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Spain's King Felipe VI: The Reign Of The 11th Bourbon Monarch. And The Challenge To Retain The Monarchy

It's been a tumultuous year for the Spanish monarchy. Not only Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe by COVID-19 in 2020, it also underwent a series of controversies at home.

In August last year, while the country was ravaged with coronavirus, with the rising death toll and number of infection, allegation of corruption during King Juan Carlos's reign made headlines again. 

He vehemently denied the allegation.

To spare his son from dragging into the controversy, Juan Carlos chose to leave the country and imposed a self-exile in UAE.

King Felipe VI, Queen Letezia and their daughters

The issue did not entirely affect the popularity of King Felipe VI, public trust is still high, but it left a stain on the Spanish royal family's reputation. 

And the reigning king worked hard to regain the trust of his subjects to prevent the prestige of the Spanish monarchy from eroding. 

He decided to cutoff the allowance of his father. As an ex-king who voluntarily abdicated, King Juan Carlos has a state allowance. 

But with the latest controversy he got involved, his son was force to cutoff the monetary support. He became a bit harsh to his father in the process, stripping the ex-king of his inheritance and other ties to the Spanish throne.

The 11th Bourbon king of Spain

With his resilience leadership and conviction to renew the ailing monarchy, King Felipe VI was able to appease the outburst of his subjects. 

He continues to be the source of inspiration of his country, worst-hit by the pandemic, and now carefully guiding the nation on its fight to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Once the most popular monarchy

To date, Spain is the only country in the current times to be able to restore the monarchy after it was declared republic.

Felipe's great-grandfather, King Alfonso XIII was forced to abdicate in 1931 during the Spanish civil war and the country declared republic. 

Before the controversial Safari adventure of King Juan Carlos in 2012, Spain was one of the most popular monarchies in Europe, spared from sensational intrigues that haunted the house of Windsor.

The Spanish royal family had enjoyed a high satisfaction rating and approval from the public. After all, it was King Juan Carlos who led the transition of the country from dictatorship to democracy when he assumed the crown in 1975.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain

On November 20, 1975, Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco died. His political party overthrew the Second Spanish republic in 1939 following the Spanish civil war that ousted King Alfonso XIII in 1931.

However, Prince Juan, Count of Barcelona, the youngest son of the ousted king and the remaining claimant of the Spanish throne, made peace with Francisco Franco. 

Franco agreed to restore the monarchy to the house of Bourbon upon his death, with Prince Juan as the next Spanish king, provided they will uphold the authoritarian rule established by Franco's party. 

King Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and their three children Prince Felipe, Infanta Cristina and Infanta Elena

Prince Juan eventually renounced his right to the throne in favor of his only surviving son, Prince Juan Carlos. He then sent Juan Carlos to Spain to receive military trainings in preparation for the role.

Two days after the death of Franco, Juan Carlos ascended the Spanish throne and the royal House of Bourbon restored. La Zarzuela Palace in Madrid became their official residence.

However, King Juan Carlos rejected the authoritarian rule, instead he led the peaceful transition of the country to democracy adhering to the provisions of a constitutional monarchy where he would only act as head of state. 

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia with their children, in-laws and grandchildren

The king became the most admired monarch in the continent and enjoyed his popularity higher than any of his royal cousins, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, King Harald V of Norway and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

But it took one controversial hunting trip in Botswana in 2012 to blow it off.

The last straw that broke the camel's back came when his youngest daughter, Infanta Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, were involved in the corruption allegation in 2013. 

The following year, June 2014, citing health issues, King Juan Carlos voluntarily abdicated in favor of his only son, Felipe, the Prince of Asturias.

Felipe's early years

Born Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbon y Grecia on January 30, 1968 in Madrid, Spain, Felipe is the only son and the youngest among the three children of then Prince Juan Carlos of Spain and Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark.

He has two older sisters, Infanta Elena and Infanta Cristina. His mother is the eldest daughter of King Paul of Greece and Princess Federica of Hanover. While his father is a son of Prince Juan, Count of Barcelona, and Princess Maria de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies.

In 1977, at the age of nine, and two years after his father's accession to the Spanish throne, he was given the title Prince of Asturias, an ancient royal title for the heir-apparent of the Spanish throne. 

