Powerful Facts About Alfonso XII of Spain, The Mastermind King

Edward Sakowsky

Alfonso was born into one of the most powerful royal families in the world. It seemed that he was set on a comfortable path to the Crown, but he had just as many enemies as allies—if not more. This tale has as many twists and turns as a Hollywood blockbuster, and enough intrigue and deception to put The Godfather to shame. Read it to believe it.


1. He Was Born Into Immense Power

On a winter day on November 28th, 1857, the royal household saw Alfonso come into this world. His mother was at that moment the most powerful woman in Spain. She was, after all, the queen of her country. But despite having been born into all of this power and privilege, other, insidious issues awaited him in the shadows.

2. There Was A Dark Secret About Him

Alfonso’s birth should have been a joyous time—but instead, his mother had to face dark rumors. People whispered that the King was not his actual father. According to the stories, the queen and the captain of the guard, or perhaps even the colonel, spent a steamy night or two together. No one knows for certain which of the two it was—nor whether it was even true—but that did not stop their enemies from spreading these tales.

3. These Rumors Were Used By His Enemies

The Carlists, a group of people who had a vastly different political agenda from the rulers of the country, AKA Alfonso’s family, did their utmost to question his paternity. Like propaganda, they made sure that his supposed illegitimacy became a household tale. Their deeds had far-reaching consequences and caused much embarrassment to Alfonso and his family.

4. His Baptism Turned Out To Be A Disaster

The rumors spread so far that they eventually were taken as truth—and for Alfonso, this had devastating consequences. His father was easily manipulated by the Carlists and refused to even attend the baptism ceremony for his own son. This is equivalent to him refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of his own son, and even though he eventually attended, it was not the last Alfonso would hear of it.

5. His Enemies Nicknamed Him

This scandal politically scarred Alfonso for life. From then on the nickname Puigmoltejo, the name of the captain of the guard, followed Alfonso throughout his youth. When you are born into so much power, it turns out people really do care who your parents are. It’s an unfortunate lesson Alfonso learned as a young man, but insults weren’t the only thing he had to worry about.

6. Conflict Was On The Horizon For The Bourbon Family

Not many people were very fond of Alfonso’s mother, Isabellaand this put both her and Alfonso in grave danger. On September 19th, 1868, a group of revolutionaries battled against those in power…which, of course, happened to be Alfonso’s family. While this wasn’t the first time they tried, it was beginning to look as if it might be the last.

7. Alfonso’s Future Was In Peril

The conflict forced Alfonso and his family into a precarious state. In a little more than a week, his mother was deposed, an opposing group of people had taken over Spain, and his future was looking increasingly grim. In order to save themselves, the family had to do something drastic.

8. They Ran

The royal family was quick to flee to get away from harm’s way, and into safety, which in this case meant France. Today it seems a little odd that a monarch and her family felt safe in one of the few countries that had, by that time, executed their rulers, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. There was, however, more in store than just a simple vacation, as would soon become clear.

9. His Mother Had A Plan For Him

With the family line under an existential threat, there was no time to sit back and wait to see how things might turn out. Alfonso’s mother knew that plans had to be made for his future, so she began to make preparations for his education. Where else after all was a young child going to go? Of course, it wasn’t any ordinary school.

She sent him to the legendary Theresianum, hoping it would pave the path for his return to the throne. But she was also cooking up a Plan B.

10. His Mother Recalled Him To France For A Surprise

In the midst of his studies, his mother summoned him to France for a pleasant surprise. He temporarily stopped his studies and quickly moved to her side, where she awaited his arrival, patiently waiting to reveal her secret. The old Queen was about to do something that was going to forever change her fate, as well as his.

11. She Revealed Her Plans To Him

The plans, it turns out, would forever change his future. An audience of Spanish nobles gathered around as the Queen abdicated her claim to the throne. She gave her claim to Alfonso, who was now the rightful king in exile. From now on his name would be Alfonso XII, setting to rest finally those rumors that had plagued him throughout his youth. But he would have to wait to make his move.

12. Alfonso’s Distant Cousin Became King Of Spain

Alfonso continued sitting and waiting as his distant cousin came to the throne. In 1870, Prince Amadeo of Savoy, the son of the King of Italy, became the King of Spain. During his brief reign, he was subject to many attempts on his life. But a surprising twist was in store for both Alfonso and his replacement.

