Saturday, August 20, 2011

Bourbon Kings & Queens of Spain Charles IV Maria Christina Alfonzo XIII

By Vance Thompson.

The whole world is becoming reason­able. At all the crossroads of life democracy has put up its sign-posts, pointing out the beaten path; in an­other generation no one will dream of walking on the grass. And the color is going out of things. Everywhere today the European palette is uniform and gray. Even royalty is putting away its purple; the modern king walks abroad in bowler and tweeds. Those who love the spectacle and parade of life have to go far afield for it. Indeed, of all the European monarchies only Spain has kept very much of the old stately ceremonial; and democracy, in its insistent way, is knocking at the doors of the palacio real.

I know a very fine gentleman who was once chamberlain and guard of the seals in that kingdom; mournfully he speaks of the fading glory of the Spanish court. The queen-mother, he insists, brought in homely Austrian habits. She had not the Spanish way of preferring a crimson-lined cloak ­even though it were ragged to comfortable homespun. And that was natural enough, for the early life of Maria Christina was spent in a little archducal court in Moravia, among heavy honest country-folk; then, for a while, she was abbess of a nunnery at Prague; evidently she knew very little of the pageantry and cere­mony of courts.

A woman of housewifely and administrative talents, she made the twelfth Alfonso happy in a way - she could sing a song and play a game of billiards with him - but she added no splendor to the royal house. A quarter of a cen­tury ago the queen Maria Christina was the same sober ­minded lady she is today. She had no love for the cere­monious side of monarchy. It was in spite of her that so much of the old pomp, both regal and religious, was preserved.

Alfonso XII, you may remember, died in 1885. They will tell you still in Madrid how royally he was laid away in the tomb of jasper and black marble, yonder in the Escorial. Slowly the long procession went up from the railroad station to the pantheon of the Spanish kings; when it reached the closed doors of the necropolis the grand chamberlain knocked and asked permission to enter.

"Who asks to enter the royal tomb?" a voice cried from within. "His majesty the king," said the chamberlain.

So the doors were opened and they went in­ among the jasper pillars and the flaming torches­ bearing the cof­fin. The mass was read and, outside, from minute to minute, the can­non boomed and the bells tolled. Then the cham­berlain stooped over the coffin and raised the crystal lid. Three times he shouted in the ear of the dead king:

"Senor, senor, senor!"

There was silence for a while; then the chamberlain announced: "He does not answer - our king is dead!"

With this grim ceremony the Bourbon king was laid away in his black tomb. What the queen thought of it you may gather from this fact: she never went to the Escorial again - not once in all the years has she visited the sepulcher.

N either in birth nor death may a Span­ish king escape the age-old pageantry of his house.

Six months after that somber funeral the little son of Maria Christina was born. It was May 17, 1886 - if you care for dates - and marked the beginning of a new reign and a new court, in which, as the years went by, the queen-mother was to become of less and less importance, while the old Spanish tone and habit of court-life asserted themselves ever more strongly.

There is no other example in Euro­pean history (except little Jean I, of France, who lived only a few days) of a child being proclaimed king at the mo­ment of his birth. Had that pos­thumous child been a girl, Spain might long since have been a re­public, but the baby king gave monarchy a long new lease of life. The court wel­comed him in a grandiose way. His new - born majesty, lying on a golden platter, was carried into the great hall of honor, where all the high function­aries of the kingdom - princes and grandees of Spain, ambassadors from all the courts ­were gathered. An old duchess held the little naked king amid shouts of loyalty. And the ministers made speeches - Cano­vas and Martos; Sagasta, as minister of justice, read the declaration of birth, all this while tiny majesty blinked and wailed - it was his first experience of the pompous ceremonial that was to con­front him at every turn of his life.


A week later the papal nuncio laid upon the royal babe this name: Don Alfonso XIII, Leon Fernando Maria Santiago Isidro Pascual Marcian An­tonio, King of Spain, Navarre, Jerusa­lem, and many other lands; and then the royal mother lifted her little son toward the miraculous effigy of the Black Vir­gin, the guardian of Madrid, and dedi­cated him to Heaven.

An English princess - for the first time - has gone to rule over the stately Spanish court. It is a new, strange world into which the young queen has entered - to her very strange. The only time I ever saw her it seemed to me she was brooding, not without fear, upon the future which had opened so wonder­fully before her. It was while she was stopping at the Hotel des Reservoirs in Versailles - a short time before she was received into the Catholic Church.

