Who Was The Most Famous King of Spain

by | Jul 29, 2023 | Aristocracy, Emporers, France, Kings, Noble Titles, Royal Titles

The Kingdom of Spain has known a great many famous and legendary kings. From the infamous Charles V, or Carlos I to give him his Spanish title, to the ‘King of The Golden Age’, Philip II, also known as Philip the Prudent and credited with an unprecedented age of prosperity within the Spanish kingdom. 

Yet there is one Spanish king who ranks among the most famous primarily due to his legendary brother. 

Joseph Bonaparte – King Of Spain

Joseph Bonaparte was the older brother of one of history’s most famous military champions – Napoleon Bonaparte. 

Joseph Bonaparte, King Of Spain

Joseph Bonaparte, King Of Spain – François Gérard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout Napoleon’s rise to power, his brother Joseph acted as a close ally and confidante, always at his brother’s side in support of his many ambitious plans and campaigns. 

As a reward for his loyalty, Joseph received a series of appointments of increasingly high-ranking noble, royal and even imperial status. These were often the result of Napoleon’s aggressive expansions throughout Europe during the Napoleonic Era.

As the French Empire increased its dominance over many of the kingdoms of Europe, Napoleon was accustomed to claiming the crown of various nations and then gifting them to the favourites of his own imperial court – his political allies, supporters or close family members. 

Since Napoleon’s brother Joseph was one of his staunchest allies – through the times of defeat and uncertainty as well as the periods of glory – he was one of the favoured recipients of Napoleon’s generosity with the crowns of conquered nations. 

King Of Naples

Prior to being granted the Spanish crown, Joseph Bonaparte had been gifted the title of King of Naples and enjoyed a short period as the Neapolitan ruler, albeit during some turbulent times. 

His experience in Italy was believed to have been a positive one on the whole, though his position as the new ruler was not surprisingly met with mixed responses. Some of the Italian people welcomed the new arrival, trusting the promises of Napoleon for a new era of stability within Europe. Yet, there were many loyalists who were less welcoming of a Corsican soldier as the new King of Naples. 

The Most Famous King Of Spain

After his brief tenure as the Neapolitan monarch, Joseph was reassigned by his brother. This time he was dispatched to Spain and granted the royal title of King of Spain & The Indies. 

This regal role was yet another result of Napoleon’s conquests within Europe during the early 19th century, and once again a non-noble representative of France was positioned at the head of a foreign sovereign nation. 

Joseph Bonaparte’s assignment as the new king was again met with much discord. While this reign lasted longer than the position as the King of Naples – from 1808 until 1813 – this famous King of Spain was not always a popular one. Such was the level of dissent from the Spanish subjects, the French Army was required to protect the new king from revolutionaries. 

As a devout Catholic nation, there was much strong feeling and impassioned moralistic objections to governance by a French representative – regarded as a puppet of Napoleon – especially after the friction between the Church and the Republican parties during and after the French Revolution. 

One saving grace of Joseph Bonaparte’s tenure as the King of Spain was his endeavours to bring about an end to the Spanish Inquisition, the frightening period of persecution and prosecution that had been a constant threat for the Spanish people for centuries. 

Ironically, the very objections relating to the Republican conflict with the Catholic Church – often regarded as a personal battle between Napoleon and the Pope or his edicts – were the root cause of the new peace ushered in with the ending of the Spanish Inquisition. 

Abdication & Exile

As Napoleon Bonaparte’s fall from grace began its decline, so too did the prominence and power of the individuals who had benefited from the Napoleonic conquests. 

Much like his brother’s story, Joseph Bonaparte’s reign as King of Spain was to end in abdication. Ostensibly, Joseph was required in France to support Napoleon as he faced the many battles and defeats that would ultimately seal his fate. However, it’s clear that Joseph Bonaparte, while perhaps one of the most famous kings of Spain, was not to be recorded in history as one of the most popular or even the most successful. 

He abdicated from the Spanish throne in December of 1813, and as the future of his brother looked increasingly uncertain, the former king of Spain set his sights on more distant shores, intending to escape the fallout of Napoleon’s ultimate defeat by sailing to America. 

In this bid to escape the fate of a formal exile – one that his brother Napoleon so famously endured on the remote island of St Helena – Joseph travelled in secret to the East coast of America, where he established a new life for himself, albeit without his wife and companion of many years, Julie Clary, who had opted to remain in Europe. 

After a spectacular career at the side of his infamous brother during his astonishing rise to become Emperor of France, a career that included titles such as Imperial Prince, King of Naples, King of Spain & The Indies, Joseph Bonaparte’s final years were spent much further removed from the limelight of Europe’s strongest nations and their monarchies

He ultimately returned to Europe, and died in Florence, Italy in 1844, where he was buried alongside his wife, who died shortly after him. 

A Final Return To France

Despite the mixed successes of Joseph Bonaparte’s military, political, ambassadorial and royal career, his proximity to the mighty power of France’s great Emperor ensured his legacy would not be forgotten. 

Many devout supporters of Napoleon believed that Joseph was the rightful heir to the imperial crown and as such, his body was exhumed and taken to France to be reunited with his brother, the famous Emperor who had changed the destiny of all those around him, as well as so many ordinary men and women the whole world over.

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