Spain’s Machiavellian Future Queen?

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Did the Spanish princess standing confidently alongside her husband in this portrait initiate a series of scandalous press leaks that have now, perhaps inadvertently, led to her father-in-law abdicating the throne in favor of her husband? According to at least one unauthorized biography, one of her sisters-in-law, whose husband was the subject of the leaks, believes this to be true, and that’s just one of the many reasons why she, her father, several other members of her family, and a wide swath of the Spanish aristocracy are rumored to despise the woman that is now poised to shortly become their queen consort. Regardless of whether or not it was the Princess of Asturias’ long term intention to force King Juan Carlos l to give up his throne, one of the unforeseen consequences of his decision to abdicate that everyone can agree on is that it has unleashed within the last week a series of protests across Spain in which thousands upon thousands of people have taken to the streets calling for the Spanish parliament, the Cortes, to introduce a referendum calling for the end of the monarchy. Because the 1977 constitution, of which Juan Carlos personally oversaw the drafting, does not possess a procedure by which a monarch can abdicate, the Spanish government must busy itself over the next couple of weeks hammering out a so called “organic law” by which the King can formally hand over his powers to his only son. The earliest projected date for the future King Felipe Vl’s enthronement is June 19. It’s not at all unthinkable that while this legislation is being spear headed by the currently ruling People’s Party, the opposition can successfully introduce a referendum that, if voted on in the affirmative by the Spanish people, will turn Spain into a republic. Such a plebiscite would’ve been unthinkable had Juan Carlos’ constitutionally unprecedented abdication not made it possible. If this referendum comes to fruition, there’s no doubt that many among the Spanish ruling class will hold Queen Letizia responsible for it.

It’s been over a week now since King Juan Carlos l signed a document stating his intention to give up his throne. While both the ruling and opposition parties sitting in parliament have stated their intention to shepherd a smooth transition of power from the King to the Prince of Asturias, and the latest opinion poll published in Spain’s most popular right leaning newspaper, El Mundo, shows a nearly six point increase, from 49.9% to 55.7%, in the Spanish monarchy’s approval rating from six months ago, supporters of the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon shouldn’t break out the Madeira just yet. Anti-monarchist demonstrations continue to gather apace throughout Spain, particularly in Madrid. Although this survey states that Prince Felipe enjoys a 57% approval rating, it’s important to remember that this poll was published by a newspaper that, while calling for King Juan Carlos l’s abdication for the past two years, is decidedly pro-monarchist in its political sympathies and only called for the King to give up his throne as a means of saving the monarchy. There’s a wide range of political opinions throughout Spain, and this poll only reflects the most conservative among them. While the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, has made it clear that there’s a consensus among his party and the opposition Socialist Party that they will not allow a referendum calling into question the future of the monarchy to be introduced in the Cortes prior to King Felipe Vl’s enthronement, one needs to remember that it was popular agitation that ultimately brought about the King’s recent decision. After all, and despite the five surgeries Juan Carlos has undergone in the last 2 years, the King had publicly made it clear up till a week ago that he would die in his bed as monarch. If he’s capable of suddenly changing his mind, surely the politicians sitting in Spain’s parliament can do the same if these demonstrations grow to the point where they feel their political futures are at risk!

This turn of events desperately begs the question: How did a king, who for most of his reign had one the highest approval ratings of any monarch in Europe, fall so spectacularly from grace? Many among His Majesty’s inner circle are rumored to believe that his problems began when he made an enemy out of the journalist who shortly became his daughter-in-law. Born Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, she grew up in a middle class, multi-ethnic, secular family. By the time she met and began dating Prince Felipe, she was a popular news anchor with a master’s degree in journalism. She was also a divorcée. Despite her brief marriage having taken place civilly, and therefore considered non existent according to the cannon laws of the Catholic Church, Juan Carlos l nonetheless objected to his son’s prospective fiancée on religious and social grounds. In essence, he didn’t think Letizia was good enough to become Spain’s future queen, and didn’t keep his opinion a secret. He may also have gotten wind of the rumor, since published in an unauthorized memoir by her cousin, David Rocasolano, that the former Ms. Ortiz had undergone an abortion, which were mostly illegal in Spain at the time, in 2002; about a year before she met Prince Felipe. According to Bob Colacello’s article , King and Controversy, which concerned Juan Carlos’ now soon to be former travails and appeared in the October, 2013 issue of Vanity Fair, the heir to Spain’s throne had to blackmail his father into allowing him to marry the woman of his choice. According to an unnamed royal source, when Prince Felipe approached his his father in 2004 with his intention to marry Letizia, Juan Carlos balked and informed him that he should wait a year to insure that Letizia was the right prospective bride for him. This source claims that the Prince of Asturias then immediately presented his father with a letter stating that he would abdicate his succession rights unless he was allowed to marry Ms. Ortiz forthwith. After consulting with his long estranged wife, Queen Sofia, who advised him that it was within the best interests of the Monarchy to allow the marriage to proceed, the King relented and Felipe and Letizia’s “fairytale” wedding took place shortly afterward.

