Spain’s Queen Letizia appeared alongside her mother-in-law Doña Sofía on Friday in a show of public reconciliation, after a video emerged last week of the two clashing over a photo opportunity at an Easter Mass. The video of former journalist and TVE newsreader Letizia physically blocking a photograph being taken of Sofía with her granddaughters not only brought to light the tensions between the pair but also marred a moment that was meant to help build an image of family harmony.
For years, when the head of the royal household would hire a new a high-ranking official, he would say the same thing: “This is a very complicated job because you have to simultaneously serve the monarchy, the head of state and a family – and it’s the latter which is the hardest to manage.”
It continues to be difficult for her to accept that a queen does not have a private life
Source close to royal family
Relations within the Spanish royal family reportedly began to deteriorate in 2014, when King Juan Carlos I abdicated the throne to his son King Felipe VI. Since then, Felipe’s bid to distance himself from the scandal-ridden reign of his father has eroded the appearance of family unity.
“After his proclamation,” explains an ardent royalist, who preferred to remain anonymous, “King Felipe committed the original sin. He tried to kill his father. He wanted to eliminate his legacy, to wipe away the last very controversial years of King Juan Carlos.
“Perhaps he didn’t realize,” he continues, “that he was deleting the past 30 years, which for many Spaniards – monarchists or not – continue to be the best in Spain’s history.” According to the royalist, Juan Carlos “felt bad” when King Felipe removed him as president of the Cotec Foundation for Innovation. Doña Sofìa was also upset when she was “unnecessarily” sidelined from the Support Foundation against Drug Addiction, he adds.
Making matters worse, last summer, Juan Carlos was not invited to an event in honor of the 40th anniversary of the first democratic elections in Spain. While the organizers of the event – the Spanish Congress and government – were responsible for the oversight, Juan Carlos blamed his son. When Felipe told him he could only attend if he sat in the public gallery, the former king replied: “I don’t plan on being in the henhouse.”
After the event was broadcast on television, Juan Carlos reportedly told his friends: “They are talking about me as if I were dead. They didn’t have a place for me but they could even find space for the granddaughters of ‘La Pasionaria,’” the latter a reference to the Spanish Republican heroine Dolores Ibárruri.
Various authorities warned Felipe not to confuse a new reign with a new monarchy, and the king tried to improve relations with his father. Juan Carlos was encouraged by his son to attend the Easter Mass at the Palma de Mallorca Cathedral – which he had not been to since 2014, two months before he abdicated the throne – but this attempt at public reconciliation was marred by the spat between Letizia and Sofìa.
If Felipe has sought to distance himself from his father, Letizia has tried to position herself on an entirely different planet than her mother-in-law. Sofìa is the daughter, wife and mother of kings. The crown is everything to her. She is a professional monarchist, able to kiss her husband in full view of the country even after his many infidelities had been exposed. Letizia, on the other hand, publicly chided King Felipe for interrupting her during the very first speech she gave after news of her engagement broke.
Felipe’s bid to distance himself from the scandal-ridden reign of his father has hurt the appearance of family unity
But the main battlefront has been to protect the privacy of the king’s children, the infanta Sofía and princess Leonor. The girls have been shielded from the media spotlight and not been allowed to attend the Christmas outings organized by their grandmother.
Then there is the difference between how Sofía and Letizia approach the crown. Journalists report that Letizia is “comfortable” in activities relating to her role in activities such as health and education programs but will “disappear or boycott anywhere where she feels like a decorative vase.”
According to a person close to the royal family, Letizia “does not want to accept that the monarchy is a full time job. It is not a job you work from 8am to 3pm and then go home. It continues to be difficult for her to accept that a queen does not have a private life. Being queen is a complete package – it’s impossible to divide.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.