But it was not until 1986 at the age of 18, that Felipe was officially recognized as heir-apparent to the Spanish throne.

He then prepared for his future role as next monarch, trained at each of Spain's branch of the military, commissioned as an officer in the navy, army and air force, and earned his wings as helicopter pilot.

Taking part in the sailing event during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics 

Apart from his military trainings, Felipe is also very athletic and followed the footstep of his father in the sailing sports. King Juan Carlos took part in the 1972 Munich Olympics where he finished 15th  in the Sailing Dragon Class event. 

Felipe was a member of the Spanish sailing team that competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He finished 6th in the sailing event. He was also the flag-bearer of his country during the opening ceremony.

In 1993, he earned his law degree from the Madrid Autonomous University and in 1995, he earned his master's degree in international relations from Georgetown University, a Jesuit-run Catholic school in Washington, D.C, USA.

He then performed his constitutional duties as heir to the throne, representing the Spanish monarchy through a series of public events and official visits in Spain and abroad.

Private Life and Marriage

Like all eligible bachelors in the world, Felipe's singlehood was often the subject of intense public speculation and national interest, scrutinizing who he dated, who was the most suitable, when he would be settling down.

A string of gorgeous women were linked to his name. a Norwegian model, a German aristocrat and one Spanish nobleman. There was a royal match speculated between him and Princess Tatjana of Liechtenstein, daughter of Prince Hans Adam II, the Sovereign Prince of Liechtenstein.

However, it was not sustained when the princess moved back to Liechtenstein. And Felipe became busy in Spain with his role as Prince of Asturias.

May 2004 royal wedding

All speculations were put to an end when he began dating TV journalist, Letezia Ortiz Rocasolano. A news that was not accepted comfortably by the public and the royal family because Letezia is a non-aristocratic commoner and divorced.

The last one was strongly criticized because the Roman Catholic church has reservation on divorces as it still implied an existed marital union unlike when the marriage is annulled. 

King Juan Carlos was reluctant in giving his approval. But after careful consultation with advisers and authorities in the Catholic church, King Juan Carlos gave his permission.

Queen Letezia of Spain wearing a family heirloom called "La Buena" made of three large fleur de lys motifs, a symbol of heraldry and of the House of Bourbon. It is studded with large round diamonds and set in platinum. This tiara previously belonged to Queen Eugenia.

It was argued that Letezia's previous marriage to a college professor was only in civil rites, which is not recognized by the Catholic church.  By virtue of canon law, civil wedding ceremony is considered non-occurence or something that didn't exist, thus, Letezia's suitability was approved.

In November 2003, their engagement was announced. The marriage took place in May 2004. Together, they have two children, all daughters. Princess Leonor, the heir-presumptive born in 2005, and Infanta Sofia born in 2007.

His Majesty, The King

On June 19, 2014, King Juan Carlos abdicated due to his failing health and a number of controversies, and the Prince of Asturias ascended the throne as Felipe VI, the Spanish form of Philip VI.

During accession to the Spanish throne. June 2014

The king's ascent came at the most trying time for the Spanish monarchy. For two years, his father was under the severe public criticism following his lavish hunting trip in Botswana  in 2012 at a time when Spain was reeling in unprecedented economic turmoil.

The Spanish royal house was also embroiled in a series of controversies, notably the tax fraud case involving Infanta Cristina and her husband.

King Felipe VI with his father, King Juan Carlos

Amidst these scandals, Felipe kept his distance. He and his wife lived a relatively modest lifestyle, shun from extravagance.  

At his accession to the throne, he was a picture of hope and a promise of a renewed monarchy and new Spain. 

One of the many challenges he faced during the early part of his reign was largely cultural and territorial. The preservation of a united Spain and its identity.

There was an increasing demand for independence in Catalonia, a historic Spanish region that's largely autonomous, and the separatist movement in the Basque country which also demanded an independence. Basque country is an autonomous region in Northern Spain which was granted a status of nationality within Spain in 1978.

Chivalry order

King Felipe is one of the current grandmasters of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which he shared with Archduke Karl von Hapsburg, the current head of the House of Hapsburg-Lorraine. 

Order of the Golden Fleece is the Catholic order of chivalry established by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy.

