Royal wed­ding blood­bath

All About History - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by June Wool­er­ton

How an an­ar­chist as­sas­sin tar­geted Spain’s royal fam­ily

It was the recipe for a perfect royal wed­ding. The groom was a young king who had fallen head over heels for his new wife. The bride was a pretty princess who had called Queen Vic­to­ria grand­mamma. Their ro­mance caught the imag­i­na­tion of peo­ple around Europe and tens of thou­sands of well­wish­ers lined the streets of Madrid on 31 May 1906 to see Al­fonso XIII of Spain and his new queen, Princess Vic­to­ria Eu­ge­nie of Bat­ten­berg, ride in tri­umph from their glit­ter­ing mar­riage cer­e­mony to the il­lus­tri­ous wed­ding re­cep­tion that was to take place at the Royal Palace of Madrid.

The crowds cheered and jos­tled for the best po­si­tions while some threw flow­ers and con­fetti to cel­e­brate. But among the petals was a deadly wed­ding gift. As the king and queen of Spain ap­proached the heart of the city, a bou­quet con­tain­ing a bomb was launched at their car­riage. The man who threw it, Mateo Mor­ral, had aimed di­rectly for the royal party but the bomb was de­flected on its de­scent from a high win­dow of the build­ing where the would-be as­sas­sin stood. It landed next to the wed­ding car­riage and close to the crowds that had gath­ered to see the bride and groom as they made their way along the Calle Mayor, one of the most fa­mous streets in Madrid, and ex­ploded in­stantly. Just mo­ments ear­lier, the new queen had turned her head to look at a church that her hus­band was point­ing out to her. That ac­tion was cred­ited with sav­ing her life. The glass win­dows of the car­riage shat­tered, the horses bolted and peo­ple all around them fell to the ground. How­ever, Al­fonso and Vic­to­ria Eu­ge­nie were un­in­jured and were quickly taken to safety. Mor­ral fled amid the chaos.

The mo­ment of the ex­plo­sion was cap­tured for­ever by a spec­ta­tor, Eu­ge­nio Mesonero Ro­manos, whose fa­mous photo of the bomb go­ing off ap­peared in pa­pers around the world in the fol­low­ing days. It showed the be­gin­nings of the terrifying af­ter­noon that would claim dozens of lives and leave over 100 peo­ple in­jured. Among the dead were no­bil­ity, mil­i­tary and well­wish­ers who had come to take part in the big­gest royal wed­ding Madrid had seen for decades.

While the city be­gan to count the cost of the bomb, King Al­fonso XIII and Queen Vic­to­ria Eu­ge­nie were ex­pected to carry on with their royal du­ties. They ap­peared to the pub­lic at the Royal Palace and then walked into their wed­ding re­cep­tion, at­tended by roy­alty from around Europe, with the queen still in her bridal gown, now spat­tered with blood.

It was a terrifying in­tro­duc­tion for the queen but her hus­band was al­ready used to at­tempts on his life, despite hav­ing only just turned 20. Just a year be­fore, Mor­ral may have tried to kill him in Paris by throwing a bomb at his car as he left the opera. In 1903, a gun­man had taken aim at him as he re­turned home from church. Al­fonso re­mained as calm dur­ing these two at­tacks as he did dur­ing the wed­ding day bomb­ing but this king had known plenty of tur­bu­lence in his two decades. Af­ter all, his whole life had been an un­usual mix of tragedy and drama.

Al­fonso had been king of Spain from the mo­ment of his birth on 17 May 1886. His fa­ther, Al­fonso XII, had died in Novem­ber 1885 aged just 27 fol­low­ing a short reign that had seen the Bourbon monar­chy re­stored af­ter a pe­riod of ex­ile. Al­fonso XII at­tempted to in­tro­duce po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity fol­low­ing decades of tur­moil and be­came pop­u­lar for his com­mon touch and will­ing­ness to en­gage with his peo­ple.

Fol­low­ing the birth of Al­fonso XII’S son six months af­ter his death, his widow, Queen Maria Christina, ruled as re­gent with the aim of so­lid­i­fy­ing the throne for the new king. When he was just 16, Al­fonso XIII took the reins of power and seemed to rel­ish his po­si­tion from the off. His fa­ther had in­tro­duced a sys­tem for ro­tat­ing govern­ment be­tween the con­ser­va­tive and lib­eral par­ties and Al­fonso em­braced this whole­heart­edly, although it would ul­ti­mately lead to in­sta­bil­ity. The young king also showed a keen in­ter­est in the mil­i­tary but his head­strong per­son­al­ity won him en­e­mies from an early age.