That Sunday afternoon she came to the little English church in the Rue du Peintre Lebrun, accompanied by an English lady. The Princess Ena of Bat­tenberg is not so beautiful as her photo­graphs; but that is true of all royal folk - and some others. Not very tall, rather plump, she has a round, kindly face and light colored hair; just such a house­wifely girl you may see in any German village. She had said good-by to the modern, unpretentious court of England - which still preserves the Victorian sim­plicity - and, here, she was entering for the last time the little English church which symbolized the religion of her youth; in a few weeks she was to know the symbol of St. Peter's and, in a few months, the symbolic golden lion of the palacio real. Of these things, per­haps, she was thinking that Sunday after­noon.

If you will, you may go with her into his new world, which is so very old, and walk through the interminable palaces, and have word, now and then, with the people of the court.

The royal palace stands on the high ground overlooking Madrid. It is a great white building of granite, trimmed with marble, severe and calm. Its five immense doors open on the Place of the Orient. The famous marble staircase that leads up from the inner court is guarded by heraldic lions; and beyond in endless succession, the thirty-five sa­lons stretch away, one after the other, with their doors of agate or porphyry, their tapestries and pictures painted in the long ago.

Here is the salon of Charles III, blue and starred with silver and draped with faded rose; and yonder is the salon of the ambassadors, its walls covered with red velvet and gold; and beyond is the vast throne-room, crimson and yellow, with its huge black statues ranged along the walls, and two thrones with the guardian lions; and farther on still is the royal chapel of black marble and the altar beneath which are the bodies of the patron saints of Spain, Iago and Isi­dro. These are only a few of the mem­ories that you will carry away from the great palace. There is a Chinese room, with haunting porcelains, and an armory where the effigies of knights, full-ar­mored, on great steeds, pose in battle ar­ray, as in the long ago.

There are other royal residences, all so near Madrid that they may be reached easily by automobile. Seven or eight miles away on the Manzanares is a sort of little Trianon where the queen-mother goes often in the. winter; to the north of the city is La Granja, where the pal­ace of San Ildefonso, with its spacious gardens and ornate fountains, has a little the look of Versailles; but of all the royal residences the king's favorite is Aranjuez, with its wide deer forest - ­it is there he has set up his breeding­ stables.

In these old palaces life moves with theatrical pomp. The royal household is ordered with infinite care. At the head is a grandee of Spain, who is at once the king's mayor domo, guard of the seals, and grand chamberlain. There are three distinct departments: govern­ment, administration, and etiquette. In addition there are four "chiefs of the palace" and innumerable chamberlains. Next in order come the gentlemen of the house - whose duty it is to accompany the king when he stirs abroad or attends any public or religious function - the squires who form the royal guard, and the ushers of the hall and the ushers of the chamber, who attend personally upon the king. One of the functions of the ushers of the hall is ancient and curious. They wait upon the king when he dines. Each dish that is brought from the kitchen - each bottle of wine from the cellar - must be guarded by an usher un­til it is set upon the table.


In one way or another hundreds of gentlemen are in the king's, service. Quite as long is the list of the queen's servants. The young English princess has her chamberlain and her dames of honor, chosen from the great ladies of the realm; and, as well, her "servants" - all of noble birth - who preside at her toilet. Of old, three hundred dames of honor waited upon the queen; but one of the bitter results of the Spanish-Amer­ican war was that the number of her majesty's ladies was reduced to fifty-one.

The sons of the conquistadores love the pageantry of war, and the king's mili­tary household is one of the most pictur­esque in Europe. You should see the famous halberdiers who guard the pal­ace-theatrical soldiers in crimson dou­blets and blue cloaks, splendid with sil­ver braid, wearing huge boots, and carrying muskets and steel-handled swords.

The royal family is not very large. The Bourbon race is dwindling. Queen Ena has stepped from the great Vic­torian family - with its innumerable kin­ships - into a small and solemn house­hold. There is the queen-mother; there are the king's aunts, of whom the In­fanta Eulalia is best known out of Spain; there are the cousins, the four boys of the Infanta Isabella and Dona Eulalia's little sons, of the house of Orleans; and then there is the king's sister, the Infanta Maria Teresa - his elder sister, the Princess of the Asturias, died only a few years ago.

