Well lashed down

By the end of 1969, Francisco Franco thought he had everything “well lashed down”, as he told the Spanish people in his end-of-year address on December 30th. Earlier that year, on July 12th, Franco had informed the Principe Juan Carlos that he was to succeed him. Apparently, the Prince asked Franco why he hadn’t said anything before – Juan Carlos had been on tenterhooks for years, wondering when the old fox would make an official announcement about the succession, especially as Franco’s health had been shaky since the early 60s. Franco replied that he hadn’t done so because he would have sworn the Prince to secrecy, and that he would have had to lie to his father, whom he had just visited at his home in exile in Portugal. In fact, the Prince’s father, known as Don Juan, who was the legitimate heir to the throne, had known when he agreed to send his son to Spain 20 years earlier to be educated by Franco that the latter was capable of opting for Juan Carlos and in his heart of hearts knew he would accept that. In the long run, the only thing that mattered was that the monarchy should be revived in Spain. Franco despised Don Juan for his liberal ideas and had accused him – not without reason – of being involved in several conspiracies against the dictator over the years so there was no love lost between them. By telling the Prince immediately after he visited his father, Franco made it look as if Juan Carlos had been holding back during the visit, and achieved his ambition of introducing an element of mistrust in the relationship between father and son. And when he announced that Juan Carlos would from then on be known as Principe de España and not Principe de Asturias as the heir was traditionally called, Franco broke with both the continuity and the legitimacy of the Bourbon line. The new monarchy would be his, and his alone. Don Juan would formally renounce his claim to the throne on May 14th, 1977, making his son, who had been de facto king in fact since Franco’s death, the rightful, or de jure, king. When Franco declared that he had everything “well lashed down”, he was assuming Juan Carlos would use the powers he would inherit to carry on the Franco regime in the guise of an authoritarian monarchy. It will never be known if Franco ever suspected that Juan Carlos would do everything in his not-inconsiderable power to lead the country along the road to a parliamentary monarchy, which was what he proceeded to do as soon as Franco died on November 20th, 1975. Franco never let on, either by word or by deed, if he suspected the son as being as liberal as his father but his secret policemen must have known the Prince was meeting with the sort of people that Franco disapproved of – liberal left pinkos who would plunge the country into civil war again with their futile ideological arguments once the dictator was out of the way – years before the dictator died. And the Prince himself nearly let the cat out of the bag during a visit he and Princess Sofia made to Washington where, after one press interview, he was quoted as saying: “I believe that the Spanish people want more freedom. It is all a question of knowing how fast.” Juan Carlos expected Franco to be furious with him but to his surprise, Franco had assumed that he was dabbling in the same double-dealing with the western powers as he himself had done on more than one occasion. He told the Prince: “There are things you can and must say outside Spain and things which you must not say inside Spain.” The prince would be much more circumspect in his declarations from then on, especially as he also had to be careful not to give the Falangists ammunition to use against him. The Falange had been formed by Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera along the lines of Mussolini’s Fascist movement in October 1933, and it became known as “the Movement” after the Civil War ended. The Falangists hated the very word “monarchy” and tried their level best to dissuade Franco from appointing Juan Carlos his successor. However, the Movement was not as powerful as it seemed. In public, Franco backed it to the hilt, seducing most Falangists into believing they played an important role in Franco’s scheme of things. But in the long run, Franco trusted no-one but himself and consulted few people when making a decision. He really did believe he was the Caudillo (Leader) appointed by God to save Spain from Communism. Little did Franco suspect that it would take Juan Carlos less than two years to open all those hatches that he had so carefully lashed down. More on that next week.


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