A Brief, Intriguing History of the Spanish Royal Family
Did you know Spain is the only Spanish-speaking country with a monarchy? The history of the Spanish royal family is as fascinating as it is complex—full of drama, power, and money.
In fact, it not only took me two years of college courses related to Spain’s history to understand the intricacies of this old monarchy, but also another five years of living in Madrid. After which I began to understand what it means to live in a country with a king, a queen, and many princes and princesses.
Let’s explore a brief yet highly intriguing history of this powerful force in Spain.
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The Spanish Royal Family as Celebrities
The second most popular celebrity-focused magazine in Spain, ¡Hola!, keeps a close eye on the private lives of the Spanish royal family—selling more than 400,000 copies each week. It’s clear that Spanish people are more curious than ever about the private lives of the Spanish royal family.
News portals and TV programs frequently comment on their public actions or share speculation-powered gossip. In my personal experience, it seems like many Spanish people consider themselves an expert on the Spanish royal family!
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In addition to official activities, members of the Spanish Royal Family devote their time to cultural, religious, and non-profit charitable organizations. For example, they preside over foundations such as the Princess of Asturias Foundation or the Queen Sofia Foundation, promoting scientific, artistic, cultural, and humanistic values and research.
Spanish Royal Family: Loved or Hated?
Nowadays, according to a poll from September 2022, 56% of Spanish people positively view King Felipe VI, and 49.5% approve of his reign.
However, the more educated and younger citizens of the country are less likely to approve of the monarchy. And, of course, the more left-wing are much less supportive of having a king.
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What’s also important to notice is that 70.9% of the polled considered that the monarchy is in a weaker position than it used to be.
Why? Because King Juan Carlos I had to leave the country and go into exile after he was accused of receiving millions of euros from a secret offshore fund connected to Saudi Arabia.
And it wasn’t the first money-related scandal in the royal family.
Still, the former Queen Sofia, the wife of King Juan Carlos I, enjoys 64% of approval, more than the current Queen Letizia, who scored “only” 54%. And the new generation, princesses Eleanor and Sofia, scored 62% and 59%, respectively.
So although some people say that the monarchy in Spain does not have much time left, it looks like it’s still holding strong.
A Brief History of the Spanish Royal Family
Usually, people talk about the history of Spain’s Royal Family from the moment Fernando II El Católico, the King of Aragón, married Isabel I La Católica, the Queen Of Castilla y León, in the 15th Century.
But the story really started much earlier.
In the 8th Century, for example, the Germanic Tribe established the first kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire. Likewise, the Visigoth Kingdom was the first attempt at uniting the Península.
They united with Hispano-Romans, established their capital in Toledo, and converted to the Catholic Faith in 589 AD.
All the royal families have enemies or people who do not support them—and the Spanish royal family is no exception.
At the beginning of the 8th century, some nobles decided to ask the Muslims to help them with the crown. They did! They also took a big chunk of the peninsula for themselves and stayed until the end of the 15th century.
So, be careful what you wish for!
Early Christian resistance survived, and in the 12th and 13th Centuries, four Christian kingdoms were formed: Portugal, Castile-Leon, Navarre, and Aragon- Catalonia.
In 1469, Ferdinand II married Isabella I, and the kingdoms of Aragon, Castilla, and Leon were united. They centralized power and reconquered the peninsula from the Muslims, and the word España (Spain) started to circulate as the name of the united kingdoms.
Ferdinand and Isabella had three children, but their daughter Joanna became heir to the throne since the first two died.
She’s one of my favorite characters in the history of the Spanish family. So, let me go into details here:
Joanna married a very handsome Archduke of Austria named Philip, and she fell madly in love with him. However, soon her husband’s numerous infidelities made her very unhappy.
The intensity of her passion and her tantrums gained her the nickname Juana la Loca (Joanna the Mad), and her husband declared her incompetent to rule.
Long story short, he fell ill, she took care of him (of course), and he apologized to his pregnant wife on his deathbed. Joanna’s son, Charles I, became the next King of Spain, and her daughter, the Queen of Portugal. Not bad.
You can watch the movie Juana la Loca (Mad Love) to know more about her.
Charles I was the first official King of Spain, and he was introduced in the Habsburg dynasty. The Bourbons followed in 1701. Then, King Philip V introduced a new law that prohibited women from becoming sovereigns of Spain.
Bourbons are the ruling family until today.
Ferdinand VII, who ruled at the beginning of the 19th century, abolished the law introduced by Philip V, and his daughter Isabella assumed the throne at the age of three, becoming Isabella II.
Her mother, Queen Maria Christina, who served as regent, changed the Spanish absolute monarchy into a constitutional monarchy and adopted the Constitution of 1837.
Isabella II wasn’t very popular and was deposed in 1869.
An election was held, and an Italian prince named Amadeo I of Spain was elected as King. However, he had to abdicate after three years, in 1873.
We could say that the monarchy governed Spain until 1873, when the First Spanish Republic was established. However, one year later, the Bourbon dynasty was restored, and Isabella’s II son, Alfonso XII, became the next King of Spain.
