European royalty has struggled to stay relevant in the modern age. One monarch who succeeded is King Juan Carlos of Spain, whose sure sense of personal and national destiny helped his country turn itself into a democracy.
That happy result was hardly preordained. Juan Carlos was born in exile in 1938; his father ceded his education to General Francisco Franco, the dictator who supplanted the royals, hoping this would encourage Franco to restore the crown. Juan Carlos was named as Franco's eventual successor in 1969, but democrats had no great expectations of him. They realized their mistake once he took the throne upon Franco's death in 1975: within four months he created a sensation by speaking Catalan, which Franco had repressed; within eight months he had engineered the selection of centrist Adolfo Suárez as Prime Minister, and had begun to introduce democratic reforms at a pace calibrated to try the patience of Francoist continuistas and progressives alike. Spain's democratic constitution was ratified in 1978.
There was another test to come. After a series of bloody bombings by the Basque separatist terrorists of eta, so-called ultras in the military launched a coup in 1981. Many of them believed they were acting on the King's behalf. But Juan Carlos ordered military units back to their barracks, and without his support, the attempt collapsed. Four days later, 3 million people marched in cities throughout Spain in support of democracy. Their slogan, almost universally, was "�Viva el Rey!" (long live the King). That sentiment has persisted, more quietly, ever since.