13. He Couldn’t Cut It

After one too many brushes with death—or at least, the threat of it—Amadeo eventually abdicated the Spanish throne. It seems like no one could hold on to the crown for long. Alfonso’s claim was strong, and he reached adulthood, it seemed as though he’d be able to make it soon—but he wasn’t the only one lurking in the shadows. There was already someone else with their eye on the prize.

14. He Had A Formidable Enemy On The Horizon

The villain of this story is Don Carlos, whose power was increasing at a tremendous rate. As Alfonso was studying head first into his books, learning more and more, Don Carlos was establishing control in Spain, and his political foothold on the peninsula was tightening. Not only that, but Don Carlos was also no stranger to Alfonso’s family.

15. Alfonso Had A Lifelong Enemy

The Duke of Madrid, Don Carlos, also belonged to the Carlists. Remember them? They were the ones who helped spread rumors about Alfonso’s illegitimacy. But the Carlists were not just puritanically interested in Isabella’s bedfellows—they had devious reasons for destabilizing the monarchy. To them, much more was at stake than just unseating Isabella and Alfonso.

16. Alfonso’s Enemy Was Similar To Him

Both Alfonso and Don Carlos shared one very important thing in common. They both had a claim to the royal throne of Spain. It really is no surprise that the Carlists spread propaganda about Alfonso’s heritage, since this may have caused problems with pressing his claim. Clearly, time was running short here for Alfonso.

17. Alfonso Prepared For The Worst

His enemies were getting stronger by the day, so Alfonso decided to attend a military college in Sandhurst, England. Military school, anyone will tell you, is no joke. Alfonso’s training was harsh, but he endured everything. He knew full well that his future may come to depend on it, so he braced through the hard times.

As his story will eventually show, he was going to need it. Alfonso was now almost ready to act on his master plan.

18. He Chose The Perfect Time To Execute His Plan

During the day, Alfonso went through his training at Sandhurst—but when no one was looking, he was formulating a plan. When Alfonso turned 17 on December 1, 1874, he wrote a letter to his followers. In his letter, leaning on the facts of his recent education, he insisted that he was the perfect blend of a ‘good catholic’ and Spaniard, like his ancestors.

He also boldly dismissed his opponents. But couched in all the words was a secret message to his allies…

19. They Stormed A City For Him

Within days, Alfonso’s supporters rallied together a huge army. Less than a month after his letter, Alfonso’s confidant, Martinez Campos, stormed the town of Valencia with all of his men. After it fell into his hands, they then overthrew the Spanish Republic. The Spanish throne was now so close to Alfonso that he could almost grasp it. Just a few more moves and it could be his.

20. Things Moved Like Clockwork For Him

In the uneasy aftermath, Alfonso had his web of friends smooth things out for him. Martinez Campos’ coup-d’état allowed Canovas del Castillo, Alfonso’s previous tutor, to take power as prime minister. Now with his friends neatly in place, his plan, which had been hidden from sight for so long, was beginning to flower.

21. The Return Of The King

After years of plotting, Alfonso was proclaimed King of Spain at just 17 years old right before the new year. Who needs a resolution when your whole life just changed forever? He’d finally got what he wanted—but this blessing came with a curse. The squabbles over the throne had been just a minuscule portion of the problem he was about to face as the ruler of a divided country.

22. His Enemies Returned To Trouble Him

Remember Don Carlos, the Carlist who was increasingly gaining power? Despite Alfonso’s new position of power, Carlos was stronger than ever. For the last few years, he’d led the Carlists and managed to gain a lot of control in Spain. It was becoming clear once again that Alfonso was also in a race against time. He had to take action—otherwise, his rule would be doomed.

23. He Took Part In One Of The Bloodiest Conflicts In Europe

Spain wasn’t big enough for both Alfonso and Don Carlos. The fight between them was both prolific and gruesome. Alfonso’s friends stepped up to defend him—and this time, he joined the battle. Putting the reigning king right in the line of fire was a risky decision. But, it turned out that his harsh education would end up being an asset after all.

24. He Made His Mark

Alfonso may have been young, but he was as sharp as they come—and he proved it on the battlefield. He and his men marched into Pamplona and took the city, which caused his enemies to scatter. This included Don Carlos, who fled to France. This effectively ended the war after four years. At long last, he’d defeated the strongest enemy he’d known…or had he?

25. His Prime Minister Had His Own Plans

When the conflict ended, Alfonso restored his power across Spain. His old tutor and close friend, Canovas, continued his administrative duties as prime minister. He had his own plans and managed the government in his own way—which was a lot different from his predecessors. It would rub any ruler the wrong way—but Alfonso trusted him, and even allowed him more power. It was just a question of whether this would be something he’d come to regret.