How­ever, that de­ter­mi­na­tion to do things his own way had been a big fac­tor in en­sur­ing his royal wed­ding hap­pened in the first place. His bride had been nowhere near the top of any­one’s list as a po­ten­tial queen of Spain but her own naïveté and Al­fonso’s am­bi­tion had pro­duced a royal wed­ding like no other in the space of lit­tle more than a year.

Vic­to­ria Eu­ge­nie Ju­lia Ena, born at Bal­moral on 24 Oc­to­ber 1887, was the youngest grand­daugh­ter of Queen Vic­to­ria. Al­legedly among her god­moth­ers was the ex­iled Em­press Eu­ge­nie of France, af­ter whom she was named. It was hardly a good omen. The em­press was liv­ing in Eng­land af­ter be­ing sent into ex­ile with her hus­band, Napoleon III, who had died soon af­ter ar­riv­ing at his new home.

Ena, as the young princess was al­ways called, also had to put up with the sneers of Europe’s up­per classes over her lin­eage. While her mother, Princess Beat­rice, was the youngest child of Queen Vic­to­ria and Prince Al­bert, her fa­ther had a much lowlier fam­ily tree. Prince Henry of Bat­ten­berg was the son of Prince Alexan­der of Hesse and by Rhine and a mere count­ess, Ju­lia Hauke, whose mar­riage had been re­mark­ably un­equal. That lack of blue blood was raised as an ob­jec­tion al­most as soon as Al­fonso first set his sights on Ena in 1905. Not even the steely ar­gu­ments of his very re­gal mother, who was con­cerned Ena might carry the po­ten­tially deadly con­di­tion haemophilia, so preva­lent among Queen Vic­to­ria’s de­scen­dants, could per­suade him to change his mind.

Ena, mean­while, was swept off her feet. She had grown up be­hind palace walls with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence of real life. Her fa­ther had died when she was ten while one of the con­di­tions of her par­ents’ mar­riage had al­legedly been that the whole fam­ily live with Queen Vic­to­ria on a per­ma­nent ba­sis. Ena’s child­hood was spent as the com­pan­ion of the old queen.

By the time Vic­to­ria died, Ena was 14 and her shel­tered ex­is­tence con­tin­ued into the new reign of her un­cle, Ed­ward VII. Shy and un­worldly, the at­ten­tions of a young king who promised a life of ad­ven­ture away from the walls of Bri­tain’s cas­tles proved ir­re­sistible. The pa­pers might have been full of the po­lit­i­cal prob­lems press­ing Spain but this royal bride’s naïve en­thu­si­asm for ex­cite­ment blinded her to any po­ten­tial dan­gers that the mar­riage might bring.

Al­fonso wooed her with love let­ters and their en­gage­ment was seem­ingly sealed af­ter a chap­er­oned stay in Biar­ritz in France. Ena then ap­par­ently trav­elled to San Se­bastián to meet her fu­ture hus­band’s fam­ily. In the space of a few months her fu­ture had changed from one of edit­ing her grand­mother’s di­aries to a world of new ex­pe­ri­ences with the prom­ise of a crown at the end of it all.

This royal bride’s naïve en­thu­si­asm for ex­cite­ment blinded her to any po­ten­tial dan­gers

They were just min­utes into their route, with church bells still ring­ing

The quiet princess was sud­denly im­por­tant.

Ena re­port­edly spent time in France pre­par­ing to con­vert to Ro­man Catholi­cism, as the terms of her mar­riage dic­tated. The wed­ding was sealed with in­ter­na­tional treaties while Al­fonso pre­pared a jew­ellery col­lec­tion worth hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds for his blush­ing bride.

Ena ar­rived in Spain shortly be­fore her wed­ding day and trav­elled to Madrid through ap­par­ently never-end­ing crowds of cheer­ing Spaniards. Days be­fore their mar­riage, Al­fonso led her out onto the bal­cony of his palace where thou­sands cel­e­brated and shouted their ap­proval as the young cou­ple held hands. But by then Mateo Mor­ral was mak­ing his plans to end this royal fairy­tale be­fore it even had a chance to be­gin.

Mor­ral was the son of a fac­tory owner from Barcelona and had been ed­u­cated abroad as well as at home. His in­creas­ing in­ter­est in the an­ar­chist move­ment and ha­tred for Spain’s rul­ing classes seemed to take hold dur­ing a stay in Ger­many and when he re­turned home in 1899, he showed fa­nat­i­cal sup­port for work­ers’ rights and the in­ter­mit­tent strikes that were tak­ing place at the time in Cat­alo­nia. His sup­posed failed as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt on Al­fonso XIII in 1905 only fur­ther fu­elled his anger at the monar­chy. Days be­fore the royal wed­ding was due to take place, he was seen carv­ing a mes­sage into a tree in the Re­tiro Park in Madrid which warned that Al­fonso would die on the day of his mar­riage.

