A name fit for a king, and so he was. A king, that is. His father King Alfonso XII died before he was born, which gave him the rare distinction of being king right out the starting gate, though technically his mother Maria Christina of Austria was regent for his first sixteen years, a time that saw the loss to Spain of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to Teddy Roosevelt and President McKinley.
Married one of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg (1887–1969), kept Spain out of the First World War, left Spain in 1931 and never quite made it back, dying in Rome in 1941.
Why am I on about this? Because as of Friday, I’ve been enduring the ‘flu (yes, yes, I know. Vaccination. I know. I was busy, and besides probably some geriatric or tot needed it more). With little else to do but sneeze, shiver, and cough, I began to wonder, why was the 1918-19 pandemic called the Spanish ‘Flu? One of those bigoted we-didn’t-start-it monikers, like the French calling syphilis the Italian disease and the Italians calling it the French? Was Spain being made to pay for avoiding the mass slaughter of the trenches?
Apparently, yes, though not perhaps by design. It’s another case of truth being the first casualty of war.
The first documented case came out of Fort Riley, Kansas, and as the boys went to Europe, the infection came with them. Unintentional germ warfare, if you like. War censors in Germany, England, France and America insisted that the extent of the thing be kept on the QT in case it hurt morale.
Spain, neutral, had no such restrictions. Moreover, as Alfonso was hit by the bug, there was widespread coverage world wide, suggesting to the wider world that things were particularly bad in Spain.