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Granny Knows Best: the grandparents of Felipe VI

King Felipe VI of Spain
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Continuing our series looking into the grandparents of Europe’s reigning monarchs, let’s explore the lives of the grandparents of King Felipe VI of Spain, royalty on both sides.

Infante Juan, Count of Barcelona

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King Felipe’s paternal grandfather, Juan, was a would-be king of Spain in his own right, though the Second Spanish Republic derailed his destiny and led to his son reigning over a restored Spanish throne.

Infante Juan was born in 1913, the third son of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie, and his father’s heir following the renunciation of succession rights of his two older brothers, Alfonso and Jaime in the ‘30s. His father’s reign was replaced by a republic, later led by General Francisco Franco, and the family spent the next several decades in exile.

Infante Juan married Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in 1935, and the royal couple had four children: Infanta Pilar, Infante Juan Carlos, Infanta Margarita and Infante Alfonso. Following the death of King Alfonso XIII in 1941, they asserted their claim to the defunct Spanish throne by using the pretender titles of Count and Countess of Barcelona.

General Franco had declared that Spain would remain a monarchy, but did not want Infante Juan to become the monarch, so he passed over him in 1969 in favour of his son, Infante Juan Carlos. This strained the relationship between father and son, and his wife Infanta María had to act as mediator between the two. King Juan Carlos ascended to a restored Spanish throne in 1975, but Infante Juan only renounced his claim to the throne two years later.

King Juan Carlos allowed his father to keep the title Count of Barcelona, and when he died in 1993, he was buried with the honour of a Spanish king in Madrid.

Infanta Maria, Countess of Barcelona

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King Felipe’s paternal grandmother was born Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies in 1910. This would-be Queen of Spain was descended from royalty on both sides of her family tree (Two Sicilies and French), and was accorded the title of an Infanta of Spain. Her family lived in Spain until Franco’s regime took over, and thereafter lived in Cannes and Paris, where she studied art at the Louvre.

In January 1935, at a family wedding, she met Infante Juan, heir to the Spanish throne, and they were married before the year was over. They styled themselves as the Count and Countess of Barcelona as pretender titles, and had four children, including Infante Juan Carlos.

Their lives were spent largely in exile, in Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, and by the time that Infante Juan Carlos was named heir to Franco, she was the mediator between her husband and son. In 1975, her son became King Juan Carlos of Spain; the following year, the couple returned to Spain and were allowed to keep their titles, Count and Countess of Barcelona.

Infanta María died following a heart attack in 2000 and was buried as a queen of Spain in a royal vault in El Escorial, outside Madrid.

King Paul of Greece

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King Felipe’s maternal grandfather was King Paul of Greece, who reigned from 1947 to 1964.

Born in Athens in 1901, King Paul spent his early years in Greece, the son of King Constantine I and Queen Sophia. He was twice forced out of Greece and lived in exile: the first time from 1917 to 1920; and the second time from 1923 to 1935, where he lived in England.

During the Second World War, he spent periods of time in England, South Africa, and Cairo, and often delivered messages to the Greek people who were living under German occupation. In 1947, he ascended to the Greek throne in the midst of a civil war, which ended in 1949.

He married Princess Frederica of Hanover in January 1938, and the royal couple had three children: Princess Sophia (later Queen Sofía of Spain), Prince Constantine (later King Constantine II of Greece), and Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark.

King Paul helped to rebuild Greece’s diplomatic and economic ties with the world through visits abroad, and spent the majority of the 1950s strengthening these ties, though republicanism was becoming popular again.

He suffered bouts of poor health in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and succumbed to stomach cancer in 1964 following an operation. He was succeeded by his son, Constantine II, who reigned from 1964 to 1973, when the Greek monarchy was abolished once again.

Queen Frederica of Greece

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King Felipe’s maternal grandmother was Queen Frederica of Greece. Born Princess Frederica of Hanover in 1917, she was a Princess of Hanover, of Great Britain and Ireland and of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a descendant of Queen Victoria. At her birth, she was 37th in the line of succession to the British throne.

According to her mother’s memoirs, Adolf Hitler approached them in 1934 to see if they would marry Princess Frederica to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII), though they did not acquiesce, and in 1938, Princess Frederica married Prince Paul of Greece.

The couple, along with the wider Greek Royal Family, spent periods of exile abroad and left the country again during the Second World War. In 1946, Prince Paul’s older brother, George II, was restored to his throne and the royal family returned to Greece. The following year, George II died childless and Paul ascended to the throne as King Paul.

As Queen, Frederica was largely criticised for her German heritage and was often found to be an interfering personality in Greek politics. When King Paul died in 1964, Frederica became the Queen Mother as her only son ascended to the throne as Constantine II. She largely stepped back from public life to avoid the criticisms that had plagued her as queen consort, and to allow her daughter-in-law, Queen Anne-Marie, to step into her own role.

After the Greek monarchy was abolished in 1973, she lived outside the country and died in Madrid in 1984. She was buried at Tatoi Palace in Athens but the Greek Royal Family were not allowed to linger in the country following her death—they had to leave immediately after her burial.

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.