A note should be interjected here concerning Queen Sofia’s relationship with her daughter-in-law, for it’s yet one more example of the marked contrast between the characters of Spain’s soon to be former King and Queen. Aside from Prince Felipe, Her Majesty is undoubtedly Princess Letizia’s greatest ally within the Royal Family. As late as last Tuesday, when Queen Sofia was in New York to receive a humanitarian award from the Vatican, she released a press statement in complete support of her husband’s decision, while also stating her faith and confidence in her son and especially her daughter-in-law. It’s now an open secret that Sofia’s desire to see her son enthroned during Juan Carlos’ lifetime has only been matched by her all consuming hatred for a husband who, according to a recent article concerning his private life published in The Daily Telegraph, has cheated on her with at least 1,500 women. It’s also rumored that many of Letizia’s machinations have taken place under the watchful and approving eye of her formidable mother-in-law.

Since joining Spain’s Royal Family, the Princess of Asturias’ general popularity with the Spanish people has grown in stark contrast to her lack of popular support within the Royal Court. Aside from taking an instant disliking to her because of her background, she’s been accused of being an overly ambitious, nouveau riche, and desperately insecure upstart determined to prove that she’s smarter, better educated, more elegant, more glamorous, and more politically astute than virtually anyone else in the the House of Bourbon. Like the late Diana, Princess of Wales before her, she’s also been accused by her detractors of being an emotionally unstable anorexic. In all fairness, Her Royal Highness has given some cause through her behavior to justify such rancor toward her. She’s notorious for demanding that her husband arrive to official engagements before her, as if to give the impression that she’s the most important VIP attending the event. There’s also the incident of Felipe and Letizia’s first television interview at the time of their engagement announcement in which Felipe was interrupted by his better half and informed that she was capable of answering her own questions when he attempted to answer a question that was apparently directed toward his wife. Through it all, the Prince of Asturias has remained slavishly in love and devoted to his wife. Temperamentally shy, unimaginative, and completely lacking in his father’s charisma, Prince Felipe has nonetheless maintained a certain popularity with the Spanish public. The fact that he’s a devoted husband and father of two small daughters, the eldest of which will presumably one day become Spain’s first queen regnant since Isabella ll more than a hundred and fifty years ago, has played no small role in this. He certainly hasn’t in any way been associated with, or tainted by, the financial scandal that has engulfed his brother-in-law, Inaki Urdanguran. This leads the author to the most damning allegation that’s been made against Princess Letizia by her enemies.

According to authors Eduardo Inda and Esteban Urrirztieta in their book, Urdanguran, A Hustler in the Court of the King, it was the Princess of Asturias who obtained and leaked to the press the incriminating documents concerning her brother-in-law’s embezzlement of public money while he was the president of the Noos Institute, a non-profit sports foundation. Although they state that her intention was merely to showcase her husband and herself in a better light by contrast, it stands to reason that, if this allegation is true, Letizia wasn’t unaware of the potential long term consequences. After all, the culture of corruption surrounding King Juan Carlos l’s court has been an open secret throughout most of his reign. While far from being a pauper at the time of his enthronement in 1975, his private net worth has exponentially increased since then. One of the long held rumors concerning the secret behind the King’s now estimated $2 billion personal fortune is that he built it through influence peddling and the under the table awarding of no bid, highly lucrative government contracts. The Von Thyssen art museum deal is but one example of this.

