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Alfonso XIII: Spain’s Playboy King

Royal families have been a great source of scandal many times throughout history (Navas, 2021). The private lives of kings and queens were slowly uncovered throughout history. This new information occasionally broke out from the established image of an important historical figure and captivate the general population. King Alfonso XIII of Spain is a peculiar and interesting example of this situation whereas the private life of the monarch was slightly more scandalous than people were aware of during his reign (Navas, 2020). An overall understanding of the history and culture surrounding King Alfonso XIII of Spain's reign provides context to his reputation as Spain’s Playboy King (Navas, 2021).

King Alfonso XIII was the last king of Spain before the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic and the following Spanish Civil War (Petrie, 1963). Alphonso XIII’s reign marked a transitional era for the institution of the monarchy and Spain as a country (Petrie, 1963). He reigned during what is known as the Bourbon Restoration, a period between the proclamation of the two Spanish Republics when the monarchy was reinstated (Petrie, 1963). Evidently, this time period had a lot of noticeable political and social conflicts, and the monarchy had to learn to deal with the new issues left over from the multiple internal wars of the 19th century and the politically fragmented legacy of the First Spanish Republic (Petrie, 1963). Alphonso XIII’s reign also coincided with the coming of the 20th century, a time of modernization for Spain and the rest of Europe. However, one particularly obscure aspect to Alfonso’s life which is less known took up most of his personal interests and hobbies. Aside from his nickname El Africano (The African), Alfonso XIII is also known as Spain’s Playboy King because of his very scandalous and rich sexual antics (Navas, 2021). This part of his personal life was very secretive and almost lost to history.

Figure 1: Alfonso XIII of Spain was the last king of the Bourbon Restoration (Kaulak, 1916).

Understanding King Alfonso XIII: Historical Background

During 1874, Alfonso XII, known as the Playboy King’s father, was reinstated as King of Spain after a type of military coup occured known as pronuncuamiento, which ended the First Spanish Republic (Petrie, 1963). The republican government resigned, and the National Assembly was officially dissolved. In 1876, this new government style, known as the monarch, allowed a new constitution to be signed, giving the monarch power to summon and dissolve the exisiting parliament, known as Cortes (Petrie, 1963). Spain then became a constitutional monarchy. The historical period which followed the beginning of Spain's monarchy, referred to as the Restoration (Petrie, 1963). Along with becoming reinstated as monarch, Alfonso XII also inherited a loaded history and a heavy combination of problems which had been developing for the last hundred years (Petrie, 1963). The 19th century in Spain was marked by the succession conflict, known as the Carlist wars; the polarization of political parties and a fragmented politically, nationally, and socially fragmented county (Casanova, 2014). The reinstatement of a monarchy did not solve all of these deeply rooted issues. Still, it did mean that the primary job of the new monarch was to represent a new united Spain and establish a regime that balanced out the country (Petrie, 1963). This government hoped that through their newly organized approach, they would be able to end the social and political confrontations of the recent years (Petrie, 1963). For a while, the previously fragmented country showed a move towards a more collective sentiment within the government, with the Conservatives and Liberals alternating power within the Cortes (Petrie, 1963) However, after a couple of years, the cracks in the regime began to appear again, and the political parties began to fraction into smaller groups as previously done (Petrie, 1963). The nationalizing effort of the Cortes in Spain failed significantly. While the monarch embodied a traditional, conservative and conciliatory power, social mobilization and the population’s participation in politics were becoming more common every day (Casanova, 2014)