He died young, just at the age of 27, and his son Alfonso XIII was known as the soldier-king.
Unfortunately, a series of unsuccessful campaigns led to a military coup, and Miguel Primo de Rivera obtained the king’s support and became the dictator of Spain in 1923.
He was removed in 1930, but King Alfonso XIII was forced to leave the country. As a result, the Second Spanish Republic was established in 1932.
In 1936, the Spanish Civil War started, and General Francisco Franco emerged as the leader.
Learn more: Who Really Won the Spanish Civil War?
Alfonso’s XIII son, Juan, demanded his restoration to the throne in 1945. In 1947, Franco declared Spain a monarchy but kept ruling as regent.
In 1969 he declared Juan Carlos, Alfonso’s XIII grandson, the heir-apparent to the Spanish throne.
In 1975, 2 days after Franco’s death, Juan Carlos became the King of Spain. He abdicated in 2014 in favor of his son Felipe VI, who is the king today.
Here is a list of Spanish Monarchs, starting with the Catholic Monarchs:
- Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs
- Queen Joanna
- Charles I of Spain
- Philip II of Spain
- Philip III of Spain
- Philip IV of Spain
- Charles II of Spain
- Louis I of Spain
- Ferdinand VI of Spain
- Charles III of Spain
- Charles IV of Spain
- Ferdinand VII of Spain
- Isabella II of Spain
- Alfonso XII of Spain
- Alfonso XIII of Spain
- Juan Carlos I of Spain
- Felipe VI of Spain
If you want to read a detailed history of the Spanish Royal family, have a look at the official site of the Spanish government.
The Spanish Royal Family Tree
Let’s look at the most recent part of the Spanish monarchy family tree.
Who’s Who in the Current, Living Spanish Monarchy
(Former) King Juan Carlos I – former king of Spain, grandson of Alfonso XIII. He was proclaimed king after General Franco’s death on 22 November 1975.
(Former) Queen Sofia – the wife of the former king. She’s the eldest daughter of King Paul and Queen Frederica of Greece. Spanish gossip portals like to emphasize her apparent conflict with the current queen.
Felipe VI, The King – The only son of King Juan Carlos I. He has two older sisters, Elena and Cristina, and is married to a former journalist. He has two daughters—Leonor and Sofia.
Queen Letizia – current queen. She was a journalist and news anchor for CNN+ when she met prince Felipe and married him in 2004.
Leonor, The Princess of Asturias – the eldest daughter, and the heir presumptive. All of Spain saw her grow.
Infanta Sofia of Spain – Leonor’s younger sister. At this moment, she’s second to the throne after her sister.
Elena, The Duchess of Lugo – the eldest daughter of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. She divorced her husband, Jaime de Maricharal y Sáenz de Tejada, in 2009.
Don Felipe de Maricharay Brorbón – the grandson of King Juan Carlos I and the current King’s nephew.
Doña Victoria de Marichalar y Borbón – Born in 2000, she was the first granddaughter of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. She works in the fashion industry.
Infanta Cristina – the second child of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. She married Iñaki Urdangarin Liebaert, but they separated in 2022 after he was convicted of embezzling 6 million euros.
Iñaki Urdangarin Liebaert – he was a professional handball player and captain of the Spanish Olympic Team. He married Infanta Cristina and has four children with her. However, they are officially separated after his involvement in corruption and money laundering.
Don Juan Urdangarín y Borbón – the eldest son of the Infanta Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarin Liebaert
Don Pablo Urdangarín y Borbón – the second son of the Infanta Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarin Liebaert
Don Miguel Urdangarín y Borbón – the youngest son of the Infanta Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarin Liebaert
Doña Irene Urdangarín y Borbón – the only daughter of the Infanta Cristina and Iñaki Urdangarin Liebaert
Line of Succession
Succession to the Spanish throne favored King’s male firstborns, as Absolute primogeniture had not been adopted yet. However, since King Felipe and Queen Letizia only have daughters, there has been no urgency in changing the legislation, even if it contradicts the constitutional principle of gender equality.
As for today, this is the order to the Spanish throne:
- Leonor, Princess of Asturias (2005)
- Infanta Sofía of Spain (2007)
- Infanta Elena, Duchess of Lugo (1963)
- Don Felipe de Marichalar y Borbón (1998)
- Doña Victoria de Marichalar y Borbón (2000)
- Infanta Cristina of Spain (1965)
- Don Juan Urdangarin y Borbón (1999)
- Don Pablo Urdangarin y Borbón (2000)
- Don Miguel Urdangarin y Borbón (2002)
- Doña Irene Urdangarin y Borbón (2005)
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Spanish Royal Family in Social Media
One of the criticisms of the Spanish Royal Family nowadays is the little presence on social media. The only official accounts are on Twitter and YouTube.
They don’t have an official Facebook or Instagram account, and obviously not on TikTok.
If you remember, young Spaniards are less in favor of the monarchy than their parents or grandparents. So, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea to expand their presence on social media, like the British Royal Family.
Official Social Media Accounts of the Spanish Royal Family:
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