Francisco Franco: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Julia Maypole

Julia has a master's degree in world history and has taught college history and other humanities courses.

In this lesson we will examine the life of Spanish ruler Francisco Franco. Franco led the Nationalists to victory in the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Franco assumed control of post-war Spain and ruled autocratically until his death in 1975.

I am responsible only to God and history.

- Francisco Franco

Early Life & Career

Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was born on December 4, 1892 in El Ferrol, a small coastal village on the northwestern tip of Spain. Franco's father and grandfather both served in the Spanish Navy and he wanted to do the same. However, Spain suffered heavy losses to its navy during the Spanish-American War and closed its naval academy to officer training for years after the conflict. Having little choice, Franco entered the Spanish Army instead, enrolling at the Infantry Academy of Toledo. Franco graduated in 1910 as a second lieutenant.

Francisco Franco in 1923
Francisco Franco in 1923

Spain and France each colonized parts of Morocco in the late 1800s, with Spain controlling much of its coastline and parts of the Sahara. The native population in the mountainous Rif region resisted colonization by European powers. In 1912, Franco volunteered to serve in Morocco to fight the Rif rebels. It was quite dangerous as the guerrilla tactics employed by the rebels were relentless and merciless. At the age of 23, Franco was shot in the abdomen and nearly died. However, after recovering from his injury in Spain, Franco returned to his duties in Africa. By the time Franco left his Moroccan post in 1926, he was already a general. He was only 33 years old.

A New Destiny

The Spanish monarchy fell in 1931 and Spain spiraled into political and economic chaos. Franco was a longtime supporter of the crown and was quickly demoted under the new leftist regime. By 1934, power shifted again, this time into the hands of conservatives. Franco received a promotion to Major General. In May of 1935, Franco was promoted again to general chief of staff of the Spanish Army.

Further fracturing of the government resulted in the formation of two parties - the conservative Nationals and the leftist Popular Front (also known as the Republicans). In 1936, the Popular Front won the popular election, but the two parties continued to jockey for power. The anarchy that was threatening to tear Spain apart mounted. Once it became clear that Spain's economic and political infrastructure was failing, Franco (who had remained neutral up to this point) pleaded with the ruling party to declare a state of emergency. His request was denied. He was instead re-assigned to the distant Canary Islands.

From his obscure post, Franco officially joined the Nationalists. Their military coup against the Republicans began in earnest in the summer of 1936. Franco returned to Morocco and quickly assumed control over the Spanish colony and garrisons there. Soon after, the Nationalists pushed into the Spanish mainland, aided heavily by German and Italian soldiers and military equipment. Franco was chosen by the Nationals to lead their cause on October 1, 1936, due in large part to his proven military ability and his on-going support from Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, which was vital to their cause. He was now in charge, but it would take another three years of a brutal civil war, where atrocities were committed on both sides, to gain control of Spain. The civil war officially ended in 1939, with the Nationalists emerging as the winners. Francisco Franco became leader of Spain.

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