Spain’s Royal Family
The Spanish Royal Family has sat on the throne almost uninterruptedly since 1700 when Philip V became king following almost two centuries of Habsburg rule. King Charles II was the last Habsburg monarch in Spain, who named Philip, a grandson of the French king Louis XIV, to be his successor. Philip V was the first member of the House of Bourbon, to rule as king in Spain. The House of Bourbon is a European royal house, which has held thrones across Europe since the 16th century when Bourbon kings ruled Navarre and France.
Since 1975, when Juan Carlos Alfonso Victor de Borbon acceded to the throne, the Spanish Royal Family has been constantly in the public eye, widely admired for their candidness, ‘down to earth’ attitudes and ‘unpretentiousness’.
Members of the Spanish Royal Family
Membership of the Spanish Royal Family is regulated by royal decree and is restricted to the monarch, the monarch’s spouse, parents and descendants. It should not be confused with the Family of the King, which refers to the King’s sisters their two daughters.
Asides King Juan Carlos, other members of the Spanish Royal Family include the King’s wife, Queen Sofia of Greece and Denmark who he married in 1962, the King and Queen’s three children Sofia, Elena and Felipe.
Their youngest child, Infante Felipe, Prince of Asturias, is the King’s only son and heir to the throne. The term infante and infanta is the title given to the sons and daughters of the King in Spain as well as denoting a grandchild in the male line of a reigning monarch. Prince Felipe’s wife, Letizia, Princess of Asturias is also a member of Spain’s royal family, alongside the couple’s two daughters, the elder Infanta Leonor, and the younger child, Infanta Sofia.
Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo, is the elder daughter of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, and is fourth in the line of succession to the Spanish throne. Elena’s sister, Infanta Cristina, Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, is the King and Queen’s younger daughter and is seventh in the line of succession to the Spanish throne, after her siblings and their children. The King and Queen have eight grandchildren, four boys and four girls – Elena’s two children, Felipe and Victoria, Cristina’s four children, Juan, Pablo, Miguel and Irene, and Prince Felipe’s two children, Leonor and Sofia.
King Juan Carlos
Juan Carlos was born in Rome in 1938, where his family had been in exile since his grandfather, King Alfonso XIII, was forced to leave Spain when the Republic was declared in 1931. The early part of his life was dictated by the political concerns of his father and the Spanish General and Dictator Francisco Franco.
In 1948 Juan Carlos left Rome and moved to Spain and because of his father persuading Franco to allow his son to be educated in Spain, attended school in Spain, later attending military college, and going on to become a proficient pilot and sailor. He also developed a very close relationship with Franco, el Generalissimo.
After Franco’s death in 1975, Juan Carlos was elected king according to the law of succession that had been propagated by Franco himself. Prior to Juan Carlos becoming king, Spain had had no monarch for 38 years.
Instead of continuing Franco’s authoritarian policies, Juan Carlos expressed an aim to restore parliamentary democracy in Spain and to become ‘King of all Spaniards’, a political dedication that clearly earned King Juan Carlos respect, support and popularity among Spaniards.
The Spanish Royal Family’s public roles
Furthering the widespread interest and respect that is felt in Spain for its Royal Family is the fact that each member is devoted to a number of important public roles. King Juan Carlos is focused on establishing international relations, particularly in Latin America and Europe, where he has become an important international figure. He is also dedicated to circulating the Spanish language on a worldwide stage as patron of the Cervantes Institute, a global not-for-profit language school and cultural centre created by the Spanish government in 1991.
Sharing her husband’s ‘commendable’ status within the public sphere, Queen Sofia has an equally as reputable relationship with the public. Her pragmatic nature and ‘unpretentiousness’ was brought to the limelight when she participated in a boycott of young Felipe’s school for increasing the prices of school meals! Asides boycotting schools, Queen Sofia is also involved in numerous social and welfare activities, including the Queen Sofia Foundation, which provides funding and assistance to people in developing countries.
Carrying on their mother’s philanthropic work, Infanta Elena and Infanta Cristina both actively and publically support various cultural organisations. Infanta Elena is particularly supportive of cultural activities and is the Honorary President of the Spanish Paralympic Committee. Sharing her sister’s enthusiasm towards educational and sporting organisations, Infanta Cristina is the Honorary President of the Spanish Committee of UNESCO, which provides educational projects for preserving natural heritage throughout Spain. The King’s youngest daughter is also president of the International Foundation for Disabled Sailing.
Infante Felipe – Prince of Asturias
Infante Felipe continues to chair many official events in Spain as well as numerous international projects. The Prince makes regular official visits to Latin America, Europe, Far East and countries in the Arab World.
Since 1996 Felipe has represented Spain at the swearing-in ceremonies for Latin American Presidents and is also honorary president of several foundations, most notably the Principe de Asturias Foundation, its aim to “consolidate links between the Principality and the Prince of Asturias, and to contribute to encouraging and promoting scientific, cultural and humanistic values that form part of mankind’s universal heritage.” (http://www.fpa.es/en/foundation/)
Queen Sofia’s controversial statement on gay marriage
Despite being persistently in the public eye, the Spanish Royals’ direct contact with the media, unlike their British counterparts, is limited and they are prohibited from answering questions in public. The inability to make ‘ad hoc’ comments to the press is one of the key reasons why the Spanish monarchy has remained relatively free of controversy and scandal for so long. That was until quite recently however when Queen Sofia wrote about gay marriage in her 2009 autobiography entitled “The Queen, Close Up!”:
“I can understand, accept and respect people of a different sexual orientation but why do they feel proud about being gay?
If those people want to live together, dress up like bride and groom and marry, they could have a right to do so, or not, depending on the law of their country, but they should not call this matrimony, because it isn’t. There are many possible names: social contract, social union.”
Gay marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005 and Queen Sofia’s comments resulted in gay and lesbian groups in Spain asking the Queen to withdraw her statements. The Spanish royal household did later release a statement on Queen Sofia’s behalf saying that she “profoundly” regretted her words and the “ill-feeling and upset” they caused.
Royal Fraud Scandal
The Spanish Royal Family’s normally ‘squeaky clean’ image was tarnished once more when, in 2011, King Juan Carlos’s son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, allegedly cashed in on the monarchy’s good name. The former Olympic medal-winning handball player, who became Duke of Palma when he married Infanta Cristina, was charged for the fraud and embezzlement for the alleged misuse of millions of Euros in public funds at Urdangarin’s non-profit Noos Institute, which he ran from 2004 – 2006.
Although Urdangarin denies any wrongdoing, he apologised publically for the embarrassment the case had caused the Royal Family.
Is support for the Spanish Royal Family waning?
The scandal coincided with a poll that is run regularly in Spain by the state-run Centre for Sociology Investigation. The latest poll showed that for the first time since polling of the Royal Family’s popularity began in Spain 17 years ago, trust in the royals has fallen significantly, with Spanish people now placing greater trust in the media.
King Juan Carlos though remains widely respected amongst fellow countrymen for overseeing Spain’s anxious transition to democracy following Franco’s enduring dictatorship, coupled with the fact that in 2010 a comparative study of annual expenses of Europe’s constitutional monarchies revealed that the Spanish is one of the ‘cheapest’ in Europe, following some impressive austerity measures, including the King and Queen allegedly shortening their annual holiday in Mallorca by a week. Support for the Spanish Royal Family may have waned a little, but like the British Royal Family, it is unlikely to fade completely as it is such an integral part of their history and culture.
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