She is perhaps the last of the old European royal way. Daughter of a king, sister of a king, wife of a king and mother of a king, Queen Sofía of Spain has a regal tale unmatched on the continent, and in the 21st century, it is a rarity. But she’s far more than a sum of her dynastic parts.
Sofía is a consort who was pioneering a new way of carrying out the ancient role of royalty decades ago. She’s seen coups, exile and the lightning-fast pace of change transform several monarchies, several times over. Now, with her husband in exile and her son facing increasing calls for a debate on the future of his country’s crown, Queen Sofía of Spain sees another challenge open up in front of her. The ‘most royal’ royal in Europe is witnessing another historic moment in a life that has already experienced plenty.
Let’s start with that family tree, for it really is unusual in 2020. Sofía is the daughter of King Paul of the Hellenes who ruled Greece between 1947 and 1964. He was the son of King Constantine I and Queen Sophia, originally a Prussian princess. Among his great-grandparents were King Christian IX of Denmark, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and Wilhelm I, Emperor of Germany. One of his great, great grandparents was Tsar Nicholas I of Russia while his first cousins include Prince Philip. King Paul gave his daughter, Sofía (born as Sophia), a very regal inheritance.
And that’s before we get to her mother, Queen Frederica, whose grand attitude was matched by her DNA. A granddaughter of Wilhelm II, the last Emperor of Germany, she also claimed descent from Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and King Christian IX of Denmark as well as from a host of German ruling houses which might not carry the same name recognition today but which, for centuries, held genuine power in Europe.
Sofía watched her only brother become King Constantine II of Greece in 1964 (and lose his throne nine years later) by which time she was already married to Juan Carlos of Spain who became his country’s king in November 1975. Queen Sofía’s only son, Felipe, succeeded Juan Carlos as king in 2014.
But if her family tree has all the echoes of a fading past, her everyday life is modern royalty writ large. Sofía has taken on a wide range of interests and given her support to a diverse group of organisations during her time as Queen of Spain. While we expect modern royals to use their profile to shine a spotlight on some of the less spoken about problems in society, Sofía was one of the first to make it happen. The charities she backs include those supporting people experiencing addiction and those helping some of the poorest children in the world. Her Queen Sofía Foundation made food banks a priority as economic troubles began to hit Europe while she has been a high profile backer of research into dementia. The very pattern of being a 21st-century royal was partly forged by Sofía.
And there’s no doubt she has a new role to forge now. For she is a vital weapon in Felipe VI’s battle to shore up the popularity of a monarchy hit by scandal and now, suggestions from some politicians that it might have seen better days. Consistently one of the most admired members of the Spanish Royal Family, the enduring affection and respect that Queen Sofía inspires will be needed by her son as he faces a summer of turbulence.
The decision of her husband, Juan Carlos, to head into exile hasn’t change Sofía’s role. She and Felipe are famously close and she will be at his side as he faces the most difficult part of his reign yet. She, more than anyone, understands the fickle nature of popularity. While her own remains high, she has seen that of Spain’s royals as a group tumble from almost giddy highs in the early 1990s to worrying lows in 2020.
There’s little chance of that putting Sofía off carrying out her royal role. Born a daughter of a king, later the sister of a king, wife to a king and now the mother of a king, this Queen of Spain is the very embodiment of royalty. The irony now is that Sofía, with her unmatched regal family tree and pioneering attitude to modern monarchy, is now the royal with the most uncertain future in Europe.