Spain: A Monarchy in Profile

Any philatelist with an interest in Spain cannot ignore the changing portraits that grace the early stamp issues. The profiles belie a period of political turmoil in the country that can be traced from the first stamp issue of 1850. Modern Spain is of course a culturally rich and politically stable country and retains its royal lineage with the current King Felipe VI, a direct descendent of those earlier monarchs.

Spain 1853 6c stamp featuring Queen Isabella II
Spain 1853 6c featuring Queen Isabella II

Queen Isabella II was the first monarch to feature on the stamps of Spain. Indeed, her portrait featured on the first issue of 1 January 1850. Isabella II had succeeded her father, Ferdinand VII, to the throne on 10 November 1843 following a long lineage of European monarchs from the House of Bourbon. His reign had been marked by the loss of the majority of Spain’s empire in the Americas and a succession of Carlist civil wars. Isabella II came to the throne just a month before her third birthday and her reign was immediately disputed by her uncle and founder of the Carlist movement, the Infante Carlos. The beginning of her reign was dominated by the regency of her mother, Queen Maria Cristina, during which Spain transitioned form an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Isabella II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1868 and after relocating to the Palacio Castilla in Paris, formally abdicated in 1870. She died in Paris on 9 April 1904.

Following the revolution, control of the government passed to Francisco Serrano (1st Duke de la Torre) who had been in command of the revolutionary army. He was then appointed successively as President of the Executive, Prime Minister of Spain and finally Regent from 3 October 1868 to 18 June 1869. During this period stamp issues featured a portrait of Ceres, the roman goddess of agriculture and fertility.

pain 1872 40c stamp featuring King Amadeo I
Spain 1872 40c featuring King Amadeo I

Serrano acceded to the governments subsequent selection of Amadeus of Savoy as King. A break from the House of Bourbon, King Amadeo I was an Italian prince who reigned from 1870 to 1873. He appears on stamp issues between 1872 and 1873. His short reign was marred by growing republicanism, the Cuban independence movement and continuing Carlist rebellions in the north. Serrano took command of the king’s army against the Carlists but was subsequently forced to resign as Prime Minister when the monarch declined to give his ministers dictatorial powers. This ultimately led to Amadeus abdicating the throne on 11 February 1873. The ex-monarch left Spain and returned to Italy where he resumed his title as Duke of Aosta. He died in Turin on 18 January 1890.

Spain then entered a short period referred to as the First Spanish Republic – it lasted just two years between 11 February 1873 to 29 December 1874. The period was marked by continuing Carlist wars, the Ten Years’ War and the Cantonal rebellion. In December 1874, General Arsenio Martínez Campos staged a military coup which ended the Republic and brought about the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy.

Spain 1876 4p stamp featuring King Alfonso XII
Spain 1876 4p featuring King Alfonso XII
Spain 1878 40c stamp featuring King Alfonso XII
Spain 1878 40c featuring King Alfonso XII
Spain 1879 4p stampfeaturing King Alfonso XII
Spain 1879 4p featuring King Alfonso XII

Alfonso XII, son of Isabella II, formally succeeded to the throne on 29 December 1874 aged seventeen. Despite the political turmoil in Spain, he had been called to Paris on 25 June 1870, where his mother had abdicated and he had been anointed Alfonso XII in the presence of a number of Spanish nobles. The portrait of Alfonso XII features in several stamp issues from 1 January 1875. Sadly, Alfonso XII died just short of his 28th birthday. He had been suffering from tuberculosis although the cause of death is widely reported to have been dysentery.

Spain 1889 15c stamp featuring King Alfonso XIII
Spain 1889 15c featuring King Alfonso XIII
Spain 1901 25c stamp featuring King Alfonso XIII
Spain 1901 25c featuring King Alfonso XIII
Spain 1922 20c stamp featuring King Alfonso XIII
Spain 1922 20c featuring King Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XII was succeeded by his son, Alfonso XIII, from birth on 17 May 1886 – Alfonso XII had died the previous year. Many will be familiar with the early issues from his reign featuring the portrait of a young child. Subsequent stamp issues would follow his transition through childhood, most of which was under the regency of his mother, Maria Christina of Austria. Alfonso XIII left Spain voluntarily after the municipal elections of April 1931 which had supported a mandate to abolish the monarchy, leading to the Second Spanish Republic. However, he is remember as the only monarch nominated for a Nobel Prize, a nomination earned for his unprecedented work with the European War Office during World War I. On 15 January 1941, Alfonso XIII renounced his rights to the defunct Spanish throne in favour of his son Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona. Alfonso XIII died of a heart attack in Rome on 28 February that year.

The Spanish monarchy would not return until 22 November 1975 with Juan Carlos I, grandson of Alfonso XIII. The Bourbon dynasty continues today with his son Felipe VI who acceded to the throne in June 2014.

To view postal issues of the Spain, please visit the M&S Philately HipStamp store.

Published by nigelmandsphilatelycom

Nigel Matthews has been a philatelist for more than 30 years. He has a particular interest in the postal history of the Caribbean including associated British Commonwealth countries (incl. Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, Monserrat, St Lucia, St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos) as well as Cuba, Danish West Indies, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Martinique, Netherlands Antilles and Puerto Rico.

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