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King Juan Carlos celebrates 80th birthday

King Juan Carlos I, the father of Spain’s reigning King, Felipe VI, celebrates his 80th birthday today. How the former monarch is celebrating his special day has been kept private, but it has been reported that he will celebrate with his wife, children, grandchildren, sisters and their families with a dinner at Zarzuela Palace today.

Casa Real has said that there would be different events throughout this year to honour him, however, with the first taking place during on 6 January, according to Spain’s Ok Diario.

The former king reigned from 22 November 1975 until his abdication in favour of his youngest child and only son, Felipe (then the Prince of Asturias) on 19 June 2014.

Juan Carlos Alfonso Víctor María de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias was born on 5 January 1938 to Infante Juan of Spain and Infanta María de las Mercedes of Spain (who was born Princess María de las Mercedes of Bourbon-Two-Sicilies) in Rome, Italy, while his family was in exile. Juan Carlos has one older sister, Infanta Pilar and a younger brother and sister: Infanta Margarita and Infante Alfonso. Alfonso died in a gun accident when he was 14 while in Portugal for the Easter holiday. Juan Carlos was in the room with Alfonso when the gun the latter was cleaning accidentally fired hitting him in the head at 8:30 pm. He died just a few moments later.

King Alfonso XIII, Juan Carlos’s grandfather, left Spain in 1931 after the abolition of the monarchy and went into exile in Italy. After General Francisco Franco’s side won the Spanish Civil War, a law was passed to allow the dictator Franco to choose his successor. The far right demanded that the monarchy be restored, and Franco chose Juan Carlos as his successor, naming him Prince of Spain, thinking he could groom him to keep the ultraconservative government of his time in power.

It was on 30 October 1975 that Franco gave Juan Carlos full control of the government and died just a few weeks later. He was named King of Spain on 22 November of that year. Where Franco hoped Juan Carlos would keep his fascist regime, the King instead became instrumental in leading the way to democracy for Spain.

In his personal life, he met his future wife, then-Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark, who was the daughter of the King of Greece, on a cruise in 1954. They married almost a decade later on 14 May 1962 in Athens, Greece, at the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Dionysius. The bride Latinised her name to Sofía and converted from Greek Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism to be more in line with her new country. She also relinquished her right to the Greek throne, which would come to an end just a few years later while her brother, Constantine was on the throne.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía have three children: Infanta Elena (b. 1963), Infanta Cristina (b. 1965) and King Felipe (b. 1968). They also have eight grandchildren.

While a popular monarch for the majority of his reign, scandals and criticism tarnished his legacy as his time on the throne neared its end, which included a controversial elephant hunting trip in Botswana in 2012 and the corruption trial of his daughter Infanta Cristina and her husband, Iñaki Urdangarin. The latter resulted in the overall approval of the Spanish monarchy taking a nosedive. In 2013, El Paísa Spanish newspaper, reported their approval rating was at 3.68 out of 10. As a result, he chose to abdicate in favour of his son, Felipe, on 19 June 2014, in a move some argued saved the Spanish monarchy.

King Juan Carlos’s approval rating of his reign after the abdication was higher than it had been before he relinquished the throne, with El Mundo reporting he had 65% approval rating, which was up from 41.3%.

He still attends events in Spain and around the world while representing Casa Real and has no doubt provided significant guidance and support for his only son, the reigning King Felipe, and his 12-year-old granddaughter, Leonor, Princess of Asturias, who is expected to one day ascend the throne as Queen of Spain.

From all of us at Royal Central, Feliz Cumpleaños Su Majestad/Happy Birthday Your Majesty!

About author

Brittani is from Tennessee, USA. She is a political scientist and historian after graduating with a degree in the topics from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in December 2014. She also holds a master's degree from Northeastern University. She enjoys reading and researching all things regarding the royals of the world. Her love of royals began in middle school, and she's been researching, reading, and writing on royalty for over a decade. She became Europe Editor in October 2016, and then Deputy Editor in January 2019, and has been featured on several podcasts, radio shows, news broadcasts and websites.