Felipe VI of Spain: The Most Royal Among Europe's Reigning Crown Heads

King Felipe VI of Spain profile

His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain celebrates his 54th birthday today, January 30, 2022. He has many distinctions to take note, which are unique among Crown Heads in Europe today.

Only seven years into his reign. King Felipe VI ascended the Spanish throne on June 19, 2014, upon the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos. He is also the youngest reigning Sovereign in Europe today at 54.

King Felipe VI of Spain profile
His Majesty, King Felipe VI of Spain

Just like most royals in Europe, he directly descended from King Christian IX of Denmark twice over (through his mother) and Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom three times over (through both of his parents).

The most royal of all European Crown Heads

He is also the most royal of all Europe's reigning Crown Heads with no commoner blood. A son of parents who are both royal by blood (his mother, Queen Sofia, was born Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark). 

King Felipe VI of Spain profile
Two kings. Felipe VI during his accession to the throne on June 2, 2014 upon the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos

A grandson of a king on his maternal side (King Paul of Greece), a great-grandson of another king on his paternal side (King Alfonso XIII of Spain). His other ancestors included William II, Emperor of Germany, Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia and George III, King of the United Kingdom. And his great-great grandfather, Prince Philippe, Count of Paris (grandfather of King Juan Carlos's mother), was almost King of France in 1848 as King Louis-Philippe II, had the French Second Republic was not declared.

King Felipe VI of Spain profile
Accession ceremony of Felipe VI in 2014 with his family (absent were his older sister, Infanta Cristina and her family due to the corruption scandal her husband was facing at that time)

King Juan Carlos's paternal grandmother was Princess Victoria Eugenia, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, while Queen Sofia's grandmother, Princess Viktoria Louise, was the only daughter of the German Kaiser, William II (grandson of Queen Victoria), and her grandfather, Ernest Augustus of Hanover, Duke of Brunswick, was a great-great-great-grandson of King George III of the United Kingdom.

King Juan Carlos's paternal grandfather, Alfonso XIII, was King of Spain from 1886 to 1931 when Spanish Civil War broke off. He abdicated the throne and went to live in exile with his family in Italy.

However, unlike his parents and grandparents, King Felipe VI did not marry a royal, and chose someone from the commoner stock. 

Though it was rumored before that he was being matched to Princess Tatjana of Liechtenstein, nothing came into reality and he went on to marry Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano in May 2004.

Controversial bride

When the news broke off that the Prince of Asturias was dating Letizia Ortiz in 2002, it was received with unfavorable reaction from the public and the Spanish royal family. Ms. Ortiz was a non-aristocratic commoner and already divorced, whose first husband is still alive.

King Felipe VI of Spain profile
King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia during a State Visit in Sweden in 2021

In 1998, Letizia Ortiz married Alonso Guerrero Perez, whom she dated for 10 years, in a civil ceremony. He is a Spanish writer and professor. But in 1999, the marriage ended in divorce. The couple had no children. 

It was debated if she could be considered appropriate to marry a future Spanish king, and could be granted a remarriage in the Catholic church, because under existing Canon Law (law of the universal church), the church does not grant a remarriage among divorced persons (unless the marriage is annulled). 

King Felipe VI of Spain profile
Felipe, the Prince of Asturias, and Letizia Ortiz, at their wedding on May 22, 2004 in Madrid, Spain

After several discussions, the Catholic church in Madrid declared that Letizia's first marriage could not be considered valid under Church Law because it was only civil rite and the church does not recognize a civil wedding. 

King Juan Carlos, who initially hesitated to give his approval, finally granted his permission, and the marriage went ahead on May 22, 2004. He also granted Letizia the title, Princess of Asturias.

The Prince and Princess of Asturias have two daughters together, Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofia.


King Felipe VI's eldest daughter is only heir-presumptive. Unlike most monarchies in Europe, the Spanish law of succession is still following the male-preference primogeniture, which means that if the King and Queen will have another child and is a boy, Leonor will be displaced as her father's heir.

The King and Queen with their daughters, Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofia

There was a plan at least, to change the law of succession in 2006, to absolute primogeniture, however when the Princess of Asturias gave birth to another daughter in 2007, the Spanish Parliament agreed there's no reason to hurry the change because Leonor's position as future Spanish monarch remains secured, at least for a time being.

Three generations. King Juan Carlos, the then Prince of Asturias and his daughter, Princess Leonor

However, granting the years passed since Infanta Sofia was born, it's most unlikely that Their Majesties will have another child. Thus, the Spanish law of succession might never see a makeover in the foreseeable future.

Prior to kingship

When Prince Felipe was born in 1968, the Spanish monarchy was not yet restored as Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, was still alive. 

Spain was still under his grip. Juan Carlos was not Prince of Asturias but only granted Prince of Spain by Franco, however, the latter agreed to restore the monarchy after his death.

Francisco Franco died in November 1975, and the Spanish monarchy was restored with Juan Carlos as its new monarch. The newly ascended king worked immediately to steer back the country into constitutional monarchy, ignoring Franco's wish to maintain the dictatorship rule.

For almost 40 years in his reign, King Juan Carlos was deeply admired for his role in restoring democracy in Spain. He was the most popular monarch in Europe until 2012 when he was involved in a series of controversies (the largely-criticized Elephant hunting in Botswana and his daughter's involvement in a corruption scandal), which led to his abdication in 2014.

As The Prince of Asturias

In 1977, two years after his father's accession to the throne, Felipe was granted Prince of Asturias, the first title holder since his father's uncle, Prince Alfonso, held the title in 1905 until his death in 1938.

He attended high school at Lakefield College in Ontario, Canada, and completed Master of Science in Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington D.C with his first cousin, Pavlos, the Crown Prince of Greece, as his classmate and roommate. 

As a future king, Felipe trained in the three divisions of the Spanish armed forces - the navy, air force and army. And learned to fly aircraft. 

An Olympian monarch

Just like his father, sister (Infanta Cristina), and maternal uncle, Constantine II, former King of Greece, King Felipe VI was an Olympian. 

He competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the Sailing category (called Soling competition previously) and his team finished sixth. He was also Spain's flag bearer during the opening ceremony.

He is an honorary member of the International Soling Association.

Happy birthday Your Majesty!

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