If I’d sat down to write this two years ago, this would have been a very different post. I really feel like the Spanish monarchy has fallen from grace and, pretty much like the other European monarchies, it seems like the time has come to change their role or disappear all together.
During the last years of his life, Franco began to ease prince Juan Carlos gradually into Spanish life as the next ruler in line. Whether out of a particular liking to this future king or just out of dislike for his father, don Juan de Borbón, Franco preferred to leave Spain in the hands of Don Juan Carlos.
In 1975, after Franco’s death, Juan Carlos returned to Spain to become her king, restoring the monarchy to the country and, many hoped, democracy as well. I’m sure many Spaniards were very grateful to the king for going down the democratic route rather than prolong the dictatorship. I was too young then to have any understanding of this. What I do remember is never hearing anything against the king or his family for most of my life, apart from the common jokes about royal in-breeding. These jokes were affectionately made by playing on the fact that Borbón, the royal name, is extremely close to bobón (from bobo, stupid). You can imagine how the omission of one letter could lead to very popular jokes.
Many sighs of relief were heard when, instead of taking full advantage of his role as head of the army to rule by force, Juan Carlos showed his commitment to change the way Spain was governed by appointing Adolfo Suarez as Spain’s president very soon after he became king.
I grew up being slightly curious about the Royal family. The elegant Queen Sofia, who is Greek, playing to perfection her role of mother and monarch while her three children smiled at the camera – poor things, I always thought, who would want to be stuck in that world? But the royal family always seemed to remain human, with their smiles and sporting lifestyle.
When I was just seven years old, I was skiing with my mother and we were staying in the same hotel as the king. My mother always said the king winked at me. She also told me that a girl had approached the king and asked him, “They say the King is staying at this hotel. He’s the one whose face is on the coins.” I don’t think the king embarrassed her by introducing himself.
As the prince and princesses grew up, they also began to date, bringing the Spaniards into the debate of who should marry whom and whether the next in line (the man of course, in spite of being the youngest) should be allowed to marry someone of non-royal blood. The Royal Family has always filled the pages of magazines such as Hola and their love lives have given the prensa del corazón plenty of stuff to talk about. A divorce, a fraud scandal and the marriage to an ambitious journalist have all been part of the Royal children’s lives.
Unfortunately, the royal family has now become front page news. In 2012, Iñaki Urdangarin (Princess Cristina’s husband and also an ex-olympiad handball player, I told you they were sporty) was accused of siphoning funds from the not-for-profit company he was running with the princess. Allegedly, around 2.3 million euros from the Balearic Islands’ government (that’s Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca) and 3.7 million from Valencia’s government had ended up in Urdangarin’s pockets, after being diverted through the organisation he owned, which was originally set up to run sports conferences and other events. (Source: elmundo.es on 17/4/2012)
At a time when the country was already more than disillusioned with its politicians, to see that corruption extended to the Royal Family (for the role of the princess and king played in all of this is still not completely clear) came as a big, royal blow.
That same year (an Olympic one as we can see, from more than one point of view), Juan Carlos broke his hip… while shooting elephants in Botswana. I could say “enough said” but actually, it isn’t. Not only was the king of a country in social and economic pain out in Africa playing a dubious “sport” but, let’s just say, that the queen wasn’t faithfully by his side. Although the whole episode was once more carried with dignity by the Greek member of the Spanish Royal Family, this incident really highlighted how much of a farce the Royal Family had become. In fact, 2012 was extremely farcical for the Royal Family, as it included someone shooting themselves in the foot – literally!
An apology from the King for the Botswana episode (which was made even worse by the fact that he was honorary president of the WWF at the time) was nowhere as near a poignant TV appearance as the one I will always remember. On the 23rd of February 1982, when the military tried to take over parliament, Juan Carlos calmly appeared on the T.V. screen to reassure the population that we weren’t about to go again down that very dark dictatorial path. In sad contrast, this last Christmas during his annual message to the Spaniards, he urged separatists (of which there are many now, from all regions) to keep Spain united. Completely wasted words from a figure recently fallen from grace.
Photo credit: By Juan_Carlos_I_Rey_de_España_2009.jpg: *Andrus_Ansip,_Juan_Carlos_I.jpg: Estonian Foreign Ministry derivative work: DPC (talk) derivative work: Escarlati (Juan_Carlos_I_Rey_de_España_2009.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
7 thoughts on “J is for Juan Carlos I”
I never paid much attention to the royals until last year. I agree, they’ve really blown it.
Hi Reg, thanks for your first comment here! (That’s right, isn’t it?) Royalty must be one of those jobs that hardly gets noticed when you’re doing ok but that everyone sees when you put your foot in it! Yes, last year was a bit too much.
Interesting article, Pilar. But I recognize a very different queen. Where you see elegance, I see a snobby woman who thinks she’s superior. OK, I know she’s royalty and she’s above the gente but a good dose of humility never hurt anybody.
Hello, Matthew, thanks for stopping by once more! Even though I understand that these heads of state should not really voice their opinions, their silence leaves everything open to interpretation. Just look at our completely different opinions! Excellent, thanks for sharing.
I have also watched the Royal Family over the years. The Queen has always seemed so dignified, even as I saw her next to me at the Olympic Village’s main dining hall in Atlanta serving herself salad from the salad bar island (I was so stunned to see her next to me, I couldn’t come up with words to say hi). Her husband’s foolishness (shooting elephants, for crying out loud!!! and sex affair) are a stain on the entire family. But you are very right to point out that Spain would not be anywhere near where it is today if this man, this mere human, had not acted with great courage in the tentative days of Spain’s exit from decades of dictatorship…
Thanks for your comment, Raul. Interesting how you also feel that the King played a vital role in Spanish history. Maybe his behaviour now is a result (consciously or subconsciously) of feeling like the country doesn’t need him that much anymore?