José Antonio Primo de Rivera

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José Antonio Primo de Rivera

José Antonio Primo de Rivera, marqués de Estella (24 April 1903 - 20 November 1936) was the eldest son of Miguel Primo de Rivera (Prime Minister of Spain from 1923 to 1930) and the founder of the Falange.


Primo de Rivera and the Falange
Primo de Rivera in prison in Alicante

Early life

Primo de Rivera was born in Madrid on April 24, 1903, the oldest son of General Miguel Primo de Rivera, Prime Minister of Spain under King Alfonso XIII. From his father he inherited the title of Marquis de Estella (Navarre).

His mother died when he was five years old, and he was subsequently raised by his father's sister. He was privately taught at home, and learned English and French.

Primo de Rivera went on to study law at the University of Madrid between 1917 and 1923. He took undergraduate and graduate courses simultaneously and he obtained both his Bachelor and Doctor degrees in the same year, 1923.

After graduating, he chose the "One-Year Volunteer" option to do his military service while his father was dictator. He served with the Ninth Dragoons of St. James cavalry regiment, stationed at Barcelona. He was court-martialed for punching a superior officer, Brigadier General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano.

Queipo de Llano had written a defamatory letter against an uncle of José Antonio and against the Dictator himself. José Antonio, ready to defend the honour of his family abused by the Republican general, went to the café where the latter used to socialize, and after asking whether he was the author of the writing, and after receiving the general's affirmative reply, delivered a spectacular punch that made the general roll on the floor, sparking a free-for-all between the companions of José Antonio and the companions of the general.

Primo de Rivera became a registered lawyer in 1925, and opened an office on a side street of Madrid very near the confluence of three principal avenues. In 1931, he was invested "Perpetual Dean of the Illustrious College of Lawyers of Madrid".


On October 29, 1933, Primo de Rivera launched the Falange Española ("Spanish Phalanx"), a nationalist party, inspired in part with some ideas, such as the necessity of authority, hierarchical order of society, and grassroots populism, that were being expounded in Italy in the Fascist movement. The foundational convention was held in the Teatro de la Comedia of Madrid. He was the keynote speaker and his first address was a criticism of liberal democracy.

He was a candidate in the general election of November 19 for the umbrella organization "Unión Agraria y Ciudadana," part of the broad conservative coalition Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA).[9] He was elected to the Parliament as a representative of Cádiz.

On February 11, 1934, Falange merged with Ramiro Ledesma's Juntas de Ofensiva Nacional-Sindicalista to create the Falange Española de las JONS under José Antonio's leadership.

José Antonio abandoned the tie and suit and took on the new blue-shirt Falange uniform that was adopted in October 1935.

In 1935 Primo de Rivera collaborated in editing the lyrics of the Falangist anthem, "Cara al Sol" (Facing the Sun).

In the general election of February 16, 1936, Falange won only 0.7% of the vote; but the wave of instability which greeted the victory of the Popular Front—a left-wing coalition of anarchists, communists, socialists, liberal republicans, and others—caused an influx of new members, and the small party grew to more than 40,000 members by July.


On March 14, 1936, he was arrested in Madrid and charged with illegal possession of firearms (at that time, Spain was awash in privately held weapons on the part of all political factions). Nine weeks later he was transferred to the prison in Alicante. In both Madrid and in Alicante, he was able to maintain intermittent secret contact with the Falange leadership and, several times, with General Emilio Mola. On October 3 he was charged with conspiracy against the Republic and military insurrection, both capital offences, even though he had been imprisoned long before the Spanish Civil War started.


On November 18 he was found guilty by a people's tribunal made up of leftist parties and sentenced to death by firing squad. The sentence was carried out on November 20 by local authorities in Alicante.

Regarded as a martyr, he became revered by the Nationalists during and after the war.

At the end of the war in 1939, the mortal remains of Primo de Rivera were carried on the shoulders of Falangist relay teams from Alicante to Madrid (a 300-kilometre journey) and provisionally interred at El Escorial. In 1959, they were exhumed and re-interred in the gargantuan basilica of the Valley of the Fallen (Valle de los Caídos), located in the Guadarrama mountain range, not far from El Escorial.


See also