Monday, March 29, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Shooting of Spain's Infante Alfonso

[This photograph shows the Countess of Barcelona with her four children - from left Infanta Pilar, Duchess of Badajoz, Infanta Margarita, Duchess of Soria, the ill-fated Infante Alfonso seated on her lap, and the future King Juan Carlos I beside her - at some point in the late 1940s. ]

On this day in 1956 Spain's then-exiled House of Bourbon was rocked by tragedy when the second son and fourth child of the Count and Countess of Barcelona - the 14-year-old Infante Alfonso - was killed by a gunshot wound to the head... At the time of the accident the royal family were on holiday at their home, Villa Giralda in the Portugese resort of Estoril, and had just returned from Maundy Thursday church service; His Royal Highness had earlier in the day won a junior golf tournament, and was excited to see his elder brother, who was home from military school for an Easter visit.

As with any accident of this type, rumours and conjecture have run rife over the years; the official story, predictably, failed utterly in satisfying the chattering classes. One thing the various versions do have in common, however, is that the prince's death was clearly an accident. Whether he shot himself while cleaning a pistol or whether his older brother did it either in an act of horseplay (believing the weapon to be unloaded*) or because he was startled or bumped by an opening door and whether the bullet struck the prince directly or following a ricochet scarcely matters at this point. The princes had been exceptionally close as children, during their shared exile, and the elder has been said to have never quite gotten over the loss of his brother.

Despite the fact that the news got very little coverage in Spain under the regime of Francisco Franco, many hundreds of royalist Spaniards braved crossing the border to bring Spanish soil with which to cover Prince Alfonso's coffin lid when he was buried the following Saturday, Holy Saturday, in the nearby municipal cemetery in Cascais. In October 1992 his remains were re-interred at the Pantheon of the Princes of El Escorial, near Madrid, where they lie to this day surrounded by those of his illustrious ancestors.

*A highly unlikely scenario, given the royal brothers' training in marksmanship and acuity with firearms.
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