HOW NOT TO BE A DUCHESS FOR LONG: Perpetual Nobles Wiped Out in One Fell Swoop


Photograph of Carmen Martinez Bordiu in 1969 and the coat of arms of the Duchess of Franco.
Less than five years after Martinez Bordiu inherited the title from her mother,
the duchy was abolished by the Law on Democratic Memory.

by Rose Maramba


In 2007, during the presidency of social democrat (PSOE) Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish government passed the Law on Historical Memory (Ley de Memoria Histórica) formally condemning the repressions of the Franco regime and giving certain rights to the victims and the descendants of the victims of the Civil War (1936–1939) and the subsequent fascist dictatorship (1939–1975). It is a truism that you can’t please everybody, and the Law was no exception. Some on the political left denigrated it as not going far enough and the rightist Partido Popular claimed it was “using the Civil War as an argument for political propaganda.”

Valle de Cuelgamuros, formerly Valle de los Caidos, complete with the 150 m. high crucifix proclaiming Franco’s National Catholicism

Be that as it may, the government of Pedro Sánchez, who succeeded Rodriguez Zapatero, approved a decree on 24 August 2018 that modified some aspects of the Historical Memory and enabled the exhumation of the remains of dictator Francisco Franco in the Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen).  The Valley of the Fallen, recently renamed Valley of Cuelgamuros, is a Catholic basilica of monumental pretensions located in the municipality of San Lorenzo de El Escorial outside Madrid that, in the words of the dictator, was meant to symbolize “the grandeur of the monuments of old, which defy time and memory.”

Built with forced labor, it actually served as a mausoleum for Franco as well as the main assembly place for nostalgic supporters of the Generalissimo and his regime. Like many public buildings constructed after the Spanish Civil War, the Valle de Los Caidos mimicked the architecture of international fascist classicism.

Franco’s tomb, Valle de los Caidos

From the time of his death on 20 November 1975, Franco was buried in the Valley, until the amended Ley de Memoria Histórica made exhumation possible. A legal pitched battle between the government and the Franco family who opposed the exhumation ensued. The latter lost out and the remains of the Generalissimo were moved to the Mingorrubio Cemetery in the laidback municipality of El Pardo on 24 October 2019. The transfer resulted from the efforts of the leftist government to put a stop to the lingering public veneration of the Franco dictatorship.

Soon after the exhumation, the government of Pedro Sanchez announced that it would introduce a new law to tackle the legacy of Francoism, the Ley de Memoria Democrática (Law on Democratic Memory). Democratic Memory came into effect on 21 October 2022.

Provisions of the law include the eradication of remaining Francoist symbols; fines that will be levied on those who promote fascist symbols or attempt to humiliate the victims of fascism; and the scrapping of the nobility titles restored or created by Franco and Franco’s appointed heir, Juan Carlos I, who was proclaimed King of Spain on 22 November 1975. The titles were hereditary and granted in perpetuity.

However, the Law on Democratic Memory revoked those titles that were “manifestly incompatible with democratic values and fundamental rights and freedoms, that involve the exaltation or glorification of the military uprising prior to the Civil War, the Civil War, or the dictatorship, or have been awarded to those who formed part of the apparatus of repression of the Francoist dictatorship,” per the law’s Article 40.


The insurgent commanders of the Spanish Army during the Civil War, many of whom were ennobled by Franco: Franco, second from the right, front row, and Gen. Emilio Mola, with eyeglasses, second to Franco’s right. Mola received the Duchy of Mola, Grandee of Spain posthumously.

During the Franco regime, which lasted from the end of the Civil War that was triggered by the National Front coup d’etat in 1936 to the dictator’s death in 1975, Spain became a kingdom without a king. Franco, who led the attack by the insurgent commanders of the Spanish Army from Morocco, and Gen. Emilio Mola from Navarre, proclaimed himself Head of State and appropriated the power to recognize, renovate, and rehabilitate nobility titles that were abolished by the Second Spanish Republic (Segunda República Española) proclaimed on 14 April 1931 after King Alfonso XIII went into exile. Franco also arrogated to himself the power to create and grant new nobility titles.

Consequently, Spain was flooded over with resuscitated old nobles as well as new ones, including the highest of them all, the grandees.

Democratic Memory suppressed 28 of the Franco titles and the five bestowed by Juan Carlos I early in his reign. (Thirty-three titles in all.)

The nobility titles axed by Democratic Memory were those created or restored from 1945 to 1978 whose recipients were complicit with the Franco regime. (Nineteen forty-five was the year Franco abrogated the law of the Second Republic that abolished nobility, while 1978 was when the new democratic Constitution of Spain was put in place.)

Carmen Polo with her husband Francisco Franco: King Juan Carlos gave her the Lordship of Meirás but the Memoria Democratica demolished it

Among those stripped of their “perpetual” titles were the architects and perpetrators of the military insurgence against the elected leftist Popular Front government, bloodthirsty war criminals, and Francoist ideologues (adapting fascism to the ideology of National Catholicism in accordance with which Franco ruled Spain), although of late the ones who stood out in the post-Franco social panorama were two of the five ennobled by Juan Carlos if only because they were the dictator’s immediate family and, as such, had become socially notorious. To wit: Carmen Polo, the dictator’s wife, known to be the most influential woman in Francoist Spain, and the dictator’s only child, María del Carmen Franco y Polo.

Under the Ley de Memoria Historica, the Orgaz Street in Seville, named for the Army general who conspired against the Second Republic, was changed to Dulce Chacon Street in honor of the writer-poetess Dulce Chacón the central theme of whose works was the Francoist repression

Juan Carlos I created the Lordship of Meirás, Grandee of Spain, and bestowed it on Carmen Polo on 26 November 1975. Later, the title was inherited by Carmen Polo’s oldest grandson, Francis Franco. Francis Franco held the title until Democratic Memory was enacted law.

The other title, which was created by Juan Carlos for María del Carmen Franco y Polo, was the Duchess of Franco, Grandee of Spain. On the death of the first duchess in 2017, Carmen Martínez Bordiú, the oldest daughter of the dictator’s daughter, inherited the title. But that was as far as it went.

The perpetuity of the Spanish nobility is no empty phrase but it could become meaningless when the title that has been created and granted by a fascist, or in consideration of a fascist, is on a collision course with a legitimate government bent on righting a historic wrong.


> Featured image
Carmen Martinez Bordiu in 1969. Source: IMS Vintage Photos. Photographer unknown. PD in Spain as photograph was taken more than 25 years ago, i.e., before 1 Jan 1997. Via Wikipedia
Duchess of Franco coat of arms by Heralder, elements by Sodacan and HansenBCN, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikipedia
> Valle de los Caidos/Godot13, CC BY-SA4.0 via Wikipedia
> Franco’s tomb/Xauxa Hakan Svensson, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia
> Insurgent commanders/Author unknown. source: Biblioteca Virtual de Defensa, Guerra civil, Tomo III, CCO via Wikimedia Commons
> Carmen Polo/Anefo. source: Fotocollectie Anefo, Netherlands, CCO via Wikimedia Commons
> Dulce Chacón Street/Kespito, CC BY-SA3.0 via Wikipedia. Cropped