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Royal Wedding Rewind: Juan Carlos and Sofia of Spain


It was a royal wedding that turned into a marriage of monarchs. Juan Carlos and Sofia of Spain are amongst the best known kings and queens in recent European history and yet at the time of their marriage, he had no guarantee of succeeding to his country’s throne. That didn’t stop their wedding becoming one of the biggest royal events of the early 1960s. Royal Wedding Rewind looks back at the marriage of a prince and princess who carved their own place in history.

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Their romance was a bit of a surprise even though the two were regulars at the events held in the late 50s to pair up eligible princes and princesses at a time when many dynasties were looking to rebuild after the instability that had swept European royal houses in the previous decades. Princess Sophia of Greece, daughter of King Paul and Queen Frederica, had been linked to Norway’s then heir, Harald. Juan Carlos, whose royal family was in exile, was tipped to marry Princess Maria Gabriella of Italy whose own family had also lost its throne. However, Juan Carlos and Sophia spent increasing amounts of time together with speculation mounting over a possible relationship following the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Kent in 1961. Three months later they announced their engagement.

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Putting on this royal wedding was far from simple. Juan Carlos, then known as the Prince of Asturias, lived in Madrid under the rule of the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, while his family were resident in Portugal following their flight into exile in 1931. Athens was chosen as the best option for the wedding but Juan Carlos was Catholic and Sophia a member of the Greek Orthodox Church. Two ceremonies were arranged – the first at the Cathedral of St. Denis in Athens with the second taking place the same day at the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin. The date was set for May 14th 1962 and as that spring month dawned, Europe’s royals converged on Athens for days of pre wedding celebrations.

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The guest list included the King of Norway, the Queen of the Netherlands, the Queen of Denmark and the Sovereign Prince of Monaco. However, not everyone could attend both ceremonies owing to space restrictions so several of those invited only saw one service took place. The first wedding celebrations, at the Cathedral of St. Denis, started at 10am on the wedding morning with Sophia arriving with her father, King Paul, while Juan Carlos waited at the altar for her. Amongst her bridesmaids were here sister, Princess Irene of Greece and Princess Alexandra of Kent as well as her cousins, Princess Benedikte and Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark – the latter would become her sister in law within just a few years. The couple then headed through streets packed with wellwishers to the Royal Palace where they parted again to make their way to the Metropolitan Cathedral for the Orthodox ceremony.

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The bride wore the same outfit for both services. Sophia’s wedding dress was the creation of Jean Desses and featured a fitted bodice with three quarter length sleeves. The skirt, full length and flared, flowed into a twenty foot long train, all made from silver and white lame with the bodice covered in lace. Sophia wore the same veil as her mother, Frederica, had done at her own wedding. The Belgian lace veil was held in place by another heirloom, an all diamond tiara featuring a Greek key design which Frederica had been given by her mother, Viktoria Luise of Prussia and which the queen now passed to her own daughter. Sophia carried a bouquet of lily of the valley for her wedding.

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The reception was held at the Royal Palace in Athens where all the guests came together again. This was followed by a long honeymoon that began in Greece and took the couple around the world.

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The couple moved to Spain where their three children were born while the newlywed princess changed the spelling of her name to Sofia. In 1975, Juan Carlos became King of Spain on the death of the fascist dictator, Francisco Franco. He quickly set about working to introduce democracy to Spain, helping to bring the country to freedom. For decades, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia were a hugely popular royal couple. However, in the early 2010s, his reign became mired in controversy and he stepped aside in favour of his only son who became King Felipe VI in June 2014. Juan Carlos and Sofia’s marriage has been the subject of much speculation. But their royal wedding remains the start of a partnership that would change Spain and Europe forever.

About author

Lydia is a writer, blogger and journalist. She's worked in the media for over twenty years as a broadcast reporter, producer and editor as well as feature and online writer. As well as royals and royal history, she's a news junkie and podcaster.