King Felipe, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Letezia during the Garter ceremony at Windsor Castle

In 2017, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain made him the Knight companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, a chivalry order founded by King Edward III of England in the 14th century. It is the most senior of Knighthood in the British honor system.

Response to the pandemic

In 2020, when the COVID-19 spread to every corner of the world, Spain became one of the European countries hardly-hit by the pandemic. 

King Felipe VI and family attending the solemn ceremony for the victims of COVID-19

As of  January 2021, Spain's death toll recorded at 58, 319 with the number of infection rose to 2.7 million. 

Amidst all these challenges, King Felipe VI remained steadfast, trying to comfort his grieving nation. As a head of state, he became Spain's unifying symbol, inspiring his subjects to get united fighting the virus.

In July 2020, the king with his wife and daughters joined the nation in mourning by paying homage to the victims and heroes of the coronavirus crisis in a solemn state ceremony.

"We have a moral obligation to always recognize and respect the dignity of the deceased and a civic duty to promote the best values that underlie our society", the king said before the ceremony came to an end with a minute of silence.

Royal Connection

King Felipe VI, through his parents, is blood related to most royals in Europe. The reigning monarchs, Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden and King Harald V of Norway are third cousins both to his parents through Queen Victoria of Britain and King Christian IX of Denmark.

Prince Philip, Queen Letezia, Queen Elizabeth II, King Felipe VI

The ex-King of Greece, Constantine II, is his mother's younger brother. Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is his parents' second and third cousins, twice over. They have common ancestors through Queen Victoria of Britain, King Christian IX of Denmark, Emperor Nicholas I of Russia and Prince Alexander of Hesse. 

Spanish royal family spending vacation in Majorca, Spain with the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1987. Prince Felipe in green polo shirt beside Princess Diana who was holding Prince William
Back: Prince Felipe and Prince Charles
Front: Queen Sofia, the young Harry and William, Princess Diana, King Juan Carlos

King Juan Carlos's paternal grandmother, Queen Eugenia, was Queen Victoria's granddaughter, whose father, Prince Henry of Battenberg, was the younger brother of Prince Philip's maternal grandfather, Prince Louis of Battenberg (Louise Mountbatten, 1st Marquess of Milford-Haven).  Prince Charles and Queen Sofia are second cousin through King George I of Greece.

King Juan Carlos holding the young Prince William
In 2011, the Prince and Princess of Asturias and Queen Sofia attended the wedding of Prince William

Thus, King Felipe VI, is a third cousin of Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge through Queen Sofia and the Prince Philip. He attended Prince William's wedding in 2011.

The controversial law of succession

The king has daughters and but no son, based on the Spanish law of succession (which is yet to adopt the absolute succession) the monarchy is still following the male-preference primogeniture succession, thus his eldest daughter, Princess Leonor, is only heir-presumptive.

Infanta Sofia and Leonor, Princess of Asturias

However, the Spanish parliament emphasized that there's no hurry to change the law since the king has no son and the position of Princess Leonor as future monarch remained unthreatened so she was allowed to use the title, Princess of Asturias, the title of the heir-apparent to the Spanish throne under the absolute law of succession.

King Felipe VI, Queen Letezia and their daughters

And it is most unlikely also that the king and queen will have another children after the birth of Infanta Sofia, who will turn 13 this April 2021.

The King's lifestyle

King Felipe VI, at 53 years old, is the youngest crown head in Europe, a year younger than King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

But unlike his royal cousins in Britain, King Felipe VI treasured his private life and most of his family activities were not publicized. Despite one of the richest royals in Europe, he lived a relatively modest lifestyle. 

The La Zarzuela Palace, the official residence of the Spanish royal family, made certain distinction between the public life and the private life of the king and his family. They never published private family celebrations like birthdays.

The king's birthday celebration remained private and no public events are organized to mark his special day. Though the palace has knowledge how the king celebrated his birthday, they never published it.

"That is his business and belongs to his private agenda, allowing him to enjoy time away from the glare of the media", according to a Spanish society magazine.

Since ascending the Spanish throne, King Felipe stopped hunting, much to the relief of the environmentalists. 

But he likes to walk in the countryside and often seen taking trips in the quaint Spanish towns in casual outfit with his wife and daughters.

