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A State Visit 40 years in the making

Queen Silvia and King Carl XVI Gustaf
Frankie Fouganthin / CC BY-SA Wiki Commons

According to the Swedish Royal Household’s website, the Scandinavian country will soon host a State Visit 40 years in the making. 

On the 24th and 25th of November 2021, King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain will travel to Sweden with the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares. 

The last time a Spanish royal couple travelled to the Scandinavian kingdom was 1979 when King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia welcomed King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía. Two years later, in 1981, it was the Spanish royals who hosted the Swedes. To give readers a sense of the time that has passed, back in 1979, King Felipe (then Prince Felipe) was 11 years old, and Crown Princess Victoria was two years old. 

The 1979 State Visit included three gala occasions (meaning, three occasions that required orders and for ladies to wear tiaras): the state banquet, the return banquet and a gala evening, which, in that case, was a performance at the theatre. In 1981, the tone was already more in line with the most significant State Visits of current times, with “just” the state banquet and the return banquet.

Currently, Spain is not known for hosting lavish events at home as the country has been through a series of economic recessions. King Felipe has made it a central point of his reign to project an image of austerity to the public. But Sweden is the exact opposite, with the King and Queen still pulling out all the stops for any incoming State Visit. 

And we all know that one of the basic principles of the protocol is reciprocity. This doesn’t simply mean that the King and Queen of Spain will be expected to host a State Visit for their Swedish counterparts in the future, but that it will also have to be similar, if not equal, in pomp and ceremony. So what can we expect from this long-awaited meeting? 

As a protocol expert, I can say that probably a happy medium will be required; the traditional state banquet will definitely make an appearance in the timeline, with King Felipe and Queen Letizia possibly sporting the sashes of the Order of the Seraphim that King Carl XVI Gustaf will have awarded them earlier in the day. 

And, because the visit will only be two days, I do not expect King Felipe and Queen Letizia to have the time to host either a return banquet or a gala evening. Instead, they will maybe have lunch on the second day with the King and Queen (and possibly other members of the Swedish royal family) at the Spanish Embassy in Stockholm. As for the timeline of the return visit, my expert opinion is that we will see it happening in the span of the next two years, to also honour the history of the previous ones. 

And since Queen Letizia has shown, over the years, a positive attitude towards borrowing her mother-in-law’s dresses, it would not surprise me if she chose to make a nod to the 40-year wait in her choice of clothing or accessories. Nor would I be surprised to see Queen Silvia pay her homages to 1979 or 1981 by retrieving the pieces she had on 40 years ago from her closet. After all, diplomatic dressing is one of the soft skills of diplomacy, and State Visits are all about strengthening the relationship between two countries.