Fact Check

Death of King Juan Carlos' Brother

Did King Juan Carlos of Spain accidentally kill his brother?

Published Dec 31, 1998


Claim:   King Juan Carlos of Spain accidentally killed his brother.

Status:   Undetermined.

Origins:   More than forty years ago two princes of Spain went into a bedroom with a loaded gun. One came out alive. What really happened in that bedroom — who pulled the trigger; whether or not it was an accident — will never be known.

Only King Juan Carlos will ever know what really happened on the evening before Good Friday, 1956. He was 18 and whiling away the holiday with his 14-year-old brother, Alfonso, in a bedroom of the exiled royal family's home in Estoril, Portugal. The blond "Don Alfonsito" had won a local junior golf tournament earlier in the day, gone to evening Mass and rushed up to the room to see the big brother who had come home for the holidays from military school.

According to an official statement from the royal household: "While His Highness, the Prince Alfonso, was cleaning a revolver with his brother, a shot went off which hit him in the forehead and killed him within a few minutes."

Which of the two royal brothers, if either, pulled the trigger may never be known but Juan Carlos himself was said at the time to have admitted to friends and family that he "felt responsible". As a military cadet. he would have been aware of the danger of loaded guns, as indeed would have Alfonso, already a keen hunter and marksman who had bagged a stag and proudly displayed its horns in the family home. Both, it seemed certain, would have been drilled not to clean loaded guns.

The two boys had been exceptionally close throughout their exiled childhood, while Franco ruled Spain, and no one doubted that young Alfonso's death had been a tragic accident.

Juan Carlos, friends said, was traumatised by the death of his only brother and never really got over it.

The shooting of March 29th, 1956, received little publicity under Franco's regime. But thousands of royalists took the risk of crossing to Portugal, many carrying bags of Spanish soil to throw on Alfonso's grave. Even after Franco's death and the resurgence of the monarchy, the shooting was played down in the media, and usually described as un accidente fortuito — a chance accident. Persistent reports from staff of the royal household at the time, however, referred to a pistol and shotgun, with the latter going off.

Barbara "juan down" Mikkelson

Last updated:   2 January 2005

  Sources Sources:

    Davison, Phil.   "King's Brother Is Reburied in the Land of His Forefathers."

    The Irish Times.   17 October 1992   (p. 8).

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