January 29, 2012:
My very first day in Spain (10 months ago, seriously?), I witnessed a protest from my hotel balcony in Madrid (click here to see video). I was taken by surprise by the sudden appearance of protesters, and I had no idea what was going on at the time (I sound like a complete idiot in the video; please pardon my ignorance). But now I can tell you it was to demonstrate solidarity with Judge Baltasar Garzón, and to protest against the crimes of Francosim and the Spanish judicial system.
The red, yellow and purple flag you see being held aloft by a demonstrator is the pre-Franco Spanish flag. This flag represented the 2nd Republic of Spain. The 2nd Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14, 1931 until its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco, in 1939. Franco became a dictator, and established a Fascist regime. The dictatorship ended with his death in 1975. There are some Spaniards who are now calling for there to be a 3rd Republic, and are against having a monarchy (which is what they have now, headed by King Juan Carlos I).
This got me interested in the Spanish flag and history, and I discovered it has changed many times throughout the years. I want to share what I learned (thank you, Wikipedia)! I’m going to try to make it informative and amusing.
Key word: TRY.
Well, here goes nothin’! I present to you a highly abridged history of Spain and its flag, for your edification and delight:
The country of Spain as we now know it used to be made up of a bunch of different kingdoms before they were united. The four most important kingdoms were: Castilla, León, Aragón, and Navarra. The kingdoms of Castilla (castle) and León (lion) united in 1230 AD, and become known simply as “Castilla”. And that’s where the story picks up:
The Standard of the Crown of Castilla: The banner of Castilla was the first European symbol to arrive in the New World, brought over by good ol’ Chris Columbus.
The Standard of the Crown of Aragón (the Senyera): The Senyera pattern is on the flags of four Spanish autonomous communities (Aragón, Catalunya, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands).
The Marriage that Started It All
Before Castilla and Aragón united, this is what the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula looked like:
But then Ferdinand II of Aragón and Isabel of Castilla tied the knot in 1475 AD, thus uniting the two most powerful kingdoms of Spain under one Royal House. They are known as the Catholic Monarchs, but I prefer “Ferdisabel.”
After they kicked the last Moors out of Spain when they conquered Granada in 1492, Ferdisabel added the symbol of a pomegranate to the bottom of their coat of arms. Their motto was Tanto Monta, Monta Tanto (translates to “one and the same”). The yoke on the bottom left represents Isabel, and the arrows on the bottom right represent Ferdinand. The Catholic Monarchs are most famous for 1) Driving the Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula, 2) funding Columbus’ voyages, and 3) launching a lovely period of human history known as the Spanish Inquisition. Their joint rule ended when Queen Isabel kicked the bucket in 1504.
After Isabel’s death, the royal court of Castilla named Ferdisabel’s daughter, Joanna the Mad, the new Queen of Castilla. Joanna was the wife of Philip the Handsome (way to go, Jo-Jo), who was a Habsburg (see: “powerful Austrian family”). Shortly after her coronation, Joanna started turning a bit loony (hence her nickname). In 1506, her hubby Philip the Handsome was declared jure uxoris king. Philip is important because he instated the use of the Cross of Burgundy Flag. This flag was used as Spain’s naval ensign from 1506 until 1701, and was flown as a secondary flag until 1785. The background could be either white or red, and if they wanted to represent the king it would have his coat of arms over the Cross of Burgundy on a yellow background (yellow was the imperial color). Fun Fact: The Cross of Burgundy is also on Florida’s state flag, paying homage to its Spanish origins.
Philip died the same year he was declared jure uxoris king under suspicious circumstances (possibly poisoned by his daddy-in-law, good ol’ Ferdinand). Since Joanna and Philip’s oldest son, Charles, was only six, the royal court of Castilla reluctantly allowed Ferdinand to rule the country as the regent of Joanna and Charles.
As sole ruler of Spain and without Isabel there to keep his testosterone in check, Ferdinand adopted a more aggressive foreign policy. He engaged in a number of conflicts in Italy to try to expand Spain’s influence. He also married Germaine of Foix, which allowed him to claim the 4th ancient Spanish kingdom of Navarra. Ferdinand died in 1516.