In his book, The Von Thyssen Art Macabre, investigative journalist
David Litchfield details the deal in which Baron Heinrich von Thyssen, whose fifth and final wife was a personal friend of His Majesty’s, brokered the deal whereby the Spanish government paid hundreds of millions in taxpayer money to the aristocrat so they could become custodians of an art collection that many experts believed wasn’t even worth half that. Though not stated explicitly, Litchfield implies in his tome that Juan Carlos’ influence played the greatest deciding factor in the closing of the deal, and that he was likely privately remunerated for his efforts. The Spanish press has gotten wind of tales of corruption such as this one for years, but their deference to the Crown has rendered them mute on the subject.

This conspiracy of silence ended with the financial crisis that started in 2008. From the moment the Urdanguran scandal broke, the implication by the Spanish media was that the King was knowledgable of his son-in-law’s activities, and may’ve even helped him cover his tracks. The subsequent media fallout concerning his private, and very expensive, elephant hunting trip to Botswana the next year, and the further revelation that his current mistress, a half Danish, half German aristocrat named Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn, was a public relations consultant that had personally intervened to find Urdanguran a job when it became clear that the Noos Institute was running the risk of coming under government investigation, led Juan Carlos to the sorry impasse he currently finds himself in.

Though His Majesty has long been considered by some government insiders to be a sitting duck coasting along on a tide of deference owing to his role in stopping an attempted fascist coup early in his reign, and was just waiting to be exposed, such exposure wouldn’t have been possible without the revelation of Inaki Urdanguran’s alleged dirty dealings. The King, after all, had gone on extravagant hunting safaris before, and even though it was the breaking of his hip on the Botswana expedition that led to its exposure, the press would probably have obligingly looked the other way, or at least downplayed the incident, had the Royal Family’s ties to the corrupt Noos Institute not been made public. As stated before, there are many among the Royal Family and Court who blame the opening of these flood gates on the King’s intelligent, scheming daughter-in-law who was savvy enough to realize that the severe inflation and rate of unemployment being suffered by the Spanish people, compounded by the current conservative government’s extremely unpopular fiscal austerity measures, and coupled with the fact that a growing number of Spaniards were, like herself, children in the early 80’s and don’t remember their king’s efforts to safeguard democracy back then, gave her a ripe opportunity to settle an old score with a father-in-law with whom she experienced no love loss, and a chance to fulfill hers and her husband’s destinies before they became too old to enjoy it.

As of this writing, El Pais, Spain’s leading center left newspaper, is reporting that 62% of the Spanish public, many of whom are under 40, want to vote in a referendum deciding the fate of their monarchy. International news coverage concerning the popular attitude of the Spanish toward their Royal Family is clearly varying depending on the political leanings of the sources one chooses to believe. The one thing that is certain is that the Spanish monarchy is currently being balanced on a more precarious foundation than it’s sat atop since being overthrown in 1931. It’ll be ironic indeed if, in an effort to expedite and secure her husband’s destiny, the Princess of Asturias’ alleged machinations wind up proving to be the House of Bourbon’s final downfall.

A Royally Tragic Accident

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This elegant couple, the Count and Countess of Barcelona, had a reason to look morose. This photo was taken around the time they suffered through the worst tragedy any parents could hope not to endure. In 1956 their 14 year old son was accidentally killed when a ricocheted bullet struck him directly in the face. The gun that contained the bullet was fired by his older brother, Spain’s current King, Juan Carlos l.

The incident occurred in 1956 at the family villa in Estoril, Portugal while both boys were on Easter vacation from their military boarding school in Spain. Although General Francisco Franco, Spain’s fascist dictator since 1936, was making no secret at the time that he wished to restore the monarchy, which had been overthrown in 1931, either following his retirement or death, he was also making no secret that the politically liberal pretender to the Spanish throne at that time, the Infatnte Juan, Count of Barcelona, was not his preference as a likely successor. That left the Count’s oldest son, the Infante Juan Carlos. In Kings Without Thrones, Geoffrey Bocca describes the psychological tug of war that ensued in 1950 between Franco and his country’s monarch in exile for the conscience of the Infante Juan Carlos when he ordered that the potential heir and his little brother, the Infante Alfonso, receive a military education in Spain.

