José Maria Gil Robles was born in Salamanca in 1898. After university he became a journalist with Catholic daily newspaper, El Debate. He was active in right-wing politics and was a member of Partido Social Popular.
Gil Robles was a supporter of the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera. After the establishment of the Second Republic in April 1931 he joined Accion Nacional and was elected to the Cortes for Salamanca.
On 28th February, 1933, Gil Robles helped to establish the Confederatión Espanola de Derechas Autónomas (CEDA), out of a collection of small right-wing parties opposed to the policies of Manuel Azaña and his Republican government.
In the 1933 elections, the CEDA won the majority of seats in the Cortes. President Niceto Alcalá Zamora refused to ask Gil Robles to form a government. However, seven members of the CEDA served as ministers during the next three years. This included Gil Robles, who held the post of Minister of War.
On 15th January 1936, Manuel Azaña helped to establish a coalition of parties on the political left to fight the national elections due to take place the following month. This included the Socialist Party (PSOE), Communist Party (PCE) and the Republican Union Party.
The Popular Front, as the coalition became known, advocated the restoration of Catalan autonomy, amnesty for political prisoners, agrarian reform, an end to political blacklists and the payment of damages for property owners who suffered during the revolt of 1934. The Anarchists refused to support the coalition and instead urged people not to vote.
Right-wing groups in Spain formed the National Front. This included the CEDA and the Carlists. The Falange Española did not officially join but most of its members supported the aims of the National Front.
The Spanish people voted on Sunday, 16th February, 1936. Out of a possible 13.5 million voters, over 9,870,000 participated in the 1936 General Election. 4,654,116 people (34.3) voted for the Popular Front, whereas the National Front obtained 4,503,505 (33.2) and the centre parties got 526,615 (5.4). The Popular Front, with 263 seats out of the 473 in the Cortes formed the new government.
The Popular Front government immediately upset the conservatives by realizing all left-wing political prisoners. The government also introduced agrarian reforms that penalized the landed aristocracy. Other measures included transferring right-wing military leaders such as Francisco Franco to posts outside Spain, outlawing the Falange Española and granting Catalonia political and administrative autonomy.
As a result of these measures the wealthy took vast sums of capital out of the country. This created an economic crisis and the value of the peseta declined which damaged trade and tourism. With prices rising workers demanded higher wages. This led to a series of strikes in Spain.
On the 10th May 1936 the conservative Niceto Alcala Zamora was ousted as president and replaced by the left-wing Manuel Azaña. Soon afterwards Spanish Army officers, including Emilio Mola, Francisco Franco and José Sanjurjo, began plotting to overthrow the Popular Front government. This resulted in the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War on 17th July, 1936.
At the end of the Civil War he went into exile. He returned in the 1960s and became one of the leaders of the Spanish Christian Democracy. José Maria Gil Robles died in 1980.