Emperor + King = Ballin’
Ferdinand’s death led to the ascension of his 16-year-old grandson to the throne as Charles I of Castile and Aragon, effectively founding the monarchy of Spain. This kid inherited EVERYTHING. His Spanish inheritance included all of the Spanish possessions in the New World and the Mediterranean. Upon the death of his handsome Habsburg father in 1506, Charles had inherited the Netherlands and Franche-Comté. In 1519, with the death of his paternal grandfather, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, Charles inherited the Habsburg territories in Germany, and was duly elected Emperor that year. So in 1519, at the age of 19, Charles became both a king and an emperor. Due to his mother’s mental perblerms and worried that Joanna might retake the crown, Charles kept her imprisoned until her death in 1555. Nice.
Here’s a sure-fire way to impress anybody — Charlie boy’s list of titles:
Charles, by the grace of God, Holy Roman Emperor, forever August, King of Germany, King of Italy, King of all Spains, of Castile, Aragon, León, Navarra, Grenada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, Majorca, Sevilla, Cordova, Murcia, Jaén, Algarves, Algeciras, Gibraltar, the Canary Islands, King of Two Sicilies, of Sardinia, Corsica, King of Jerusalem, King of the Western and Eastern Indies, Lord of the Islands and Main Ocean Sea, Archduke of Austria, Duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Lorraine, Styria, Carinthia, Carniola, Limburg, Luxembourg, Gelderland, Neopatria, Württemberg, Landgrave of Alsace, Prince of Swabia, Asturia and Catalonia, Count of Flanders, Habsburg, Tyrol, Gorizia, Barcelona, Artois, Burgundy Palatine, Hainaut, Holland, Seeland, Ferrette, Kyburg, Namur, Roussillon, Cerdagne, Drenthe, Zutphen, Margrave of the Holy Roman Empire, Burgau, Oristano and Gociano, Lord of Frisia, the Wendish March, Pordenone, Biscay, Molin, Salins, Tripoli and Mechelen.
At this point, Charles was the most powerful man in Christendom. In 1533, Pope Clement VII’s refusal to annul King Henry VIII of England’s marriage to Catherine of Aragón (Joanna’s sister and Charles’ aunt) was a direct consequence of the Pope’s unwillingness to offend Charles. And we’re all familiar with what that led to in England. #anglicanchurch #divorce #boleyn #troubleinparadise #offwithherhead #4morewives
Charles’ personal motto became and remains Spain’s national motto: Plus Ultra (Latin for “further beyond”). This inspired conquistadores such as Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro (doing it for God, Gold, and Glory!) and voyagers like Ferdinand Magellan to sail beyond Gibraltar during his reign. The concept of a flag the way we use it today to represent a nation did not exist back in the day. In order to represent a country, they usually just used the coat of arms of their monarch.
In 1526, Charles married his first cousin (standard royal inbreeding), Isabella of Portugal. In 1556 he abdicated from his positions, giving his Spanish empire to his only surviving son, Philip II (a.k.a. Philip the Prudent), and the Holy Roman Empire to his younger brother, Ferdinand. Charles retired to a monastery in Extremadura and died in 1558.
The Habsburg Bunch
Spain experienced its Golden Age while the Habsburgs ruled. Altogether, Habsburg Spain was, for well over a century, the world’s greatest power. This period of Spanish history is also known as the “Age of Expansion.” Spain dominated Europe politically and militarily for much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Culturally, Spain flourished as well. Some of the most outstanding figures of this period were Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quixote), Lope de Vega, and Teresa of Ávila.
In 1578, Portugal’s king died in a battle. He’d been young and had no children. This led to a succession crisis in 1580 that ultimately led to King Philip II of Spain gaining control and annexing Portugal. The merge of the Portuguese and Spanish crowns became known as the Iberian Union. Spain added Portugal’s Coat of Arms to its flag.
But the Iberian Union was short lived. 60 years later, while Spain was distracted with the 30 Years’ War and a revolt in Catalunya, the Portuguese rebelled (Portuguese Restoration War) and won back their sovereignty.
THE FRENCH TAKE OVER
In 1700 AD the Habsburg dynasty was replaced with the Bourbons, so the flag changed to reflect the Bourbon coat of arms. The first of these Bourbons was Philip V.
Then, in 1760, the Bourbons added two new quarters that represented the House of Farnese (six blue lilies on gold) and Medici (blue disc with three lilies of gold and five red discs, all on gold).