It is within this historical context that Alfonso XIII became king after his father died in 1885 while his mother was still pregnant (Petrie, 1963). With Alfonso being the legitimate king since birth, his mother had to serve as regent up until his 16th birthday in 1902, when he was officially enthroned (Petrie, 1963). As a follow-up to el Pacificador (The Peacemaker), as his father was known, the circumstances of Alfonso XIII’s reign led him to become a symbol of tradition and the strength of the Restoration’s regime (Petrie, 1963). Shortly, much like in the 19th century, the country became increasingly more politically fragmented. With socialist sentiments influencing the public more every moment, the monarchy’s main supporters became the military, particularly more high-ranking officers (Petrie, 1963). By the 1920s, Spain was trying to desperately hold on to the last of its territories outside the Iberian Peninsula, mainly through the war effort in the Rif, Morocco (Petrie, 1963). The war was costly and led to economic instability and forced conscription which mainly affected the lower classes. Social unrest and the rising influence of socialist ideas was also a contributing factor to the crisis of the parliamentary government (Casanova, 2014).

Figure 2: Alfonso XIII's efforts in Morocco earned him the nickname "El Africano" (Alba, 2016).

The growing discontent with the King signaled towards an impending change of regime until Miguel Primo de Rivera, a general in the army, led another pronunciamiento against the liberal rule in the parliament and became dictator in 1923, dissolving the government (Petrie, 1963). The dictatorship of Primo de Rivera ultimately served the King’s interests, and he accepted the coup and the generals proclamation, remaining as monarch after Primo de Rivera took power (Casanova, 2014). Primo de Rivera’s regime was characterized by authoritarianism and strong militarism, and the support of the Catholic Church as Primo de Rivera considered he was performing “emergency surgery” on Spain, wanting to end regional nationalism and stop public disorder, mainly worker’s rights movements (Casanova, 2014).

The Behavior of a King

It becomes quite evident that Alfonso XIII was at the center of a deeply nationalist regime and was meant to represent the apparent stability of the monarchy through the Restoration (Petrie, 1963). Regardless of his outlook on politics, Alfonso XIII’s personal life was, at times, completely at odds with his public image. While a libertine monarch was not a novelty at the time, no other Bourbon matched Alfonso XIII in sexual antics and affairs. The monarch would have many extramarital relationships, visiting historically famous brothels in both Madrid and Barcelona (Navas, 2020). This endeavor earned him the infamous reputation as the Playboy King (Navas, 2020). Nevertheless, aside from his scandalous affairs, there is yet another aspect of his life that would prove more outrageous.

Figure 3: Although Alfonso XIII had six children with his wife, Queen Victoria Eugenia, he also engaged in extra-marital affairs and fathered many illegitimate children (Unknown, 1918).

The development of motion picture technology was one of the most prominent and important developments of the early decades of the 20th century. As film equipment became more accessible, the first pornographic shorts in history were produced in Europe (Erdman, 2011). As the commercial film industry grew, so did pornographic film and erotic cinema (Erdman, 2011). In Spain, King Alfonso XIII was at the center of the pornographic production and the history of Spanish erotic cinema owes much to the monarch (Fouz-Hernandez, 2017). While he stood as the representation of the old regime, in his private life the king was intrigued by pornography and took an interest in the subject when he traveled to other European countries, which were less religious and conservative than Spain (Abad, 2022). This personal interest quickly evolved into bankrolling some of the first erotic films produced in Spain. In 1915 Alfonso XIII gave some of his personal fortune to help finance the Barcelona-based production company Royal Films (Fouz-Hernandez, 2017). Although the king used an intermediary for much of the communications with Royal Films, this contact was inevitably traced back to Alfonso (Abad, 2022). While cinemas were already available to the public, pornography was exclusively a private matter as it would be unthinkable to publicly release erotic movies (Navas, 2020). The notion that the king was taking part in this industry was a sign that Royal Film’s productions were a more personal affair for the king (Navas, 2020). Some historians even consider it very possible that the king even contributed ideas to the production company, influencing some of the scripts, plots, and castings (Navas, 2020).

