne a substantial part of Christian Spain. Like other medieval Hispanic kings, however, due to the traditional heritage view of the Monarchy, he ordered that his domains be split up upon his death. King Alfonso IX of León was ahead of his times when in 1188 he convened the first parliament in European history engaging the general public, the nobility and the ecclesiasts. Fernando III the Saint merged the kingdoms of Castile and León definitively, giving the Reconquest irreversible drive. Alfonso X the Wise fostered culture and the arts, as well as laying the foundations for legislation and taxation in a new kind of monarchic state. Jaime I of Aragon and his successors strengthened the political union of the territories of the Aragonese Crown and their overseas expansion into the Mediterranean.
Now in the Modern Age, the Catholic Monarchs, in addition to completing the Reconquest and enabling the discovery of the New World, drove the passing of the Derecho de Gentes (People's Law) -the embryo and basis for International Law- as well as a Indiano legislation, new in its time for the protection of rights it advocated and the alternative of expulsion or conversion to Christianity for the Jewish population in Spain. Carlos I, who with Spain's political, economic and military resources added the Holy Roman Empire and above all the great American empires of Mexico and Peru to his domains, became one of the most famous monarchs in universal history, better known as Carlos V the Emperor. He, however, extinguished the movements which were fighting in Spain for the freedoms of the cities in around 1520. Felipe II, unifier of the mainland by incorporating Portugal into the Crown, and who had previously been King of England and Ireland through marriage, represented the peak of the Hispanic Monarchy in the world and with Felipe III and Felipe IV—the “Planet King”—,  it retained its pre-eminent hegemony until the mid 17th century. After the illuminated period of the 18th century, driven by sovereigns like Felipe V, Fernando VI, Carlos III and Carlos IV came times of political, economic and social unrest, fruit of the consequences of the war against Napoleon Bonaparte's armies between 1808 and 1814.
The transition from the Old Regime to Liberal State is also the transition from sovereignty as the King's right to sovereignty as an attribute pertaining exclusively to the Nation, as was laid down in Cadiz in the constitution of 1812. In this transition process of making the Spanish people the holders of the nation's sovereignty, the monarch was consolidated as the utmost institutional and personal representative of the Sovereign Nation. This transfer is fundamental for understanding the King's eventual identity today as Head of State and the utmost representative of the Nation in which sovereignty resides.
On the death of Fernando VII and in times of his widow, the Governor Queen María Cristina of Borbón, political change was promoted that would culminate Constitution of 1837, with which, Spain went from being ruled by an absolute monarchy to sovereignty residing in the Nation. During the 19th century Spain, which would experience a brief Republican period, was witness to internal wars between supporters of Isabel and Carlos. Meanwhile, during the reign of Isabel II, Spain underwent transcendental economic, political and social changes by establishing monetary, tax and institutional systems suitable for fostering the process of industrialisation based on the great advances in transport (particularly with the railway) and in communications and was accompanied by legislation favouring creativity and business initiatives.
The Restoration period, which started with Alfonso XII in 1875, concluded in 1931 with the proclamation of the Second Republic and the end of the reign of Alfonso XIII. They were years of great economic growth, grounded on Spain's industrialisation, favoured by its neutrality in World War I. In 1947, eight years after the end of the Spanish Civil War and at the height of the dictatorship, it was laid down by law that Spain was a State constituted as a Kingdom.
The confirmation of His Majesty King Juan Carlos I as Head of State in 1975 fostered and drove the Transition to a wholly free democratic regime and a Social State under Rule of Law, consecrated in the Constitution of 1978. The decades that have elapsed since then are considered to be those of greatest economic and social progress in the whole of Spain's contemporary history.
Spain's royal lineage, which has its roots in the royal families of the ancient Hispanic Christian kingdoms of the High Middle Ages, was attached in each period of history to different family dynasties, each one with a specific family name used to designate the Royal Family. Hence, although convention accepts for classification and history writing purposes that since the unification of Spain, the country has been reigned by the Houses of Trastámara, Austria and Borbón, in actual fact there is a continuity of dynasty and lineage which genealogically speaking links the current holder of the Spanish Crown, H.M. King Felipe VI, with the general body of Spanish monarchs from the Modern and Contemporary Ages and with the most remote monarchs of the medieval kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula.