Having cast such a huge shadow over Spain, I imagined that Franciso Franco must have been either dazzlingly charismatic or devilishly Machiavellian. Not so, according to the Personas Con Historia podcast by Luis Lorenzo, a professor of history at Uex (University of Extramadura). The genial professor paints a rather unflattering portrait of el Caudillo, chuckling over his less than stellar intellect, his tendency to hedge his bets rather than make bold moves, and his rather unprepossessing manner and physical appearance. If you speak Spanish, the podcast is well worth a listen, but if you don’t have 45 minutes to spare, here are five facts about the man I discovered while listening:
- He only had one ball: Like his pal Hitler, Franco was missing a testicle. He lost it when he was wounded in the abdomen in battle near Ceuta Morocco 1916. Whether this affected his reproductive abilities is unclear. Though he only had one daughter, the lack of progeny might also have been down to the fact that he and his wife slept in separate beds.
- He drove Hitler bonkers: Though he liked to boast that he kept Spain neutral during the war, this was in fact a lie. He did take part in talks with Hitler and proposed that Spain enter into the war on the side of the Germans in return for artillery, armoured vehicles, aircraft, armaments, grain, fuel… The price was too high and Hitler stormed out commenting to Mussolini later that “I prefer to have three or four of my own teeth pulled out than to speak to that man again!“
- He was an environmentalist: A nature lover who preferred to fish rather than to hunt, he would make a careful note whenever he went to a place that was bare of trees and bring it to the attention of a government department he created expressly for the purpose of reforesting Spain.
- He ate very simply and was practically tee-total: When he moved into the Palace of El Pardo, he ate like a king for a year. However when the former monarch’s cook retired, the Guardia Civil moved into the kitchens and the menu became exceedingly plain. Soups, beans, stew, fish…; your bog standard Spanish cuisine (however, it is notable that at a time of great post war scarcity, the dictator ate much better than the common man). Not a lover of parties, he barely drank, restricting to himself to the occasional glass of wine.
- He was bullied as a child: Being weedy, not terribly bright and shy to speak, Franco was rather a friendless figure right throughout his childhood and into his early military career. It wasn’t until he got to Morocco that he gained any recognition and this was mainly down to the fact that he was a pedant who followed orders down to the letter. Needless to say this made him a hit with his superiors, if not with his contemporaries.