Subsequent Events and Legacy

Royal Films produced around seventy films (Navas, 2020). However, most of these films were purely for the personal enjoyment of the King of Spain (Navas, 2020). Nevertheless, only 3 of these films have existing copies in the present (Navas, 2020). A more scandalous detail might be the fact that these surviving copies were found in a convent near Valencia (Navas, 2020). The only surviving movies feature religious and political themes in the set-up of the stories, showing how the films were much more provocative by mixing these serious subjects with pornography (Navas, 2021). Some assumptions can be made about the reason why so many of Royal Film’s productions were lost to history. First, the clandestine nature of most pornographic movie's projections must be considered, as these films were most popular in the red-light district of the city of Barcelona, near the brothels where most of the performers in the films were found (Abad, 2022). This way of publication would not precisely guarantee an optimal environment for the conservation of film material.

Figure 4: The only remaining films, "Consultorio de Señoras", "El ministro" and "El confesor", are preserved in the film archive of Valencia (IVC, n.d.).

Another important detail to consider is the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Alfonso XIII was dethroned in 1931 by the Second Spanish Republic and fled the country (Petrie, 1963). The declaration of the Republic led to the Spanish Civil War, and the nationalist faction established a dictatorship under Franco (Payne, 2011). Franco’s regime was extremely right-wing, focusing on nationalism and conservative social values, even reviving some of the aspects of the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (Payne, 2011). During the forty years of Franco’s rule, many regulations limited sexual freedom, which in turn caused the pornographic industry to virtually disappear in Spain (Fouz-Hernandez, 2017). Franco's regime enacted many censorship laws across all media and pornography was strongly suppressed as it was considered to be contrary to Catholic morality and the regime's values (Lázaro Reboll & Willis, 2004). Although he lived in exile, the image of the King was still important to the Franco regime. Information about the last monarch’s involvement with the porn industry would cause a great scandal and reflect badly upon the traditional institution of the monarchy (Lázaro Reboll & Willis, 2004). Whether Royal Film’s production was lost as a deliberate act of covering up the King’s vices is only a guess, but it remains a fact that Alfonso’s name was partly cleared because of the disappearance of the film material (Navas, 2020).

The full extent of Alfonso XIII’s involvement with the pornography industry will never be completely exposed. The personal secrecy from the King regarding the topic and the lack of historical documentation and hard copies for most of the films are all issues that greatly limit the historical investigations into the topic. Still, the small evidence available to link the last King of Spain to the dawn of the Spanish porn and film industry in general provides for an interesting and entertaining profile of one of the most important historical figures in Spain. The combination of history on war, the changes in government during Alfonso XIII’s reign, and the evident production and distribution of pornographic cinema through Royal Films, all play a significant part in the interesting and eventful history which occurred during Alfonso XIII’s reign, and earned him the title of The Playboy King.

Bibliographical References

Abad, M. (2022). Romanones: Unas zarzuela del poder en 37 actos. Libros del K.O.

Casanova, J. (2014). Twentieth-century Spain: a history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Fouz-Hernandez, S. (2017). Spanish Erotic Cinema. Edinburgh University Press.

Erdman, D. (2021). Let's Go Stag! A History of Pornographic Film from the Invention of Cinema to 1970. Bloomsbury Academic.

Gubern, R. (2005). La Imagen Pornográfica y otras perversiones ópticas. Editorial Anagrama.

Navas, S. (2020). Alfonso XIII, “el rey 'playboy” que se convirtió en el primer promotor del cine pornográfico en España. El Pais.

Translation: Alfonso XIII, "the Playboy king" who became the first promoter of pornographic cinema in Spain

Navas, S. (2021). La monarquía al desnudo. Los Libros de la Cata

Petrie, C. (1963). King Alfonso XIII and his age. Chapman & Hall LTD.

Pinedo, A. (2022). Borbones, Sexo y Corrupción. Punto Rojo Libros S.L.

Peyne, S. (2011). The Franco Regime, 1936 - 1975. University of Wisconsin Press.

Lázaro Reboll, A. & Willis, A. (2004). Spanish Popular Cinema. Manchester University Press.

Visual Sources


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Maya Sánchez Urrutia

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