CHARLES III (a.k.a. BAMF)
Then, in 1785, King Charles III had a great idea. He noticed that most of the countries in Europe used flags which were predominantly white and, since they were frequently at each others’ throats (pick a war, any war, it’s buy one get one free!), lamentable confusions occurred at sea. It was hard to tell if a ship was friend or foe until practically the last moment. For this reason, Charles ordered his Minister of the Navy to present several models of flags to him, having to be visible from great distances. Twelve sketches were shown to the king, and the one he chose as the war ensign is the direct ancestor of the current flag. It was a triband red-yellow-red, of which the yellow band was twice the width of the red bands, a unique feature that distinguished the Spanish tribanded flag from other tribanded European flags. What a wascally wabbit Charles was.
1st SPANISH REPUBLIC (a.k.a. Hmmmm… nice try, but no cigar)
Soooooo Charles III’s son, Charles IV (I’ll call him C4) was a major screw-up. C4 ended up ruining a lot of the good things his daddy had done for Spain. People even said that C4 had mental problems (which I guess wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, given the rampant inbreeding). Because of C4’s ineptitude, Napoleon got annoyed with the Spanish. So, France invaded Spain in 1808 and deposed the Spanish king, Ferdinand VII (C4 had abdicated the throne to his son Ferdinand only 48 days prior). On July 20, 1808, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s eldest brother, entered Madrid and established a government by which he became King of Spain, serving as a surrogate for Napoleon. Thus began the War of Spanish Independence. It was a long and bloody struggle (one of the earliest guerrilla wars in history), but the Spaniards finally emerged victorious in 1814 and Ferdinand VII returned to the throne.
In 1812, the Spaniards had created a Constitution (known as La Pepa), but when Ferdinand returned he opposed it. Bad move. This upset the Spanish colonies of “New Spain” in the Americas and revolution broke out. Spain, nearly bankrupt from the war with France and the reconstruction of the country, was unable to pay her soldiers, and in 1819 was forced to sell Florida to the United States for 5 million dollars. Ferdinand finally accepted La Pepa in 1820, but in the American colonies of New Spain, the revolutions led to independence. In 1824, the last Spanish army on the American mainland was defeated. Only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained a part of Spain.
Tumult continued for decades, with revolution and anarchy erupting all over Spain. In 1873, Spain’s king, Amadeus (random German, OK), declared the people of Spain to be ungovernable, abdicated the throne, and left the country. In Amadeus’ absence, a government of radicals and Republicans was formed that declared Spain a republic. The First Spanish Republic (1873–1874) was immediately under siege from all quarters. There were calls for socialist revolution from the International Workingmen’s Association, revolts and unrest in the autonomous regions of Navarra and Catalunya, and pressure from the Catholic Church against the fledgling republic. So it failed. BUT the point of all this back story IS: Spain’s flag was different for a year! Look at it without a crown. Awwww!
Alfonso XII (Alfie 12) was crowned king in December of 1874 after returning from exile. After the tumult of the First Spanish Republic, Spaniards were willing to accept a return to stability under Bourbon rule. So the flag got its crown back!
Let’s Try Again, Shall We? (The 2nd Spanish Republic)
Constitutional monarchy continued under King Alfonso XIII (Fonz 13). Fonz 13 was born after Alfie 12’s death and was proclaimed king upon his birth. However, the government had become destabilized by Alfie 12’s unexpected death in 1885. The reign of Fonz 13 (1886–1931) saw the Spanish-American War of 1898 (which culminated in the loss of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico); WWI (Spain stayed neutral); the Spanish Flu pandemic; and the Rif War in Morocco (1920–1926). Fonz 13’s reign also saw the rise to dictatorship of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, who seized control of the government by military coup in 1923 and ruled as a dictator – with the monarch’s support – for seven years (1923–1930). The world-wide recession, marked first by the Wall Street Crash of 1929, caused deepening economic hardships in Spain and the resignation of Primo de Rivera’s government in 1930. General elections were held in 1931 to replace the government, with Republican and anticlerical candidates winning the majority of votes. Fonz 13 left the country in response to the proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic, though he never abdicated.
