Esteban de Bilbao Eguía

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Esteban de Bilbao Eguía
Esteban Bilbao Eguia drawing.jpg
Born Esteban de Bilbao Eguía
Bilbao, Spain
Died 1970
Durango, Spain
Nationality Spanish
Ethnicity Basque
Occupation lawyer, politician
Known for politician
Political party
Comunión Tradicionalista, FET
Religion Roman Catholicism

Esteban de Bilbao Eguía (Bilbao, 1879 - Durango, 1970) was a Spanish Carlist and Francoist politician.

Family and Youth[edit]

Bilbao around 1890

Esteban Bilbao was born to an established bourgeoisie Basque family, son of a physician Hilario Bilbao Ortúzar and María Eguía Galíndez. He studied first at the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the Deusto Jesuit college in Bilbao, then he graduated in law from the University of Salamanca, to obtain his juridical science PhD from Madrid. Returned to Bilbao to open his own law chancery (which would later shortly employ the future Basque leader, José Aguirre). He assumed the first public post in 1904, working for the Bilbao magistrate. According to some sources he was one of the appointed deputy mayors (teniente de alcalde), according to the others he was one of the elected city councillors (consejal). Suspended shortly afterwards by the government for preventing a Protestant minister from taking part in the official ceremonies. Married to María Uribasterra Ibarrondo, he fathered Hilario de Bilbao Eguia y Uribasterra.

Restauración and dictatorship[edit]

In the 1907 elections to the Cortes Bilbao presented his candidacy from the Carlist list in Vitoria (Álava), but lost to an academic from the Partido Republicano Federal, Aniceto Llorente Arregui. He successfully returned to the field in 1916 in Tolosa (Gipuzkoa), again as a Carlist contestant, joining a small (ca 10 MPs) section of the Traditionalist deputies. Re-elected from Tolosa in 1918 and from Estella in 1920 (in the 1919 elections voted to the Senate from Vizcaya). As a deputy he tended to purple rhetoric, employed in defense of ultraconservative values, the Church and the traditional local fueros, and aimed mostly against the liberal and then the republican opponents.

Miguel Primo de Rivera
Don Jaime

Facing the 1918 breakup of the Carlist movement into the followers of Juan Vázquez de Mella and the pretender Don Jaime, Bilbao stayed loyal to the latter. Presented with a dynamic growth of the Basque movement he joined in. In 1918 Bilbao chaired one of the 6 sections of the first Congress of Basque Studies and entered Sociedad de Estudios Vascos, the incipient conservative Basque think-tank. He embraced the Basque self the Carlist way, defending the separate ethnic identity and traditional local establishments as forming part of the Spanish realm. He rejected the emerging national vision, and his final speech during the Basque Congress was in castellano. In late 1920s he represented the Basque Provinces when negotiating Concierto económico with the Madrid government.

Like most Carlists Esteban Bilbao welcomed the Primo de Rivera dictatorship, considering it to be a stepping stone towards a new, anti-democratic monarchy. However, he moved too far when accepting a post in the quasi-parliament, Asamblea Nacional Consultiva, in 1926. To the pretendent Don Jaime the problem was not the authoritarian nature of the assembly, but that it implicitly recognized the monarchy of the Alfonsine dynasty. As a result Bilbao, who also presided over the local Diputación de Vizcaya, was expelled from the Carlist ranks. He continued to collaborate with the regime and politically joined the Mellists faction of Carlism, at that time already led by Víctor Pradera.

The Republic[edit]

José Sanjurjo

Following the death of Don Jaime in 1931, the Mellists considered themselves reconciled with his successor, Don Alfonso Carlos. Bilbao joined the united organization, Communión Tradicionalista. He established a fairly good relationship with the pretender, brokered a failed dynastical agreement with the deposed Alfonso XIII, and edited the claimant’s most anti-Republican manifestos.

Don Alfonso Carlos

Throwing himself into conspiracy, Bilbao was mixing politically with the Alfonsists. He was agreed to enter the monarchist military junta, to be headed by general Emilio Barrera. The plan came to naught and Bilbao began the year of 1932 with 2 months of exile in the province of Lugo for subversive anti-Republican activities. Upon his return he resumed planning for the next coup d’etat, to be headed by José Sanjurjo. No details are known; following the disastrously failed rebellion the Republican authorities did not identify Bilbao as complicit.