At some point on March 29, 1956, Maundy Thursday, Juan Carlos and Alfonso were in the same room of their parents’ villa. Juan Carlos began playing with a gun that had apparently been given to his little brother by General Franco. Unbeknownst to Juan Carlos, the gun was loaded. What happened next varies depending what version of the event one chooses to believe. The one thing all these versions have in common is that they’ve been told by people who were not eyewitnesses to the event. The only person that could give a definitive account of what happened next is King Juan Carlos l. He’s never spoken publicly about his brother’s death, and likely never will. Everyone, however, is in agreement that Juan Carlos accidentally shot and killed his brother.

According to Josefina Carolo, the Countess of Barcelona’s couturier at the time, Juan Carlos pointed what he presumed was an unloaded gun at his brother’s face and playfully pulled the trigger. The gunshot killed him instantly. Bernardo Pinheiro de Melo, a friend of the King’s, claims that the bullet actually ricocheted off a wall, insinuating that while Juan Carlos pulled the trigger, he did not aim the gun directly at Alfonso when it fired. Greek author Helena Matheopoulos, who interviewed the King’s older sister, the Infanta Pilar, states that Alfonso walked into the room while his brother was playing with the gun, bumped into his arm causing him to inadvertently pull the trigger, and the bullet ricocheted off a wall and struck him in the face. Grief stricken and enraged at his oldest son, the Count of Barcelona sent Juan Carlos back to Spain immediately following the funeral and did not see or speak to him for sometime. Needless to write, Spanish newspapers at the time covered up the real story and reported that Alfonso had accidentally killed himself while cleaning his gun. Juan Carlos was 18 at the time.

Shortly after the incident General Franco officially declared the Infante Juan Carlos as the Spanish throne’s official heir apparent. He was inaugurated as king following Franco’s death in 1975. In 1981 Juan Carlos solidified a permanent place for himself in Spanish history by personally preventing an attempted military coup d’état led by fascist generals from the old regime. Despite having paid lip service to Franco’s ideals while he was alive, Juan Carlos has proven since the general’s death that he’s committed to Spain being a constitutional democracy and in 1981 declared that he would willingly sacrifice his life to defend it.

Despite the personal and financial scandals that are currently embroiling the King, no one can deny, upon a close examination of Juan Carlos’s life, that he is a man of courage, resilience and great psychological strength. How else could he have emerged from the guilt and devastation he must have suffered through following that fateful day back in 1956? One could argue that his character was forged that day. The time may’ve come for Spain’s King to step down, but he leaves a mostly admirable legacy behind him. He’s living proof that sometimes the greatest triumphs are born out of the greatest tragedies.

With In-Laws Like These…..

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Could the old guy on the left turn out to be Spain’s last king? He’s Juan Carlos l, and for the past year both he and the rest of the Spanish Royal Family have been embroiled in an ever growing financial scandal.

His son-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, the tall man in the middle, stands accused of having embezzled millions of euros from the Spanish government. While ostensibly running several different government subsidized foundations, he’s being investigated for having siphoned much of the taxpayer money off into various private offshore bank accounts. Furthermore, one of the King’s friends, and alleged former mistresses, just revealed to a German newspaper that Juan Carlos once asked her to find his son-in-law a job. This is innocuous in and of itself, but it reveals the King to have been lying when he claimed earlier to have never played any kind of role in Urdangarin’s business affairs. Juan Carlos’s daughter, and Urdangarin’s wife, the Infanta (Princess) Christina, the blond woman on the right, has just been subpoenaed to testify in open court concerning her knowledge of her husband’s financial activities. This makes her the first princess in Spain’s history to have ever been summoned to give testimony in a court of law.

With Spain right now facing one of the worst rates of inflation and unemployment in Europe, plus the recent publication of a biography that revealed Juan Carlos accidentally shot and killed his little brother Jaime when they were teenagers, there are many Spaniards currently wondering if the monarchy represents a chapter in their national history that should be closed.