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Birth of a princess: The arrival of Leonor

Princess Leonor was born in the early hours of 31 October 2005, the first child of then-Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. Unusually for the time—though not out of place in today’s tech-savvy world—her birth was announced to the press via SMS messaging.

She was the first Spanish heir to be born in the realm under an active monarchy in over a century—her grandfather, King Juan Carlos, was born eight years after the abolition of the Spanish monarchy, in 1938, and her father was born in 1968, seven years before it was restored.

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The newborn princess was delivered via c-section, and her proud father couldn’t help but gush in a press conference hours later.

This is the most beautiful thing that can happen to someone in life,” Felipe told the press. “Seeing your daughter’s face for the first time, and that of the mother in the process, is exceptional.”

Leonor’s name was chosen, Felipe said, because “it has many historical ties, and we liked it.” In an interview after they left the hospital, Letizia elaborated: “On the list of girl names was Leonor because [Felipe] liked it a lot; it was very exciting for him, and I loved it.”

Among the visitors at the hospital were Paloma Rocasolano, Letizia’s mother, and King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía, Felipe’s parents. As they left the hospital, they told reporters that Leonor was “chubby and round.” King Juan Carlos said that the chosen name of Leonor was “beautiful,” and Queen Sofía joked that she’d lost a bet: she’d been banking on a grandson.

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Letizia’s father, Jesús Ortiz, and stepmother, Ana Togores, also paid a visit, as did the then-Prime Minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and his wife, and then-Leader of the Opposition Mariano Rajoy. Felipe’s sister, Infanta Cristina, provided a comment from afar, saying she was “very happy and excited” to have a new niece.

The new princess’s first gift was a basket filled with pink teddy bears from one of Felipe’s friends, Miguel Primo de Rivera.

Leonor’s birth sparked calls for constitutional reforms, and Felipe was one of the first to acknowledge this, telling reporters that a future queen hadn’t been born that day, instead, “an Infanta has been born. But the logic of the times indicates that if the reform proposed by the government occurs, and they must validate the Cortes Generales, expressing the majority sentiment of the Spanish people, that is how it will be.”

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Spain still adheres to a male-preference primogeniture that favours sons over daughters, meaning that if Felipe and Letizia had had any sons after Leonor, they would displace her in the line of succession. Leonor’s only sibling, a younger sister named Sofía, was born in 2007, and succession discussions were tabled and have not been resumed. When she ascends the throne, she will be the first queen regnant since 1868.

When Letizia and Leonor left the hospital a week after birth, Letizia told the reporters outside that she had cried seeing her daughter for the first time: “She’s cute, isn’t she? She’s gorgeous.”

At her baptism on 14 January 2006, she received the name Leonor de Todos los Santos. She was baptised at Zarzuela Palace by the Archbishop of Madrid using water from the River Jordan. Her godparents are her paternal grandparents, King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía.

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At the time of her birth, Leonor was given the title of Infanta. It was only with her father’s accession in 2014 that she gained her current titles of Princess of Asturias, Princess of Girona, and a host of other titles designated to the direct heir to the Spanish throne.

The years since her father’s accession have been dedicated to education and, in the past few months, military training. Princess Leonor has not undertaken a full schedule of engagements and only typically attends the Princess of Asturias Foundation Awards, the Princess of Girona Foundation Awards, and state events.

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In September, she began her three-year military training program, which will see her spend a year with each branch of the military.

On her 18th birthday, Princess Leonor will swear an oath to take her place as heir. She will also receive the Collar of the Order of Charles III from her father and attend a lunch with government officials and a private dinner with family.

About author

Jess Ilse is the Assistant Editor at Royal Central. She specialises in the British, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Royal Families and has been following royalty since Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. Jess has provided commentary for media outlets in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Jess works in communications and her debut novel THE MAJESTIC SISTERS will publish in Fall 2024.