The courtiers of Alfonso XIII, grandfather of Juan Carlos I, were not enthusiastic about the idea of the King of Spain marrying Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg. The princess, granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England, was Anglican, spoke no Spanish and, in the eyes of the rancid Alfonso court, was of lower rank than the monarch. They also considered them too modern and worldly. And there was the problem of hemophilia, a blood disease that plagued the British royal family and ran through the veins of Victoria Eugenia and two of her male brothers. In the Royal Palace of Madrid, no one wanted Princess Ena to become queen, with the exception of Alfonso XIII. himself, who got his way and made the engagement public in February 1906. At the beginning of May this year, three weeks before the wedding was celebrated in the church of San Jerónimo el Real in Madrid, the king visited incognito the Isle of Wight on the south coast of England, where his fiancée had spent part of her childhood and youth. The King’s grandfather emeritus arrived on his yacht, the Giralda, and took Ena to see the Victorian castle, Osborne House, where she grew up.
Juan Carlos I has been to Wight many times. His father, the Count of Barcelona, served as his cicerone in the fifties and sixties. The King Emeritus, who knows well this island off the city of Southampton, arrived this Thursday, August 31, with the intention of taking part on Monday in the first day of the World Sailing Championships in the 6 meter class, a category in which has specialized in recent years. At 85, he has gotten into shape with the intention of reconfirming the world double achieved in Vancouver (Canada) in 2017 and in Hanko (Finland) in 2019. Head of State will be in Cowes, not far from where his British grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother grew up. Basically, his plan is to stay on the island until the end of the competition next September 8th.
Links between the Spanish royal family and Wight can be traced back to the Trastámara period. As early as 1374, Fernán Sánchez de Tovar, a Castilian sailor in the service of Henry of Castile, plundered and burned the island during the Hundred Years’ War. But the most peaceful royal tradition of sailing the white waters of this English enclave began with Alfonso XIII. and Ena. The king’s grandfather emeritus, an Anglophile who loved sports such as sailing and polo, visited in the summer to take part in sloop regattas aboard his boat, the Hispania. Ena also enjoyed returning to Osborne House, her childhood summer home. When he was unable to do so, he settled for the Palace of La Magdalena in Santander, a mansion inspired by the picturesque English residence of Los Hornillos in the Cantabrian town of Las Fraguas. Cantabria was the closest I could get to England.
King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, at Osborne Cottage on the Isle of Wight.The Print Collector / Print Collector / Getty
Alfonso XIII’s honeymoon. and Ena only lasted a year. In 1907, a year after their wedding, the couple discovered that their newborn firstborn, Prince Alfonso, had inherited hemophilia from his mother, a bleeding disorder that prevents blood from clotting properly. The couple’s sixth child, little Gonzalo, was also born hemophilic. Due to the illness, the children were unable to receive the training appropriate to their rank and were unable to carry out their public duties normally. The poor health of the Prince of Asturias and the infant destroyed the relationship between the royals and ultimately led to the death of their children: Gonzalo, the youngest, died in 1934. He was only 19 years old. Alfonso, the eldest, died in 1938 at the age of 31.
The Bourbon Curse originated in Wight, where Juan Carlos I is today. Victoria of England and her husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, great-great-grandparents of the King Emeritus, built Osborne House in Cowes between 1845 and 1851 and they made it their summer residence and private home. The English monarch, carrier of the hemophilia gene due to a spontaneous mutation, transmitted the disease to three of her nine children. The princesses Alice and Beatrice were carriers and Leopold, the youngest, inherited hemophilia type B. Through them it passed to the royal families of Russia, Germany and Spain.
Queen Victoria, great-great-grandmother of John Charles I, surrounded by members of her family at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, in 1898. Otto Herschan (Hulton Archive / Getty)
In the summer of 1885, Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, favorite daughter of Queen Victoria and great-grandmother of John Charles I, married Prince Henry of Battenberg at St. Mildred’s Church in Whippingham, a small village in Wight. The couple honeymooned at Quarr Abbey House, just a few miles from Osborne House. Now Juan Carlos I is planning to stay overnight in the house of some friends not far from there.
Don Juan and Juan Carlos driving in Cowes, Wight, August 12, 1963. Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, great-grandmother of the King Emeritus, passed the hemophilia gene to her children, including Victoria Eugenia, and Ena introduced it into the Spanish royal family. The drama of hemophilia decimated a generation of Bourbons, but also paved the way for Juan Carlos I to the throne. Alfonso de Borbón y Battenberg, firstborn of Alfonso XIII, had to renounce his inheritance rights in the summer of 1933 in order to marry the Cuban citizen Edelmira Sampedro. Aware of his illness and knowing that he would never rule, he preferred to put love above duty. Five years later, already divorced from Edelmira, he bled to death after a traffic accident in Miami. Infant Jaime, second in line to the throne and deaf and mute almost from birth, also had to renounce his rights in the summer of 1933. A year later, in the summer of 1934, Infant Gonzalo, the youngest, died of a hemophilia hemorrhage after a minor collision on an Austrian road. His sister, Infanta Beatriz, who traveled with him, was unharmed.
All of these resignations and deaths brought Juan de Borbón and his son Juan Carlos to the forefront of the race for control of Spain. In the coming days Felipe VI’s father will running in the waters of Wight in the hope of taking first place again.
John of Bourbon, Earl of Barcelona, sailing off the Isle of Wight, August 15, 1963. Evening Standard (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)