In some sense the Spanish monarchy only recovered from the occupation by Napoleon in the late 20th century and it took the odious Franco to bring this to pass. However the Bourbon rulers of Spain did not do themselves any favors once the congress of Vienna restored them to the throne after the Napoleonic wars.
This book chronicles the lives and in some cases the loves of the Spanish monarchy. While not in the same league as John Bergaumini's "The Spanish Bourbons," this is an interesting book just the same. Unlike Bergaumini's book which chroncles the lives of some fairly impressive ruler or at least notable art patrons, Van der Kiste does not have quite as impressive material with which to work. What he does have are several interesting domestic dramas capped off by a genuine heroic figure (King Juan Carlos) who appears against the odds to be a throwback to the Spanish rulers who reign prior to the period covered by this book.
The messy private lives of "their Catholic majesties" begins with Isabel II who is in a class by herself. Probably the messiest aspect of her life was that she was a sexually active woman who was forced to marry a homosexual. It is practices like this that bring down monarchies down since it is difficult to respect the guardian of traditional values when she is trolling for company. The marriage brokers who arranged such a mess defined suitability as the correct bloodlines. In reality they lacked the sense that any peasant capable of raising livestock has in abundance.
Alfonso XIII is the next major figure and it is he who graces the cover of the book. Although he was on the throne for most of his life, ultimately he lacked the skills necessary to avoid the pitfalls of Spanish politics in the 1930s despite the advice of a granddaughter of Queen Victoria (who he treated very shabbily).
Ultimately it is King Juan Carlos who is the only figure that produces feelings of admiration in the reader. Although dismissed as a lightweight and given earlier occupants of the throne, this is an easy assessement to make, he emerges as a genuine heroic figure in the way he prevents Spain's emerging democracy from failing. He was in 1981 when a military coup loomed large, the right man at the right time.
The primary failing of this book is that it relies too much on gossip and not enough on solid historical research to tell its story. I think the section on Juan Carlos could have been expanded and more could be done on his moment, when in February 1981 he stood up to the military and put the presige of the monarchy at stake for the future happiness of his people.