Royal wedding bloodbath
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