For many years the court of Spain, with all its ceremonial stateliness, has been sad and quiet. It has taken its tone from the widowed queen. With the exception of the annual reception to the ambassadors, the chief functions have been those of a religious kind. More than any ceremony the lavatorio - the washing of feet - has preserved the an­cient dignity of Spain. On Holy Thurs­day the king, with royal humility, washes the feet of thirteen beggars and of twelve old and indigent women.

This ceremony, with the dinner of the poor which follows, was instituted seven hundred years ago, and never, since that time, has it been passed by. The twenty-five paupers are chosen by lot in Madrid. When they have been ex­amined by the court-physician and the chaplain, they are clothed in new gar­ments and taken into the Salon of the Pillars, where the ceremony takes place. There the chief pharmacist of the king washes antiseptically the right leg of each pauper - from the knee to the foot - and perfumes it with essence of roses.

So they sit waiting, the old beggar­ folk, gazing curiously at the walls, hung with amaranthine velvet, at the great al­tar with its flaming candles, at the long tables spread with their repast, at the mysterious curtain which hides - for the moment - the king's throne. At the foot of the hall are a few spectators, ambassa­dors and diplomatists and strangers from over sea, to whom this sumptuously hum­ble ceremony is wonderful and new. At last the curtain is drawn from the throne. From the gallery at the left the pro­cession enters - priests and acolytes with lighted tapers, the gentlemen of the royal house, the grandees of Spain, then the king, accompanied by the grand chaplain and the papal nuncio. Last of all the halberdiers troop in and take their places to right and left.


With music and song .the procession marches round the hall. A thick cloud of incense rises. The archbishop pre­sents, on a silver salver, a towel to the king-he is only a lad, after all, but he bears himself with awed solemnity. The nuncio gives him a basin of water. So he kneels and washes the feet of these beggars, one after the other. And on those old feet, humbly he lays the kiss of abnegation, of faith, of charity. No ceremony, I think, is so illustrative of the old-world habits of thought which have persisted in modern Spain.

As gracious a ceremony as any is the presentation of the golden rose - the mystic gift which the Roman pontiff be­stows "in love and deference" upon the Catholic queens. It is one of the great rare events, occurring once, or per­haps twice, in a generation. Before Alfonso's marriage it was last given to Marie Amelie, Queen of Portu­gal. The golden rose sent to the young Queen of Spain is a rare specimen of art, the work of the pontifical jeweler Tanfani. From a beautiful golden vase . the plant rises, with its multiple branches and delicately carved leaves and flowers, a fragile symbol, at once princely and religious.

In ordinary times life at the Spanish court goes by with stately monotony. The king's days and hours are ruled like a sheet of music-paper. Nor is it difficult to foretell just how the young queen is adapting herself to the royal habitudes. Every morning King Alfonso rises at seven o'clock and, after prayer and coffee, betakes himself to his study, where he attends to affairs of state. Luncheon is served at midday. The af­ternoon is the king's own time for out­door pleasures. He rides, hunts, shoots pigeons, drives an automobile - for he loves all the sports - until the dinner ­hour calls him back to court.

Twice a week, from six in the evening until eight, his majesty's private audi­ences are given in one of the salons known as the Camara. If it be your good fortune to stand well with your ambassa­dor you may find yourself there some evening among the dignitaries and hatted grandees of Spain.

The Camara is reached by passing through two antechambers. In the outer one the halberdiers are posted. There a solemn usher pronounces upon your right to admission and passes you on to the second chamber. The mayor domo greets you and gives you a rank among the nobles, the high functionaries. the generals and prelates, archbishops and cardinals and knights of the Golden Fleece. There you wait a little while.

At last a chamberlain takes yon into the vast Camara, where the king receives you, standing. Five minutes, it may be ten minutes, he will talk with you in bad English or the charming French he speaks so well; then you retreat, through the silent and solemn crowd of grandees and perfumed dames of honor. Sometimes the audiences are a little more picturesque: a deputation of peasants, in their gay costumes, may come, or a gypsy king - Fernandez him­self from Seville - may seek out his royal cousin; as a usual thing, however, the private audiences at the Spanish court are of interest chiefly to the society of Madrid. Unless the reception has been unusually long the dinner is served at eight o'clock.

There are rarely any guests. Those at table are the king and queen, the queen-mother, perhaps one or two of the immediate royal family. In any case the etiquette does not vary. The king is attended by a grandee of Spain, the chamberlain of the week, the chief of the halberdiers, the commanding officer of the cavalry-guard of the day, and the captain of the palace-guard. Upon each of the queens as upon each infanta there waits a dame of honor. And one dines well, in the rich Austrian way, out of porcelain dishes bearing the royal arms. It was from his mother that Alfonso XIII got his love of good cheer. He is one of the few kings who could gain a livelihood as a cook. He has invented on omelet that is spoken reverently of by all the gourmets of Europe.