He loves to ski with his family, but in a private capacity. So far, among the royals of Europe, it's King Felipe who has never been pictured hitting the slopes with his family.

The creation of the House of Bourbon

Here's a bit of history about the monarchy in Spain. The first recognized monarch under the united Spain was King Charles I, who would become Charles V in the Holy Roman Empire.

He was the son of Queen Joanna, known as the Mad, the older sister of the first wife of King Henry VIII, Queen Catherine. 

He reigned under the royal house name of Hapsburg because his father, Philip was an Austrian Archduke from the Imperial house of Hapsburg.

Charles I's successor was King Philip II, whom the country Philippines was named. Philip was the first husband of Queen Mary I of England.

The reign of Philip II marked the peak of the Spanish Golden Age (1492-1659) a period of great colonial expansion and trade. He was ruling almost half of the globe that his reign was called "at which sun never sets".

During his reign Spain achieved the status of an empire and as a Catholic monarchy, considered one of the largest empires in history. 

For three centuries, Spain controlled a huge overseas territories in the New World and the Philippines (named after Philip when he was still the Prince of Asturias). 

Philippines, however, declared independence from colonial Spain in 1898. 

The Hapsburg reign in Spain ended in 1700 when Charles II died without direct heirs. His death sparked the Spanish War of Succession because the next in line heirs were French princes, sons of his half-sister, Maria Theresa, who married King Louis XIV of France, a Bourbon king.

Inheriting the Spanish throne by a French heir would mean uniting Spain and France, two of the most powerful nations in Europe at that time, therefore upsetting the balance of power in the continent.

Other Great Powers made an agreement to prevent this upset. They proposed that the Spanish throne would be inherited by a French prince provided Spain would give up portion of its territory in The Netherlands and Italy and the throne would not be inherited by a French dauphin, this arrangement would prevent Spain from gaining a sweeping political power.

The truce was made and the Spanish crown was inherited by Philippe, Duke of Anjou, second son of Prince Louis, the Grand Dauphin, who was the eldest son and heir of King Louis XIV of France and Queen Maria Theresa. 

The Duke of Anjou reigned in Spain as King Philip V, the first Spanish monarch under the House of Bourbon. 

Succeeding Spanish monarchs were directly descended from him until the present time, thus, the current royal house name of Spain is Bourbon.

How Long The Bourbon Can Hold On 

When ex-King, Juan Carlos, was dragged in a corruption scandal again in 2020, observers thought it could be the nail in the coffin of the monarchy.

The scandal stemmed from the issues of alleged bribery of a government project while he was still the King of Spain and allegedly the money was transferred to his personal account offshore.

King Juan Carlos denied the allegation, still it did not prevent from creating further issues that the reign of his son was put in a very compromising situation. To spare the throne from being involved, he chose to leave Spain and imposed a self-exile. 

King Felipe VI

Just how long the Bourbon king can hold the turf of the monarchy and prevent it from crumbling?

King Felipe VI is the 11th monarch under the royal House of Bourbon, and the second Bourbon to ascend the throne since the restoration of the monarchy in 1975. He is facing  a very challenging period of his reign.

Whatever the future hold for the Spanish monarchy, many royalists have high hopes, the king can endure the challenges. After all, it passed through many tumultuous events in the past. And still survive.

From one of the world's largest empires to the disappearance of its colonies and now reduced to merely a kingdom, Spain gone through a lot. 

Nonetheless, the reign of King Felipe VI sounded promising. He was able to stabilize the kingdom and the threats of insurgencies. 

He held firm on his role as a unifying symbol of his country and continue to inspire his subjects especially during the difficult time of the pandemic.

Once a very powerful and influential royal house in all Europe, the House of Bourbon's remaining stronghold is Spain. And King Felipe VI is committed to stabilize its existence.

Princess Leonor the future Spanish regnant Queen

The continuation of the House of Bourbon is assured as the king has an heir to guarantee its existence. Leonor, the Princess of Asturias is slowly emerging as a force behind his father's role. 

At 15, she showed strength and stability. She began her training as a future Spanish monarch. If one day she will ascend the throne, Princess Leonor, will be the second Queen regnant of Spain since Queen Isabella II, also a Bourbon, in the 19th century.

Coat-of-Arms of King Felipe VI of Spain


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