Thursday, May 14, 2015

Spain's Royal Etiquette Past

Maria Christina Henriette Desideria Felicitas Raineria of Austria, was Queen of Spain as the second wife of King Alfonso XII. She was regent during the minority of their son, Alfonso XIII, and the vacancy of the throne between her husband's death and her son's birth, from 1885 until 1902.

Tobacco at the Court of Spain

The Queen Regent of Spain is simple in her manners and is slowly relaxing the rigid etiquette of the Spanish court. Formerly it was impossible to smoke before the Queen. At a recent court dinner, however, she ordered cigars to be produced. Everybody was astonished and no one seemed inclined to take the first step. The officer of state next the Queen held the silver basket containing the cigars, but did not know what to do with them." Finally the Queen took one, lighted it, and said : "Pass around the cigars, gentlemen." From the Daily Alta California, November 1889                                       
Spain's young King with his mother, the Regent Queen ~ "one requires very little stimulating to "enthuse" over the ruler of Spain. Partly because he is the sort of youth that an ordinary citizen—were he, too, an ordinary citizen—would be very friendly with, and would speak about behind his back as a very decent fellow indeed, and partly because he is a monarch, isolated from the contact of common men, surrounded by what seemed insurmountable walls of etiquette and tradition, and apparently at the mercy of wire-pullers and courtiers, and yet has broken through the steel girdle and proved himself a wise ruler and a very human being."
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The New Spain — And Some Stories of 

King Alfonso in 1906

                                  

An engagement card features Alfonso in uniform with his helmet and sword and his fiancé, Victoria Eugenie, wearing a fashionable, squared necked, evening dress. "People who know Spain from books will tell you with bated breath of the cast-iron etiquette that surrounds the royal personage of Spain, of dreadful dinners eaten in solemn silence, of bows to the left and curtsies to the right, of mace-bearers and cup-bearers and sword-bearers, of orders of precedence; such as that between the Infanta who was born at 7.25 and the Infanta who entered this wicked world at 7.29."

There came to meet me at the North Station at Madrid a cheerful boy—a boy who had obviously come straight from a tennis court, who was dressed "slack" as only the English can dress "slack" and remain respectable. In the carriage that drove us through the uneven streets of Madrid he told me about a "rotter" of our acquaintance, used twelve different school-slang phrases in as many minutes.

That night he came to the Fornos to dinner, and I asked him why his friends called him by a Spanish name.

"Because I am Spanish," was the reply, and the answer staggered me.

"But you are unique?"

"Not a bit of it. Dozens of fellows in Madrid like myself have been educated in England."

And this boy, I discovered, was the son of a noble house that goes back to the year 1, and that he was by no means alone in his Anglicisation I soon discovered.


The royal marriage and the enthusiasm it has aroused through Spain are only symptomatic of the extraordinary respect in which Great Britain is held throughout Spain. The word "Inglesi" has a meaning outside the narrow limits of appellation, and the young Spain that is growing up with the boy-King has possibilities which the boldest may speculate upon and fall short of the mark.

A LITTLE MAD

Remember that old Spain does not quite understand Alfonso. It loves him; he is the darling of the people, and your ultra-Republicans, exceedingly voluble on all pertaining to kingship, have a pleasant word for the slim youth with the everlasting smile.

But none the less old Spain does not quite take him in. To be perfectly frank, old Spain, watching in wonderment as the young man sweeps away the cobwebs that hamper his administration, confesses sadly that the King is a little mad. This same old Spain, be it noted, has for generations regarded the "Inglesi" as a nation of amiable lunatics, and for very much the same reason as England has deserved the stigma, King Alfonso bears it.

People who know Spain from books will tell you with bated breath of the cast-iron etiquette that surrounds the royal personage of Spain, of dreadful dinners eaten in solemn silence, of bows to the left and curtsies to the right, of mace-bearers and cup-bearers and sword-bearers, of orders of precedence; such as that between the Infanta who was born at 7.25 and the Infanta who entered this wicked world at 7.29.

There have been customs handed down from the days of the gloomy builder of the Escurial. They have been handed down from king to king—even Joseph Bonaparte "carried on"—and they were handed over, heirlooms of procedure, to the patient little boy whose unceasing education earned for him the sympathy of all the little boys in the world.

