Michael Mullan - Juan Balansó Amer
After a lifetime’s work dedicated to mastering the details of Europe’s royal dynasties - the more recondite or scandalous, the better - Spanish journalist Juan Balansó has died at an age that was his best-kept secret.
More than 25 years of meticulous research underlay his authorship of about a dozen books (some potboilers, others entertainingly erudite), his regular newspaper contributions, rent-a-quote punditry for the celebrity magazines and after-dinner speaking gigs.
He was hard at work to the end, plugging his latest titles at the recent Madrid Book Fair and ever poised to discuss the latest rumours about Spain’s bachelor Crown Prince Felipe. He was appalled by Felipe’s liaison with Norwegian model Eva Sannum, protesting that the heir to the throne could not possibly pick a bride that only he had chosen; it escaped him that the future monarch himself was not exactly chosen by universal suffrage.
Balansó was born and brought up in Barcelona, but moved to his mother’s native Madrid for career reasons. Dapper and charming, a born schmoozer, he headed public relations for the news agency EFE for seven years. He wrote for several dailies - ABC, La Razón and El Mundo - and frequented the talkshow circuit.
Only some of Balansó’s books have been translated, usually to French and Italian: monarchism still seems to fascinate these republics. His catalogue starts in 1976 with a primer on Spanish royalty, La Casa Real Española. In 1992 alone, he churned out three books on Europe’s inter-bred royal cousins, the meaning of royalty and that bourgeois interloper, Julia Bonaparte. Up to 1999, another six appeared, followed by Los Borbones incómodos (The Uncomfortable Bourbons, 2000) and Por razón de estado (Reasons of State, 2002). Los Borbones incómodos is a romp among the black sheep of the Bourbon dynasty, many of whose scions were not averse to gambling thrones or titles on an ill-judged romance. Fernando VII’s young widow, María Cristina de Borbón, fell for a guardsman and after their secret marriage came to light, ended up plain Mrs Muñoz. The Infanta Elvira spurned an Austrian Archduke to run away with a painter (not even a very good one). Por razón de estado illustrates with some rigour how every monarch’s marriage in Bourbon history, from Felipe V to the incumbent Juan Carlos I, can be explained in political terms.
His latest book, not necessarily his last, is Las Coronas Huecas (The Empty Crowns), published in May and highlighting some of the stranger characters who, through a quirk of fate or a cunning plan, have come at least within a shout of the throne in Spain. The Infantes de España, like royal heirs closer to these shores, have been a pretty mixed bunch.
Balansó died at home in Madrid after a long illness. He left instructions for his burial in the Italian city of Parma, where he had many close friends in aristocratic circles, among them the Borbón-Parma family of former pretenders to the Spanish crown.
Juan Balansó Amer, journalist and historian: born Barcelona, mid-20th century; died Madrid, 28 June 2003.
Michael Mullan - Obituaries...
Spanish translation by Juan Manuel Grijalvo (pending)...