Under the 2nd Spanish Republic, women were allowed to vote in general elections for the first time. The Republic also gave much more autonomy to the Basque Country and to Catalunya. However, economic turmoil, substantial debt inherited from the Primo de Rivera regime, and rapidly changing governing coalitions led to serious political unrest. In the 1930s, Spanish politics were polarized at the left and right of the political spectrum. In 1933, the right-wing Spanish Confederation of the Autonomous Right (CEDA) won power. An armed rising of workers in October 1934 was forcefully put down by the CEDA government. This in turn energized political movements across the spectrum in Spain, including a revived anarchist movement and new reactionary and fascist groups. In 1936, the left united in the Popular Front and was elected to power. However, this coalition was undermined both by the anarchist groups and by anti-democratic far-right groups. The political violence of previous years began to start again.
The Republican democracy never generated the consensus or mutual trust between the various political groups that it needed in order to function peacefully. As a result, the country slid into civil war. The right wing of the country and high-ranking figures in the army began to plan a coup, and when a Falangist politician was shot by Republican police, they used it as a signal to act.
In July of 1936, General Francisco Franco led the colonial army from Morocco to attack the mainland, while another force from the north moved south from Navarra. Military units were also mobilized elsewhere to take over government institutions. Franco’s move was intended to seize power immediately, but successful resistance by Republicans in places such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, the Basque country and elsewhere meant that Spain faced a prolonged civil war.
When Barcelona fell to the Nationalists in early 1939, it was clear the war was over. The remaining Republican fronts collapsed and Madrid fell in March 1939. The war, which cost between 300,000 to 1,000,000 lives, ended with the destruction of the Republic and Franco becoming the dictator of Spain. He amalgamated all the right wing parties into a reconstituted fascist party and banned the left-wing and Republican parties and trade unions. The conduct of the war was brutal on both sides, with widespread massacres of civilians and prisoners. After the war, many thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and up to 151,000 were executed between 1939 and 1943. Many other Republicans remained in exile for the entire Franco period.
During Franco’s rule, Spain was officially neutral in World War II and remained largely economically and culturally isolated from the outside world. Under a military dictatorship, Spain saw its political parties banned, except for the official party (Falange). Franco also made it illegal to speak or teach any language other than Spanish (Castilian), which means that languages like Euskera and Catalan were banned. Labor unions were banned and all political activity using violence or intimidation to achieve its goals was forbidden. Spain also gave up or lost its remaining colonies in Africa.
The latter years of Franco’s rule saw some economic and political liberalization, an economic boom known as the “Spanish Miracle,” and the birth of a tourism industry. Spain began to catch up economically with its European neighbors. Franco ruled until his death on November 20, 1975, when control was given to King Juan Carlos I (the current king of Spain).
TRANSITION (a.k.a. Catching Up With the Rest of the First World)
The Spanish Transition was the era when Spain moved from Franco’s dictatorship to a liberal democratic state. The transition began with Franco’s death and, while the date of completion remains a topic of debate, it’s usually considered to be the electoral victory of the socialist PSOE on October 28, 1982. Between 1978 and 1982, Spain was led by the Unión del Centro Democrático governments. There was a coup d’état attempt that took place on February 23, 1981, but the coup d’état failed due to the intervention of King Juan Carlos. (Thanks, Juan. Now, if only you’d stop shooting elephants for fun!)
Along with political change came radical change in Spanish society. Spanish society had been extremely conservative under Franco, but the transition to democracy also began a liberalization of values and societal mores (see: La Movida Madrileña). Spain even became one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriage!
So! After aaaaaaaaall that history and info, we have finally arrived at our destination: the current Spanish flag! HUZZAH!!! The future of this flag is not certain (as I mentioned at the beginning, many Spaniards are calling for a 3rd Spanish Republic, but also, Catalunya is trying to have a referendum to see if the majority of its population wants to secede from Spain and form its own country). So maybe in the near future I’ll have to write about a new flag? Who knows?? What I do know is that I learned a whole heck of a lot about Spanish history, and I hope you did, too! I got all of the info from various Wikipedia pages, but just added my own twist to it in the hopes of making it more interesting.
At some point during the 1990s an unofficial version of the Spanish flag sporting an Osborne bull superimposed as some sort of “coat of arms” began appearing in football arenas. This usage has become increasingly popular and this flag is easily seen nowadays during sports events, football or others, which include a Spanish team, player or the Spanish national team itself.