After dinner his majesty smokes and plays the piano; in these honeymooning hours, it may be, wanders in the dim gardens of the palace. At eleven o'clock down all the great staircases come the ushers and servants and guards who have the watch of the night - a soft step­ping, solemn procession. Last of all comes the Swiss of the house, for it would be unfair to speak of so great a dignitary as porter. His uniform is red and yellow; he wears a huge three-cor­nered hat, and by his side hangs a sword in a gilt scabbard. In one hand he car­ries a ponderous bunch of keys; in the other an iron lantern. One by one he locks the doors of the great palace and extinguishes the lights. In the darkness and the silence, immobile, the halberdiers watch.

Kings do not rule in these days. They are merely the dumb and gorgeous figures through which the statesmen speak ven­triloquially. The boyish King of Spain has in reality far less power, politically, than the Governor of a State - New York or any other. Even in social mat­ters his power is narrowly hedged about. A presentation to court depends less upon the will of the king than upon that of the chamberlains and mayor domo - some great duke of Medina-Sidonia or of Soto­mayor, some marquis of Santa Genoveva, or count of Fuente y Solce. Their pride is haughtier than that of the house of Bourbon-Anjou. Nor has the young Queen Ena, with her too recent royalty, much influence in a court which is really governed by the old Countess of Sastago and the stately dames of honor - a Mar­chioness of Penaflorida or a lady of Na­varres. Old titles and old blood, in Spain at least, have held their own against the encroachments of new money and new royalty.


And so the King of Spain does not rule, even in a social way, his eighteen million subjects - neither the peasant of the field nor the noble who stands before him in a plumed hat and calls him cousin. His sovereign duty, however, is to enforce the conviction that he does indeed reign. His whole public life is bent toward this purpose. He promul­gates the laws he does not make and signs the decrees he cannot execute. He receives the diplomatists he cannot instruct. About all, he displays to the people the form and effigy of monarchic power.

He drives through his capital city in gala carriages of ivory, of gold, of eb­ony; and the cheers greet him at each turn. Every Sunday he watches the bull-fight - always interested, always gay. He has his seat in the great courtyard where pelota is played. He presides at the opera. He goes with society for an afternoon drive to the Castellana.

He who is king of Spain must be, first of all, king of Madrid. And Alfonso XIII has won the heart of his city. In automobile, on horseback, afoot, he goes about Madrid. There is no blither city in all the world. Through the great white streets, along the promenades of the Prado and the Castellana, the parti­-colored crowd wanders with an air of limitless content. Laughing women lean from flowered balconies. Spanish pride, in bright rags, suns itself in the Puerta del Sol. A lean fellow twangs a guitar and the girls dance on the pavement. The impression borne in upon you is that of a civic life at once human, merry, and self-respecting. And the king has a part in it all that, indeed, is his metier.

One afternoon I saw him at the Church of the Knights of Calatrava. It was a holy day and the church was crowded. Old women knelt in the shad­ows; senoritas whispered together, telling their beads; men, draped in their cloaks, went from altar to altar, looking for the saint of their choice - St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Peter of Alcan­tara, or St. Rose of Lima; and the king knelt and made his prayer and, when he went, the crowd streamed after him with royal cries and kept him company to the palace. It is the king's business to make himself popular. Another day he sat at dinner with the herdsmen of the ganaderia - 'tis there the bulls are bred for the bull-fights of Madrid - of the Duke of Veragua; and won additional popu­larity. Again, speeding home in his automobile one afternoon, he saw an old beggar-woman hobbling along the sun­burned road. He stopped the car, bun­dled her in, carried her to Madrid and left her with a gold-piece in her hand - at the. door of her wretched home. That day, too, there were cries of "Long live the king! "

Oh, very well, indeed, does this young prince understand that the modern world - democratic and irreverent - tolerates royalty only when it knows how to gain the love of the people. And in this he has succeeded. The Spaniards love their frank and boyish king as they have loved none of their rulers for a hundred years. They have pardoned him for having an Austrian mother and, in a measure, for choosing an Anglo-German bride.

Originally published in Munsey's Magazine.  April 1907.

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