Felipe to take Spanish throne in midst of crisis

On his accession the new king must make himself useful to the country

Stamps depicting Spain’s Prince Felipe as future king are covered with gum for keychains at a factory in Colmenar Viejo. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Stamps depicting Spain’s Prince Felipe as future king are covered with gum for keychains at a factory in Colmenar Viejo. Photograph: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 01:00

Fidel Castro reportedly once said to Spain’s King Juan Carlos: “That son of yours, who’s so tall and fair, what is he – some kind of viceroy?”

This anecdote is recounted by author José García Abad in his book La Soledad del Rey (The King’s Solitude). Published just over 10 years ago, it reflects some of the doubts that hung over the heir to the throne at the time.

Crown Prince Felipe was still single then, having had a string of relationships with women from aristocratic and jet-setting backgrounds. More importantly, his suitability as Spain’s future monarch was questioned even by many pro-royal Spaniards, who wondered if he could be as effective a king as his widely admired father.

A decade on, things are very different. Prince Felipe is married with two daughters and has successfully built a reputation for seriousness and discretion. This contrasts with the sliding popularity of his father, who has spent 39 years on the throne. Following Juan Carlos’s sudden abdication announcement on June 2nd, the feeling is that the crown prince is well prepared for his proclamation as King Felipe VI, on June 19th.

“He’s a very well-rounded, mature and sophisticated 46-year-old,” says Charles Powell, a historian who has spent many hours in the future king’s company. “Prince Felipe has had a very well-rounded education, both civilian and military, which has prepared him for the challenges ahead.”

That education included spells in a Madrid primary school, a Canadian boarding school and three military academies. But perhaps a bigger mark was made on the young prince on the night of February 23rd, 1981, when a group of civil guard officers, nostalgic for the right-wing authoritarianism of the dictator Francisco Franco, attempted a coup d’état. King Juan Carlos, who had taken the throne in 1975, just after Franco’s death, was instrumental in thwarting the putsch, ensuring the military stayed loyal to the crown and that the fledgling democracy was not derailed.

The 13-year-old Felipe was by the king’s side in the royal palace throughout that dramatic night, watching as his father came through the biggest test of his reign and one of the main reasons for his enormous popularity in the following years.

Cosseted aristocrat

The royal family sought to ensure Felipe’s higher education was relatively normal and he attended Madrid’s public Autónoma University before taking a master’s degree at Washington DC’s Georgetown University.

However, the attempt to shake off the image of a cosseted aristocrat was not a total success. The writer Manuel Vicent has in the past praised the prince, but lamented that he was “raised in the company of a group of in-bred posh friends who were capable of wearing ironed jeans and tasselled shoes of Moroccan leather.”

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