«It is to laugh»

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Nicolás Franco y Salgado-Araújo (1855-1942) was a drunken man and little appreciated by his children. An absent father. A tormented war veteran. In 1917 he left his first wife to marry a younger one in a non-religious way. His figure was from then on blurred, banished from the family and limited to a couple of anecdotes spread by his son’s detractors.

On May 24, 1890 the ship’s accountant Nicolas Franco Salgado-Araújo he married in the military and family church of San Francisco, in El Ferrol, with a Spanish woman ten years younger than him, Pilar Bahamonde and Pardo de Andrade. The profiles of the mother, who exerted a crucial influence on her son Francisco Franco, are highly praiseworthy: a woman with a sweet, melancholic and at the same time firm character.

Five children emerged from that marriage: Nicolás, secretary general of the Headquarters of the Spanish State; Francisco, Head of State; Pilar, silent and correct witness of all history; Ramón, hero of the «Plus Ultra»; and Paquita, who died at the age of five. So far the notarial and routine part of a family that, in truth, had little routine. And the fact is that the father was an anomaly due to his unstable and authoritarian character within the home, and dissolute, folksy and outgoing outside of it.

A change in your family relationship

Nicolás Franco headed straight for a life in the administrative branch of the Navy. In 1877 he entered the Naval Academy, where he demonstrated “singular application, clear intelligence and remarkable love for the body, always obtaining the most honorable testimonies of esteem and appreciation from the head of studies and professor who underwrite.” His military life rose bureaucratic and formal until Cuba rose on the horizon. One of the last Spanish colonies was dominated – I would say Ramón y Cajal– for “tobacco, gin, gambling and Venus.” Nicolás gave ample account of the four vices during his assignment there, beginning with the women.

From dissolute Cuba he jumped to the Philippines in 1886. There he fought with the rest of the Spanish military a generalized insurrection of the Moors of Mindanao. At that time, he is blamed for a bastard son named Eugenio who he had with a woman from a good family, the daughter of another soldier, and with whom he ruled out marrying. Things about being single, the rumors of the time would say to excuse him. In Spain he was assigned to The FerrolA city with a casino and brothels, entertaining enough for a single womanizer with a nonconformist temperament like Franco’s father was.

Francisco and Ramón Franco, Morocco, 1925.
Francisco and Ramón Franco, Morocco, 1925.

However, Nicolás married at that time the daughter of a mayor, who set out to make her husband a serious and inert man, at least as far as love affairs are concerned. A carefree liberal, sympathizer of Freemasonry and critical of the Catholic Church married to a very conservative, Catholic and austere woman; a clash from which five children emerged.

The abysmal difference between the two personalities slowly cracked the marriage and worsened the father’s relationship with his children, which had once been good. He cared about them, talked to them, encouraged them to study and took them for a walk to the dock of the Ferrol port, where they saw the boats set sail, or made excursions along the coast. Franco Salgado Araujo, cousin of the dictator, had good memories of those times before they all grew up:

«Our tutor, who was then about 45 years old, liked to walk with his children around El Ferrol; Naturally, my younger brother and I also went (…) On our long walks on the ground, along the roads, paths and mountains of the Ferrolana estuary, he fostered our culture and fraternal union. My tutor, who was a very intelligent and entertaining man, talked constantly, he described to us the different kinds of land, trees, birds, cattle, etc., everything he considered of interest for us to know; the same as related to telegraphic and telephone communications, electricity, etc. If we walked along a coastal path and a boat was seen up close, he was quick to describe it, being able to assure that we learned the seafaring technique and the nomenclature, which I never forgot. I did not forget either the magnificent lessons of Ferrol naval history ».

“My tutor, who was a very intelligent and entertaining man, spoke constantly, he described to us the different kinds of land, trees, birds, cattle, etc.”

As soon as they reached adolescence, the war veteran became increasingly demanding and severe. He became an authoritarian and moody man, who easily lost his patience if his children disagreed with him. Furious and sometimes even violent. Although the eldest daughter, Pilar, would say that she never hit her children more than normal at that time, without ever clarifying that it was “more than normal.”

“The children, somewhat frightened by the sullen presence of their father, lived under rigid discipline that forced them to get excellent grades at school and to behave well at home. Paquito, submissive and obedient, limited himself to satisfying the few expectations that his father had placed on him, fulfilling at school without trying too hard, while the child sought the protection of his mother to feel safe, “he explains Jose Luis Hernandez Garvi in his work ‘Brief History of Francisco Franco’ (Nowtilus). This is how the mother ended up exerting a powerful influence on her son’s childlike mentality.

But not with all the children he behaved the same. The father, of variable humor and addicted to alcohol, was severe with Nicolás, his eldest son and whom he considered more intelligent. With Francisco he was even less understanding, because he was also the one who most reminded him of his wife. While with Ramón, naughty and hipster, it was more forgiving. With his daughters, he just kept his distance.