In 1933 he resumed his parliament duties elected as a Carlist deputy from Navarre. For reasons which remain obscure Bilbao, who had tended to co-operate with the Alfonsists before, as one of very few Carlists did not sign the manifesto launching the Bloque Nacional alliance in 1934. The same year together with other party erudites like Jesús Comín he entered the 18-member Council of Culture, the body which exercised little power, but brought together Carlists of different origins and strengthened the new leadership of Manuel Fal Condé. In 1935 Bilbao reached the highest level of the Carlist executive when he entered the 5-member Council of the Communión. Within the already militant and fervently anti-Republican Traditionalist camp Bilbao formed an even more hawkish group; he refused to stand down in the 1936 elections for his proclaimed hatred of parliamentarism.

Civil War[edit]

the Falangist standard
the Carlist standard

As a member of the Carlist leadership Bilbao was active drafting different rebellion plans once the Popular Front assumed power. During the July 1936 coup he was in Bilbao, where the insurgents suffered defeat. He was detained and held in the Altuna Mendi prison ship. Thanks to the efforts of the Red Cross and Marcel Junod personally, in San Juan de Luz he was exchanged late September for the former mayor of the city of Bilbao, Ernesto Ercoreca Régil. Transferred to the Nationalist zone, he joined the Burgos-based Junta Nacional Carlista de Guerra. In April 1937, following the forced amalgamation of the Carlists into Falange Española Tradicionalista, Esteban Bilbao decided to comply, the decision shared by most senior Navarrese Carlists. He later entered the highest bodies of the new party, Consejo Nacional del Movimiento and, as one of two Carlists (the other was José Oriol), the Junta Política. As a result, the Carlist regent-claimant expelled Bilbao from the Communión.

Francoist official[edit]

Bilbao did not enter the first Franco’s government in 1938 since the post marked for Traditionalists, the Ministry of Justice, went to the most prominent Carlist who decided to cooperate, Conde Rodezno. During the reconstruction of the cabinet in August 1939 Rodezno was replaced by Bilbao, among the collaborative Carlists the second in rank. His tenure lasted until March 1943. Bilbao was instrumental to the build-up of the Francoist system of justice, institutionalizing the repression and reverting the Republican legislation. Most of the 51,000 death sentences and most of the 28,000 executions actually carried out shortly after the Civil War took place when Bilbao was in office. The prison population went down from 271,000 in 1939 to 74,000 in 1943. Bilbao created some of the totalitarian structures, like Patronato de Protección a la Mujer, designed to supervise the moral conduct of women.

Francoist Spain CoA

In March 1943 Bilbao was delegated by the falangist National Council to the newly established quasi-parliament, Cortes Españolas. As part of his balancing game, intended to keep different political groupings in check, Franco awarded the speaker role to the Carlists, and handpicked Bilbao for the post (according to the critics, the key reason was that Bilbao was very tall and fit the official decorum well). He retained the position during 22 years and 8 successive turns, in 1946, 1949, 1952, 1955, 1958, 1961 and 1964, until he resigned due to his age in 1965. As Presidente de las Cortes Bilbao enjoyed one of the most prestigious and distinguished positions available to civilians in the Francoist Spain, though there was very little if any political power attached. As one of the top-positioned Carlists within the regime (along Antonio Iturmendi and Joaquín Bau), Bilbao was also supposed to represent the Traditionalist roots and the pan-national nature of the National Movement, as Falange came to be known later.

By virtue of his parliament speaker role, in 1947 Bilbao entered two bodies established by Ley de Sucesión: Consejo del Reino and Consejo de Regencia. The former, a peculiar diarchic structure for an authoritarian monarchy proposed earlier by Primo de Rivera, was designed as a special deputy to the executive. It was supposed to assist the Head of State on matters falling into his exclusive competence and was presided by Bilbao himself. The latter, composed of 3 officials, was to act as an interim regency during the transition to Franco’s successor or in his absence. The sole period it actually functioned was 9 days in October 1949, during the one and only Franco’s foreign trip since the Civil War.

Francoist politician[edit]

Franco, 1969

During 30 years of activity within the Francoist regime Bilbao maintained a perfectly loyal posture; he was later given credit for coining the phrase Francisco Franco, Caudillo de España por la gracia de Dios. He is not known to have participated in any sort of conspiracy, opposition or even protest to Franco personally. His political activity was principally directed at keeping the hardline Falangists at bay, occasionally combined with a rather timid advocacy of the monarchist idea.

