The King ( el Rey) of Spain is Juan Carlos I, who’s married to Queen ( la Reina) Sofía of the Greek royal family. They have one son, Prince Felipe, Prince of Asturias and heir to the throne, and two daughters, the Princesses Elena and Cristina. Princess Elena was married to Jaime de Marichalar amid much pomp and ceremony in Seville cathedral in 1995, Spain’s first royal wedding for 89 years (King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía were married in Athens in 1962). Princess Cristina was married in 1998 to Iñaki Undangarín in Barcelona.
In May 2004, Prince Felipe married Letizia Ortiz, a journalist and newsreader on La Primera’s 9pm news. Her ‘commoner’ origins, plus the fact that she was divorced caused certain disquiet among the more conservative sections of Spanish society, but Letizia, now Princess of Asturias, has been warmly welcomed by the Spanish royal family and is popular with the majority of Spaniards who believe that the Prince should marry whoever he wishes. Their first child and Felipe’s heir was born in November 2005.
The royal family live in the Palacio de la Zarzuela, a few miles to the north-west of Madrid and also have use of the Palacio de Marivent in Palma de Mallorca. The King pays taxes and the Spanish royal family is one of the least expensive to maintain in Europe. The King is the supreme commander of the armed forces and has a considerable personal influence on politics, although his powers are strictly limited by the constitution. His duties include the promulgation of laws and decrees, the calling of elections and referendums, and the appointment of ministers.
In addition to the royal family, the Spanish aristocracy comprises numerous hereditary and non-hereditary title holders, many of whom received their titles from the King. The leading nobility in Spain number some 400 and have the title of grandee ( los grandes de España) in addition to their other titles. There are also some 2,500 nobles (including marquises, counts, viscounts, barons and lords) who don’t merit the title of grandee, and a large number of ‘knights’ ( hidalgos), although the title is no longer used. A title confers no economic or legal privileges on the holder, although they have considerable social cachet in the right circles.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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