The marriage that forever estranged the son

After fifteen years of marriage, Nicolás returned to his life as a libertine consumed by a feeling of nostalgia for his youth and for a military empire from which, after
the Disaster of 98, there were no longer even the ruins. Thus he returned to frequenting and drinking in bars and cafes. In 1907, the transfer of the military man to Madrid, after passing through Cádiz, and his wife’s reservations to leave her beloved Ferrol pushed the marriage to the limit.

Nicolás Franco Salgado-Araújo and María del Pilar Bahamonde
Nicolás Franco Salgado-Araújo and María del Pilar Bahamonde

The dispute was unresolved when a young woman named Agustina crossed paths with whom he would marry in an informal, non-religious ceremony, and with whom he lived on Fuencarral street in Madrid until her death. The family would call this young woman, with the title of Magisterium, “Housekeeper” in a derogatory way. With them lived a girl whom Nicolás adored and who was rumored to be an illegitimate daughter of Agustina, although she presented her as her niece.

Marginalized from his family, the patriarch observed with skepticism the African adventure of his two military sons, Francisco and Ramón, since he was against the Spanish position in the wars in Morocco. When his son was seriously injured in Biutz, Nicolás and his wife met again in 1916, when they would launch a battery of accumulated reproaches.

For Nicolás it was a surprise that his son Francisco, with a high voice and shy character, revealed himself to be a military hero and an example of courage during the African wars. On your wedding day with Maria delCarmen Polo Martinez, turned into a state event given the popularity of Franco and the fact that the godfather was Alfonso XIII himself, the father did not attend. What that son did did not matter to him, not the other two, Nicolás, his favorite; and Ramón, who aroused his father’s interest when he left the Moorish troops and became an aviator. He was glad to meet his more adventurous son and discover that he shared that indomitable character with him. The two continued to see each other even when Ramón became another outcast in his family for his Republican affinities.

Marginalized from his family, the patriarch observed with skepticism the African adventure of his two children, since he was against the wars in Morocco

Except for Ramón, her relationship with her children deteriorated as revealed by the fact that, in 1934, after Pilar’s death, the ABC obituary ignored the name of Nicolás Franco and Salgado-Araujo. Only “his widower” is mentioned, but without giving his name. Explain Paul Preston in his biography ‘Caudillo de España’ that the family met later to read the will of Doña Pilar, including Ramón Serrano Suñer as Francisco’s lawyer and brother-in-law. Nicolás arrived late, looking disheveled and protesting about everything. “Lawyer? Picapleitos will be! ”, He affirmed when they introduced him to Serrano Suñer, the brother-in-law.

“My other son”

That contempt for Serrano Suñer further separated father and son, although the rest of the offspring maintained contact with the patriarch from Easter to Ramos. The correspondence between Francisco and Nicolás, published by ABC in 2018, shows that communication by letter continued, although very tense, even during the Spanish conflict. The Civil War surprised Nicolás in Galicia, where he had gone to spend the summer. If you had already been amazed that your son was such a prominent military man in times of the Second Republic, Francisco Franco’s meteoric rise to the top of the state would make him rub his eyes insistently.

Preston recalls in his biography that “when the press asked him about his son, he perversely spoke of Nicolás, or sometimes Ramón. Only when pressured did Don Nicolás talk about the person he called “my other son” ». His opinion of Francisco was appalling and he never spared his criticisms of the postwar environment, although he also did so towards the “communist infection.” The historian tells Bartolomé Bennassar in his work ‘Franco’ (EDAF) that the father, of liberal convictions, “declared himself hostile to the Movement of July 18, deplored the totalitarian orientation of the new State and the growing influence of the clergy, whom he considered reactionary.” All the barbarity of the war and subsequent repression left him horrified.

Ramón, Pilar and Francisco Franco (1906).
Ramón, Pilar and Francisco Franco (1906).

Pilar JaraizFranco’s carnal niece, she would recall that as a child she had heard the patriarch call the dictator ‘inept’ and say ‘that her son considered himself a first-class statesman and politician, as his many sycophants would have him believe, and that was to laugh ». “What will they call a politician here?”

In his book ‘Francisco Franco: the conquest of power’ (Ediciones Júcar, 1976), the historian Philippe Nourry justifies these public outbursts against his son in a mixture of snobbery and an unresolved resentment with his former wife:

«This devil of man must have felt, indeed, a rather morbid satisfaction in despising the almighty figure of his son and the dignity of his State, with the spectacle that he gave of himself. He had long displayed a sour character, and some say this was rooted in the snobbery Marin officers show when encountering Auxiliary Corps officials. It is very probable. The Francos, by profession, belonged to a middle social category that had always prevented them from really ascending to the highest echelons.

He died in 1942 convinced that his son was not qualified to govern in Spain. ANDThe dictator was in charge of removing Agustina from the funeral and of setting up a burning chapel in El Pardo, from where the burial with Nicolás, dressed as a general mayor, started (a higher grade in the administrative branch of the Navy).

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