Don Javier, 1960s

In the summer of 1940 Ramón Serrano Suñer came out with Ley de Organización del Estado, a draft aimed at giving Falange a central role in the totalitarian new structure. The plan elicited a letter of protest from Bilbao, who denounced systematic interjection of the Party in the organs of the state. The dissent was shared by most monarchists and part of the army; as a result, the project was shelved and the Francoist system evolved along more hybrid lines. Discontent between the Falange diehards and the monarchists made Bilbao resign as a minister early August 1942; he changed his mind after a flattering letter from Franco. Soon afterwards the Begoña incident produced a showdown between the Carlists and the Falangists, with general Varela demanding that Falange is brought into line and the monarchy restoration process begins. Bilbao lent Varela his backing, but Franco outmanouvred the dissidents and talked them into compliance. The last major confrontation between the hardliners and the monarchists took place in late 1956, when José Arrese produced a design to dramatically increase the powers of Falange and in fact build a fully totalitarian system. The monarchists, the army and the Church united against the plan; Esteban Bilbao emerged on the forefront, comparing the Arrese’s plan to the Soviet totalitarian system. The climax led to the cabinet reshuffle, sidetracking of Arrese, abandonment of the project and ultimately the power shifting to the technocrats.

As a monarchist Bilbao estranged the successive Carlist claimant Don Javier by accepting falangist posts, and especially by entering institutions created by Ley de Sucesión. He did not join Reclamación del poder, a prostest letter signed by javieristas and delivered to Franco in 1943. However, he refused to follow Conde Rodezno and did not switch allegiances to the Alfonsist claimant Don Juan. In 1943-1953 Bilbao was sympathetic to Karl Pius Habsburg, styled as Carlos VIII and dubbed “the falangist King”. After his unexpected death Bilbao started to reconcile with Don Javier. In mid-1960s he was increasingly averse towards the perspective of Juan Carlos de Borbón assuming the throne. Already a political retiree Bilbao underlined his Carlist identity, declared the Alfonsine monarchy long dead and pronounced that it would not be intelligent to stumble twice over the same stone. In one of his last public statements, dated 1969 (months before Juan Carlos was officially named Príncipe de España), Bilbao spoke in favour of Don Javier.


Academia de Jurisprudencia site

Bilbao was a member of many juristic institutions; among the nationwide ones the most prominent is Real Academia de Jurisprudencia, which he presided from 1943 to 1965, and Real Academia de Ciencias Morales y Políticas. Among the regional ones, he was the member of Sociedad de Buenas Lecturas de Bilbao and the Ciencias Jurídicas section of the Academia de Bilbao. Published works pertaining to the legal system, ranging from philosophy of law to history of law to theory of law to detailed studies. Contributed to various periodicals, mostly from the Navarre and the Basque region. In 1947 named Favourite Son by Bilbao and Distinguished Son by the Vizacya. Decorated with Cruz de Isabel la Catolica, the Order of de Carlos III, Order of St. Raymond of Peñafort and Medalla al Mérito en el Trabajo . In 1961 Franco conferred upon Bilbao the title of marqués. Due to his activity as a Minister of Justice, in 2008 Bilbao was posthumously accused of crimes against humanity. There are a few streets in Spain named after him (though they might also refer to Esteban Bilbao, a Spanish trotskist active in the 1930s). Some leftist deputies demand that Bilbao's portrait is removed from the gallery of Cortes' speakers in the parliament building.

See also[edit]


  • Peter Anderson, The Francoist Military Trials. Terror and Complicity, 1939-1945, London 2009, ISBN 9780415800068
  • Julio Aróstegui, Jordi Canal, Eduardo Calleja, El carlismo y las guerras carlistas, Madrid 2011, ISBN 9788499700557
  • Julio Aróstegui, Eduardo Calleja, La tradición recuperada: El requeté carlista y la insurrección, [in:] Historia Contemporanea 11, 29-53
  • Martin Blinkhorn, Carlism and Crisis in Spain 1931-1939, Cambridge 1975, ISBN 9780521207294
  • Eduardo Gonzales Calleja, Contrarrevolucionarios, Madrid 2011, ISBN 9788420664552
  • Stanley G. Payne, The Franco Regime, Madison 1987, ISBN 0299110702
  • Manuel Martorell Pérez, Retorno a la lealtad; el desafío carlista al franquismo, Madrid 2010, ISBN 9788497391115
  • Paul Preston, Franco, London 1993, ISBN 9780006862109
  • Aurora Villanueva, El carlismo navarro durante el primer franquismo, Madrid 1998, ISBN 9788487863714

External links[edit]