During World War II, Juan Carlos moved with his father and mother to Lausanne, Switzerland, and later to Estoril, Portugal. In 1948 Don Juan met Franco on a yacht off Galicia. Franco insisted that Juan Carlos be educated in Spain if there was to be any hope of the crown prince one day becoming king. Don Juan agreed, and in 1948 Juan Carlos began his education in Madrid. In 1954 Don Juan and Franco met again and agreed on higher education for Juan Carlos, who completed his studies at the University of Madrid. In May 1962 Juan Carlos married Princess Sofia Schleswig Holstein Sondenburg of Greece. Then, in July 1969, Franco officially designated Juan Carlos as his successor and future king of Spain, which was officially approved by vote of the Spanish Cortes (parliament).
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as Franco's health began to decline, Juan Carlos prepared for the succession, discreetly aligning himself with the Tácito reformist group. Juan Carlos assumed temporary powers when Franco was seriously ill during July–September 1974 and formally assumed power in Spain following the death of Franco on 20 November 1975.
Officially proclaimed king of Spain by the Cortes, Juan Carlos I announced his interest in reform. The first phase of the king's rule under President of the Government (prime minister) Carlos Arias Navarro did not go well, as Navarro sought to pursue a middle course that pleased neither reformers nor conservatives. In 1976 Juan Carlos appointed centrist politician Adolfo Suárez as president of the government. Acceptable to the Francoists, Suárez nonetheless identified with the king's desire for reform. Together they pushed through political changes that included universal suffrage and a system of political parties for the first time in Spain since the Spanish Civil War. The Cortes also became a bicameral, popularly elected parliament, and Juan Carlos announced an amnesty for political offenses. A new constitution in 1978 saw the king yield sovereignty to the Spanish people, and Spain became a kingdom of autonomous regions.
The king's reforms created a rightist backlash among Francoists. The most serious threat came in February 1981 when rightist elements from the army and Civil Guard attempted to seize power. Juan Carlos played a key role in bringing about the collapse of the coup by immediately voicing his strong support for the constitution. The failure of the coup helped bring the Left to power in 1982, and a socialist government led by Felipe González Márquez marked the final transition to democracy. Juan Carlos I played a critical roles in this crisis and in healing the deep divisions in Spanish national life.
Spencer C. Tucker
Palacio, Atard Vicente. Juan Carlos I y el advenimiento de la democracia. Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1989.; Powell, Charles T. Juan Carlos of Spain: Self-Made Monarch. New York: St. Martin's, 1996.; Tussell, Javier. Juan Carlos I: La restauracion de la monarcquia. Madrid: Terras de Hoy, 1995.