Spain's King Juan Carlos I Abdicates, Is The First Spanish Ruler In 70 Years To Do So

After nearly four decades on the throne, King Juan Carlos I of Spain abdicated his crown Monday to his son, 46-year-old Crown Prince Felipe. The king announced his abdication in a letter to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who publicly disclosed the news in a televised address. Juan Carlos, a once-popular monarch who championed democracy after taking helm of the country in 1975, is the first Spanish king to abdicate since his grandfather did in 1941.

In a separate statement, Juan Carlos said he made his decision to step down after his 76th birthday last January. He discussed his pride about the "transformation of Spain" and thanked his country's citizens for being a part of the transition from dictatorship to democracy. "Today, when I look back, I cannot help but feel pride and gratitude towards all of you," Juan Carlos said.

The king also talked at length about his son, Felipe, and the future generations of Spain. He assured Spaniards that Felipe's ready to take helm of the country because of his "maturity, preparation, and sense of responsibility."

Juan Carlos ascended to the throne in 1975, just two days after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Juan Carlos was the first reigning monarch of Spain since 1931, when his grandfather, King Alfonso XIII, was exiled due to overwhelming rejection from Spaniards. While in exile, Alfonso XIII abdicated the crown in 1941 to his son, Juan Carlos de Borbón. However, Franco was distrustful of him and passed the crown to his son, Juan Carlos I.

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Following the death of Franco, Juan Carlos promised to establish democracy in Spain. The country held its first democratic elections in 1977, and approved a new constitution in 1978. In 1981, Juan Carlos blocked a military coup that attempted to overthrow Spain's newfound democratic process.

Although Juan Carlos gained popularity and admiration for his dedication to democracy, his approval rating has dropped in recent years due to several family scandals. After his son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, married to his daughter Princess Christina, embezzled millions of dollars through public contracts, many Spaniards called on Juan Carlos to abdicate his throne last year. The king was also criticized in 2012 for taking a luxurious hunting trip to Botswana while the Spanish economy suffered.

"There is no deep-seated admiration for the monarchy as an institution as you'll find in the U.K. or in Holland," Spanish author Tom Burns Maranon told The Associated Press in 2013. "If the king's standing and reputation comes shooting down, then you're in a very sticky position."