26. His Decisions Caused Widespread Peace

Alfonso’s brutal bloodshed during the Carlist Wars made him a legend and solidified his hold on the crown—but there was more to this king than just his ability to win a battle. He actually was involved in peacekeeping efforts throughout Europe, and his subjects admired him for this side. They nicknamed him El Pacificador, which roughly translates to The Peacemaker.

So much for a guy who took part in such a bloody conflict. He also knew a thing or two about how to run an empire.

27. He Was An Administrative Genius

The Spanish empire was large during Alfonso’s time, and large empires are never easy to handle. However, during his reign, Alfonso never experienced financial catastrophes, and that never changed. Whether that is because the young King knew exactly who to appoint, or because he was himself an economic genius, is difficult to discern.

But despite all of these great traits, he had a skeleton in his closet. You might say that he had many in his closet.

28. His Reign Had Dark Secrets

Spain was one of the world’s great empires of that time, and had an outstandingly large outreach—but that didn’t stop them from abusing that power. Under Alfonso, Spain stole countless amounts of artifacts from Indigenous people, including even their bodies. Eek. Even today, some of them remain on display in Spanish museums. Aside from theft, people also had other reasons to dislike Alfonso.

29. He Was Targeted

The Spain that Alfonso had come to power in was changing. A few years ago, Alfonso could have walked through any city without a care in the world, but there was growing unrest among his subjects. In Madrid, a man by the name of Oliva Marcousi tried to assassinate Alfonso, but he failed.

There aren’t many more disturbing experiences than trying to evade a murderer. Somehow, there was worse in store for Alfonso.

30. He Was Keen On His Cousin

They say suffering brings people together. For Alfonso and his cousin, that seems to be the case. He first met Mercedes of Orléans a few years after his mother was deposed. It turns out that the deposition had also forced her into exile. They hit it off pretty well after they met and stayed in touch—only to pop a surprise on everyone a year later.

31. He Fell in Love

A year after meeting, Alfonso and Mercedes tied the knot. Yes, you read that correctly: he married his cousin. That sounds a little crazy today, but it was a common thing back then. They sealed the deal at a large church in central Madrid on January 23, 1878. While such an event is usually a happy time for most people, it couldn’t have made Alfonso’s mother too joyful, for she had other plans.

32. He Married Against His Mother’s Wishes

Alfonso’s marriage didn’t exactly bring a proud tear to his mother’s eye. Why? Well, she had a devious plan of her own. She’d wanted to hook her son up with Infanta Blanca, the eldest daughter of Don Carlos. Yes, that guy. Back then, marriages were just as much diplomatic tools as anything else. Why marry for love when instead you could turn an old enemy into a new friend?

Alfonso clearly did not see eye to eye with his mother, so he chose his own partner. Yet, not everything went as smoothly for the newlyweds as they would have liked.

33. Misfortune Visited Their Marriage

When Alfonso wed Mercedes, it seemed as though they were finally getting their fairy tale—but it soon turned into a total horror story. When the Queen became pregnant in June 1878, both she and Alfonso were overjoyed. Unfortunately, it was not to be. She experienced a miscarriage.

Alfonso would have to wait patiently for another heir apparent. However, the worst was yet to come.

34. Tragedy Was At Their Doorstep

While Alfonso was probably upset about losing a potential heir, there was a much worse problem in store for the Queen. She was suffering from typhoid fever. Only six months after their marriage, her life was cut short by sickness. She tragically died at the early age of 18. It really seemed like they’d loved each other—but as it soon became clear, Alfonso wasn’t going to spend his time mourning.

35. He Moved On Quickly

Just a few months after his first wife’s death, Alfonso traveled across Europe to meet with another woman. In southwestern France, he met Maria Christina of Austria. She was, not surprisingly, an Archduchess. She was also known as being intelligent, reasonable and also beautiful. Well, she must have been, seeing how Alfonso responded to her.

36. He Proposed To Her At Their First Meeting

It was love at first sight—or something like that. At this first meeting, Alfonso was already putting moves on Maria Christina. By the end of it, he had already officially proposed to her. Not long after, it was public news, even in Austria. The widower King would be getting married again, but there was something bizarre about how it went about.

37. They Married In The Same Church

Before the tears over the loss of his first wife dried up, Alfonso was already readying his next engagement. It’s very possible that some of the attendees felt deja vu. After all, the ceremony was set to take place again at the same church in Madrid. This time, he was marrying Maria Christina of Austria. Was this couple fated to be luckier than the last?

