Murcia and The Royalty of Britain and Spain

Alfonso XIII of Spain and Victoria Eugenie c. 1908 by Christian Franzen
Alfonso XIII of Spain and Victoria Eugenie c. 1908 by Christian Franzen

Britain has long been interested in the somewhat turbulent history of the Spanish monarchy, and reports about the travels, triumphs and tribulations of various Spanish royals have been a staple feature of British newspapers for at least 150 years. Such interest is hardly surprising, because the British and Spanish royal houses have had close blood links which go back to Victorian times (and before). Indeed, the current Spanish King, Felipe VI, is the only reigning European monarch to carry the distinction of being closely related to the British monarchy through both of his parents. Felipe is, in fact, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. 

King Alfonso XII (Museo del Prado) by Frederico de Madrazo y Kuntz, 1886
King Alfonso XII (Museo del Prado) by Frederico de Madrazo y Kuntz, 1886

This family link is derived from the fact that the current Spanish King is the great-grandson of King Alfonso XIII, King of Spain between 1886 and 1931, and Alfonso took an English bride, Victoria Eugenie, who was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria. The former King of Spain, Juan Carlos (Felipe’s father) is the grandson of Alfonso XIII, which, of course, gives Felipe a significant blood link which can be traced right back to the great matriarch herself, Queen Victoria. On his mother’s side, Felipe is also related to the recently deceased Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Sophia, Juan Carlos’s Spanish queen, was the granddaughter of King Constantine I of Greece, and Prince Philip was the son of Constantine’s brother, Andrew, which made Queen Sophia and Philip rather significant royal cousins. 

King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra by Joseph C Clarke (British Library)
King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra by Joseph C Clarke (British Library)

Spanish monarchs have visited Murcia on many occasions, and their visits have always been reported upon in Britain. As recently as July 2020 (during the first stages of the Covid pandemic) Felipe and Queen Letizia visited a Murcian fruit and vegetable farm called La Carrichosa, and later went on to tour the Murcian Institute for Biosanitary Research. 143 years earlier, in 1877, King Alfonso XII, Victoria Eugenie’s father-in-law, made a highly publicised visit to Murcia City and Cartagena, which was written about in newspapers across Britain. He stayed at the Murcian episcopal palace, and watched a huge display of carnival floats unfold before him, in a masquerade known as the ‘Burial of the Sardine’. The display apparently went on for hours, with floats pulled along by horses, decked out to illustrate themes from Greek mythology. Everything ended with a huge firework display, after which Alphonso sensibly retired to bed. On the following morning, he apparently arose quite early, visited some hospitals and a silk manufacturer’s premises, and then travelled by train to Cartagena. 

Thirty years later, in April 1907, his son, Alfonso XIII, was also at Cartagena, aboard the Spanish battleship Numancia, hosting an elaborate banquet for Edward VII, King of England and Emperor of India, and Edward’s Queen, Alexandra. Edward VII’s niece, a heavily pregnant Queen Victoria Eugenie, had been left behind in Madrid, but Alfonso’s mother, Queen Cristina, was present for the meeting and banquet on the Numancia, and she had been one of the most fervent supporters of the marriage between Victoria Eugenie and her son.

Numancia iron clad battle ship c. 1907
Numancia iron clad battle ship c. 1907

The ship-based banquet proved to be extremely significant in illustrating the close links that existed between the royal houses of Spain and Britain. Alfonso had visited the U.K. two years before, in 1905, and was clearly an enthusiastic Anglophile. 

On the Numancia, he spoke at length about the strength of the mighty Royal Navy. In his reply to the Spanish King’s speech, the older Edward seemed slightly more restrained, but his affection for Spain, his niece, and for Alfonso was clear for all to hear. The meeting at Cartagena, aboard the Numancia, was a clear example of Edwardian royal diplomacy at its very best.