By then, Mor­ral was in pos­ses­sion of the bomb with which he in­tended to kill the king and queen. It was an Orsini de­vice, re­port­edly made in France, de­signed to ex­plode on im­pact. On the morn­ing of 31 May 1906, while Al­fonso XIII col­lected his bride from the Royal Palace of El Pardo so they could at­tend Mass to­gether ahead of their mar­riage, Mor­ral was mak­ing his fi­nal prepa­ra­tions for the at­tack in a room at 84 Calle Mayor.

Princess Ena was dressed for her wed­ding at the Min­istry of the Marine and rode to the Monastery Church of San Jerón­imo in Madrid through streets decked with the Span­ish flag. The church had been filled with flow­ers and elec­tric lights had been put into its gloomy arches for the oc­ca­sion. In its cramped pews sat Eu­ro­pean roy­alty in­clud­ing the Prince and Princess of Wales (the fu­ture Ge­orge V and Queen Mary), and the heirs to the thrones of Bel­gium, Greece and Monaco.

The bride walked down the aisle ac­com­pa­nied by her mother and fu­ture mother-in-law to be met by her groom. The cer­e­mony, con­ducted by the arch­bishop of Toledo, went off with­out a hitch and

the cou­ple headed out into the sun­shine for their tri­umphal pro­ces­sion home.

King Al­fonso and Queen Ena rode in a coach drawn by eight cream-coloured horses, one of 19 royal car­riages in the pa­rade that was de­signed to put on a show for the crowds who had come to cel­e­brate. They were just min­utes into their route, with church bells still ring­ing and can­nons still fir­ing, when Mor­ral threw his bomb.

Among those killed were six sol­diers, two of­fi­cers and the head of the king’s es­cort. The mar­chioness of Colosa and her 14-year-old daugh­ter also died in the at­tack as did one of the grooms and sev­eral of the horses. Mor­ral was re­port­edly helped to es­cape by a jour­nal­ist, José Nak­ens, and dis­ap­peared. How­ever, he was spot­ted at Tor­re­jón de Ar­doz, where it’s thought he was hop­ing to catch a train back to Barcelona on 2 June 1906. He seemed to give him­self up with­out a fight but he shot one of his guards soon af­ter­wards and ended up dead from a gun­shot wound him­self. The of­fi­cial re­port said that he had com­mit­ted sui­cide.

Al­fonso and Ena be­gan their mar­riage by putting on a PR show. The day af­ter the wed­ding, the cou­ple drove through Madrid in an open-topped car to show that royal life would carry on as nor­mal. The new queen, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, seemed down­cast and ret­i­cent, lead­ing to in­stant crit­i­cism. Ena’s hon­ey­moon was over be­fore it had be­gun.

Ul­ti­mately, there was to be no happy end­ing for Al­fonso and Ena. Two of their sons in­her­ited haemophilia, despite protes­ta­tions be­fore the mar­riage. Ena was held com­pletely re­spon­si­ble for their health prob­lems and Al­fonso’s er­ratic at­ti­tude con­trib­uted to the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil that sent Spain’s roy­als into ex­ile in 1931.

A mon­u­ment still stands in Madrid to all those killed in the bomb at­tack launched against Al­fonso and Ena in May 1906. The lives lost and the dam­age done turned this royal wed­ding into a tragedy in an in­stant.

Al­fonso XIII had been king of Spain since the mo­ment of his birth and had grown into a fiery and ar­ro­gant young man Pretty but shy and shel­tered, Princess Ena wasn’t first pick as bride for King Al­fonso XIII of Spain

The bomb was thrown at the car­riage as the pro­ces­sion reached its tri­umphal high point with thou­sands throng­ing Madrid’s fa­mous Calle Mayor Pub­lished soon af­ter their wed­ding, this French pa­per de­picts the unity be­tween Bri­tish and Span­ish crowns A mon­u­ment to the vic­tims of the 1906 at­tack still stands in Madrid to­day

Al­fonso and Ena, now king and queen of Spain, left the Church of San Jerón­imo in Madrid to cheers but were just min­utes away from dis­as­ter The at­tack, and the sui­cide of the bomber Mor­ral, made head­lines Mateo around the world

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.