Where are those customs now?

If we are to believe the aged masters of ceremonies, who—so it is said—go moaning about the Corridors of the Palacio Real, weeping for glories gone, they have vanished. Pruned here and omitted there, remodelled, improved, renovated, the irreverent youth (he has just streaked past my window in a motor-car) has, in the language of the soap advertiser, "made home comfortable."

THE IRON HAND BENEATH

And his influence is felt throughout Spain. Not because he has led the Spanish gentry to wearing English clothes, English collars, and English cravats (I saw a "smoking jacket" ticketed in the window of a cheap tailor to-day), nor because he has infused into a languid people something of that restless energy which is peculiarly his, but because you see his hand in the great acts of administration.

There was a Minister in Spain who had a friend. The friend's past was not exactly blameless: there was a sort, of "war stores scandal" in the background, but the Minister was anxious to put his friend into the Cabinet. And the Minister, who was sufficiently powerful to he blind to his own weakness had not the slightest doubt that his nomination would be accepted. It is unfortunately true that corruption in the public service has been by no means rare in Spain, and is not regarded in a very serious light, and the Minister was perhaps justified in his belief that the unfortunate affair bad been conveniently forgotten.

But the King's memory, like the King's digestion, is remarkably good, and without a word he struck his pen through his name. The Minister was thunderstruck.

"I shall place my resignation in your Majesty's hands," he said stiffly; but the awful threat did not alarm the young man.

"That is my wish," he said gravely.

Again. The present marriage is by no means regarded with approval in Germany. You are aware that there are great German Princes whose "military duties" will prevent their attending the ceremony.

It is an unfortunate fact that one cannot show preference without offending the unpreferred. The attachment of the King has drawn him closer to Great Britain; but King Alfonso is a shrewd youth, and he has certainly no desire to antagonise a powerful State like Germany. The spirit of "manana," which is at once the joy and curse of Spain, extends to every class of Spaniard—even to the Spaniard ambassadorial—and there are to be celebrations this year in Germany at which the crowned heads of Europe are to be represented. Somehow the Spanish Ambassador at Berlin failed to notify the King of these celebrations, with the result that there was no time for the fitting representation of Spain. Alfonso's hand fell on the Ambassador. A prompt Gazette announced his recall and the reason.

ALL THE TO-MORROWS SHALL BE AS TO-DAY

This is how Alfonso XIII. is creating a new Spain. By substituting promptitude for procrastination; by replacing "manana" by "to-day"; by refusing to recognise the plea of custom; and lastly, and most important of all, by doing himself the things that he asks his people to do.

The story that best illustrates the sane, practical spirit that underlies most of his acts is the story of the reservoir disaster. In the course of constructing a reservoir near Madrid, part of the works collapsed, and hundreds of workmen were buried beneath tons of earth. The boy King was at the royal palace when the news was telephoned through, and he ordered his car and drove through to the scene of the catastrophe. Crowds had gathered in the vicinity, and the King was recognised as he drove up. Accident or royal procession, all's one to the Spaniard, so long as it be in the nature of sight- seeing, and "Viva el Rey!" was roared by a thousand throats. It was an indignant young monarch who stood up in his car and harangued the crowd. "If you were helping to dig these poor fellows out, instead of shouting, 'Viva,' you would be doing a far better thing." he said—and the crowd took the hint.

It is customary at such a time as this for the writer to say the nicest things he can remember about his royal subject. Kings, with two notable exceptions, are very uninteresting people, who do a great deal of work and listen patiently to a great number of national anthems. But one requires very little stimulating to "enthuse" over the ruler of Spain. Partly because he is the sort of youth that an ordinary citizen—were he, too, an ordinary citizen—would be very friendly with, and would speak about behind his back as a very decent fellow indeed, and partly because he is a monarch, isolated from the contact of common men, surrounded by what seemed insurmountable walls of etiquette and tradition, and apparently at the mercy of wire-pullers and courtiers, and yet has broken through the steel girdle and proved himself a wise ruler and a very human being.

Reproduced from The Star (New Zealand), August 11, 1906

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