38. People Were Literally Out to Get Him

As Alfonso and his new bride Maria Christina celebrated their honeymoon in Madrid, disaster struck. As they traveled in a carriage, a pastry chef named Otero attempted to assassinate the young couple. The pair survived unscathed, at least physically. And while it may have been a bad omen for their marriage, the young King was finally acting like he was ready to settle down.

39. They Had Two Children

Within months of their marriage, Maria Christina was pregnant with the first of three children. On the surface, it seemed as though their marriage should have been a perfect one—yet he was actually hiding a seriously dark secret. To say the least, he was no stranger to extramarital affairs. His affairs were, in fact, legendary.

40. He Had A Thing For Opera Singers

Even before he tied the knot with Maria Christina, it was obvious that Alfonso would not be a faithful husband. The first girl who became the apple of his eye was Adela Borghi, an Italian opera singer. This infatuation was not his last, and not nearly his biggest. It was soon eclipsed by another obsession with yet another opera girl. Poor Maria Christina.

41. His Next Affair Was Far Worse

After moving on from Adela, Alfonso became obsessed with another beautiful singer. Elena Sanz, a Spanish opera performer, proved to be the (extramarital) love of Alfonso’s life. He fathered two illegitimate children with her. To add insult to injury, she’d been five or six months pregnant during his wedding to Maria Christina. And he didn’t stop there.

42. He Rubbed It In

Was Alfonso discreet about his extramarital affairs? Well, let’s see. Not only had he fathered children out of wedlock, but he and Elena were even bold enough to name their first son after him. It’s surprising that anyone could have endured such a spouse, but Maria Christina’s patience was not infinite.

43. He Wasn’t Gentle

Alfonso may have been “the Peacemaker”, but he didn’t always show his diplomatic side. He knew he wanted to marry Maria Christina before they even met. After all, it was politically advantageous. But he also didn’t hide his true opinion of his bride. After their first meeting, he said something along the lines of “Did you like her? Neither do I” and then expressed that he thought her mother was the prettier one. Yikes.

44. She Was Furious With Him

Queen Maria Christina had to bear the brunt of so much humiliation and infidelity, but she made sure to strike back. She forced Alfonso’s opera singer to go into exile. It seems that Maria Christina had won a victory over Alfonso after all. Unfortunately for her, this short period of peace was to be just as short as Alfonso’s reign.

45. He Got Very Sick

After waiting to take the crown for so many years, Alfonso packed a lot into his reign—but in 1885, he began to suffer from tuberculosis. The disease quickly ravaged his body. Over the years, he’d bounced back from coups and attempts on his life. Sadly, this time, he wouldn’t be so lucky.

46. He Had A Sudden, Tragic End

The lusty King, who accomplished so much in such a brief span of time, died at the early age of 27. He was a long-time sufferer of tuberculosis, but that wasn’t what took him away. It was dysentery, known as bloody flux, which dealt the final blow. He failed to reach his 28th birthday, which was only a week or two away.

47. He Was The Last Spanish King To Die On The Throne

Because Alfonso XII was so young at the time of his passing, he still maintained the office of King. In the history of the Spanish monarchy, he was the last to do so. Since the Crown of Spain no longer exists, it seems likely that no one will be taking that title from him—but there’s far more to his story than that simple accolade.

48. He Didn’t Know What Was Coming

Alfonso’s wife, Maria Christina, had given him two successors to the throne: his daughters María de las Mercedes and Maria Theresa (way to get creative with the naming, guys). But thanks to the Carlist rebellions that had marked Alfonso’s youth, there was pressure on them both to deliver a male child. In late 1885, Maria Christina got pregnant again—but, as you can imagine, the timing wasn’t great….

49. His Son Continued His Legacy

Alfonso’s passing came at an unexpected time, and because of this, he never saw the birth of his son. Despite these unfortunate circumstances, Alfonso XIII was to continue his legacy and assumed the role of King right as soon as he was born. Could you ask for a better inheritance than that? It turns out he could, since his father’s reputation outshone his—but were people twisting his story for their own benefit?

50. Alfonso XII Was Commemorated By Future Generations

Despite the humiliation that she suffered at Alfonso XII’s hands, his widow Maria Christina commissioned a contest to build a monument to commemorate him. Yes, after all those horrible affairs, she still did that. But she may have had ulterior motives.

By highlighting the success of her husband’s reign, she solidified his line’s claim to the Spanish throne. That’s a pretty big act of service, considering how brutal he could be to her…

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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