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Queen Letizia of Spain: a very modern consort

Queen Letizia of Spain has enjoyed a high profile internationally since her husband became King Felipe VI. In fact her entry into the world of royalty got plenty of people talking. When it was announced that she was to marry Felipe, then heir to the throne of Spain, there was widespread surprise for although Letizia was well known as the presenter of one of her country’s main news programmes her name hadn’t even really been linked to that of the prince. Furthermore, she was divorced which raised some eyebrows and she wasn’t afraid to let her opinions be known – which raised even more.

One of the big surprises about Felipe’s choice of bride was that she was Spanish as he had been expected in some quarters to choose a foreign royal as a wife. Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano was born in Oviedo, in the north of Spain, on September 15th, 1972 to Jose Ortiz and his wife, Paloma Rocasolano. Their daughter would grow up to be the first Spanish-born queen of her country for over a century.

She spent her childhood in Oviedo and then in Madrid when her family, which grew to include two sisters called Telma and Eirka, moved to the Spanish capital. Letizia went to high school and university there – her degree was in journalism. She travelled to Mexico to continue her studies. On her return to Spain, she began her rise through the ranks of TV journalism. She worked for the Spanish version of Bloomberg TV and for CNN+ and then landed a job at the main broadcaster, TVE, where she began to anchor news programmes. By the late summer of 2003 she was hosting the main news bulletin on TVE but soon afterwards, she hit the headlines herself when it was confirmed that she would marry the future King of Spain.

One of the reasons that Letizia was such a talked about royal bride was her past. While at university in Madrid she had begun a relationship with a lecturer, Alonso Guerrero, which led to them marrying in a civil ceremony in 1998 a decade on from their first meeting. They parted soon afterwards and were divorced in 1999. But Prince Felipe was a Catholic which made a divorced woman a controversial choice as a bride. As her first wedding had no religious element, the royal marriage was given the go ahead.

She was also a commoner and by saying ‘I do’ to Felipe she became the first non-royal woman to be in line to become the consort of Spain. There was huge interest in her family from the trade union membership of her mother to the fact that one of her grandfathers was a taxi driver. They joined royalty from around the world in the Almudena Cathedral in Madrid on May 22, 2004, to see Letizia marry Felipe.

Spain's Crown Prince Felipe (R) and his wife Princess Letizia arrive for the religious wedding service of Luxembourg's Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Countess Stephanie de Lannoy at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Luxembourg October 20, 2012. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir (LUXEMBOURG - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY ROYALS)

King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain

The new Prince and Princess of Asturias wasted no time in beginning a family welcoming their first child, a daughter, on October 31 2005. But even then Letizia got people talking as the couple gave their little girl a very royal but very unexpected name. Their decision to call the future queen of Spain Leonor surprised almost as many people as their engagement had just two years earlier.

A second daughter, Sofia, was born on April 29, 2007, at the same Madrid hospital as her sister. Letizia began to consolidate her role within the Spanish royal family and took on more engagements. She has a special interest in organisations linked to education and training and took on her first solo overseas engagement in 2010. But her lack of solitary appearances did lead to criticism from some parts while concerns over her health have been raised sporadically as she appeared very thin in some public engagements (the royal household has always denied any problems).

And by then there were bigger issues to deal with. As the investigations into the financial dealings of Felipe’s sister, the Infanta Cristina, and her husband, Inaki Urdangarin, increased the popularity of Spain’s royals began to decline. In 2012, when it was revealed that King Juan Carlos had gone on a secret hunting holiday to Botswana, the family’s reputation took another tumble. By the time Felipe became king, following his father’s unexpected abdication, the royal family was in trouble.

Which means there has been a lot of pressure on the new King and his wife in the fifteen months since then. They have been much talked about as a fresh face for the family, a new start, a way of modernising an institution which has faced plenty of trouble in recent years. The decision to limit the royal family to Felipe, Letizia, their daughters and Juan Carlos and his wife, Sofia, has also put more pressure on the new queen. With her daughters too young to perform royal engagements and her parents in law taking a backseat, royal appearances are mostly down to Felipe and Letizia.

It doesn’t appear that things will get any easier in the short term. The Infanta Cristina, who lost her title of Duchess of Palma in the summer, will now appear before a court charged with tax evasion. There is also a not unsizeable section of society calling for a republic. However, Letizia and Felipe have consolidated their positions and do well in popularity polls. Letizia has won a big following as a fashion icon and recently appeared, again, in the Vanity Fair Best Dressed List. And the royal couple’s overseas visits have proved successful while earlier this summer, Queen Letizia was named as a special UN ambassador for nutrition.

And as she marks her birthday, Spain’s Queen will be enjoying another of those popular foreign tours as she steps through the doors of the White House at the invitation of the US President. The photos will no doubt be beamed around the world and help spread the fame of the woman who arrived 43 years ago today destined to be Spain’s first homeborn queen in years.

Photo credit: By Junta Informa [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons and Alexis via Flickr

This article was amended slightly on Tuesday 11th July 2017 to reflect changes in dates.