Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.
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I am a Catholic and a historian based in Oxford, where I am a member of Oriel College. My research, for a long delayed D.Phil., is a study of Richard Fleming, Bishop of Lincoln in the second decade of the fifteenth century. I also work as a freelance tutor in History and as an independent tour guide.
I was received into the Church in 2005 and am a Brother of the External Oratory of St Philip Neri at the Oxford Oratory.
The announcement by King Juan Carlos that he will abdicate as King of Spain appears to have come as something of a surprise, although there has been talk of the possibility of such a move on and off for the last couple of years.
Given his remarkable and enduring achievements since 1975, as all serious commentators have agreed, it is unfortunate that in recent years that has been clouded by public criticism over what should be seen as minor problems. The economic and social crisis affecting Spain has clearly not helped, and must have told upon the King as well as his age - he certainly looks older and more tired, and he has had several operations in recent years.
I recall my own sense of excitement, indeed exhilaration, at the 1975 restoration, and the King's success, and so ably supported by Queen Sofia, is both of historic significance for Spain, and an example other countries should follow.
Given that background I would think that he and the Spanish royal family would be anxious to avoid anything that might tend towards a repeat of the 1931 disaster when the economic crisis combined with the political fall-out from the end of the Primo de Rivera military government of the 1920s and the decline in popularity of King Alfonso XIII effectively turned the local elections of that year into a referendum on the monarchy and led to the establishment of the appalling second republic.
The King says that he decided to abdicate at this birthday in January, when he turned 76, but presumably has waited until after European elections to make his announcement, but before the Catalan independence referendum planned for the autumn.
A point I have seen made in recent years is that whilst many in Spain have and do admire the King as a person and for what he has done for the realm, the support for the monarchy is for the person rather than for the institution in itself. It may well be that in abdicating now the King sees the opportunity to follow in the patterns of events last year with the abdications in the Netherlands, Belgium and the Papacy, as well as the relatively recent case of Luxembourg, and to give the Prince of Asturias the opportunity to reforge and reinforce the bonds that the monarchy is there to provide and has provided not only in recent decades but through the history of Spain and its constituent realms.
This is then a way to manage the situation in the best interests of the nation and of its central institution, and potentially outflanking possible future problems. It seems clear that the Prince and Princess of Asturias have high public approval ratings and that the Prince has worked conscientiously as heir in a manner very similar to his cousins across Europe. He always appears serious minded man with genuine dedication to his future role.
It is also worth pointing out that abdications are not that unusual in Spain - indeed almost commonplace. King Charles I(i.e. Emperor Charles V)abdicated in 1556, and in 1724 King Felipe V (one used to think of him in English as Philip, but maybe we shall get used to thinking of the various Spanish Kings of that name as Felipe) abdicated - possibly thinking he might succeed the temporarily sickly King Louis XV in France, only to find that the French King recovered, but that his own son and successor, King Luis I, died the same year and he was recalled to the throne. King Charles IV abdicated in favour of his sone King Ferdinand VII, and his daughter Queen Isabella II, following the 1868 revolution abdicated in favour of her son King Alfonso XII, who was resored toi the throne in 1875. Indeed she outlived him by nineteen years, only dying in France in 1904. I believe I am right in saying that King Alfonso XIII, realising his condition was terminal, abdicated afew days before his death in 1941 in Rome, presumably to ensure the formal transfer of authority to his de jure successor, his son King Juan III. He in turn renounced his rights in 1977, two years after his son King Juan Carlos was proclaimedas monarch. So having a former monarch around is not that unusual. There has been no conventional succession of an adult son or daughter to a deceased monarch really since 1788 when King Charles III and was succeeded by King Charles IV.
This evening a BBC report covered a military review at El Escorial attended by the King and the Prince of the Asturias, and as it pointed out the setting in front of the great palace monastery necropolis did stress continuity, which has been very much a theme of the reign of King Juan Carlos. Thus in burying his father as King Juan III and reinterring his grandparents King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie at the Escorial the King symbolically indicated the continuity of his position with his ancestors, and that the monarchy was not a new creation of the Franco era.