The 1936 Spanish election resulted in victory for a left-wing coalition, but both the population and the army were bitterly divided. After initially staying out of the conflict, General Francisco Franco, the chief of general staff, decided to support an anti-government uprising in July 1936, leading to the Spanish Civil War.
Supported by Hitler, Franco’s forces defeated the Soviet-supported government, at the cost of half a million lives, and Franco became caudillo (military leader) of Spain.
During World War II, Spain aided Germany, but officially stayed neutral, which enabled Franco’s regime to survive after the end of the war. For the next 30 years, Franco ran a highly authoritarian regime, jailing dissidents and imposing political censorship. From the late 1960s, he focused his efforts on establishing Juan Carlos, grandson of Spain’s former king, as his successor.
By October 1975, Franco’s health deteriorated and he was forced to relinquish his power, although Juan Carlos was not crowned until Franco’s death in November.
Instead of maintaining the Francoist regime, Juan Carlos moved to democratise Spain, removing pro-Franco ministers and allowing free elections in 1977. An attempted military coup in February 1981 was foiled in part by the king’s dramatic TV broadcast denouncing the plot.
This strengthened support for the monarchy and Juan Carlos enjoyed high public approval for most of the next three decades. But a decision to go on a $60,000 hunting trip in 2012, at a time of high unemployment, badly damaged his popularity. He abdicated in favour of his son two years later.