Leonor's first official portrait

It's a birthday tradition that Spain's royals don't tend to follow as much as other European houses but this year they've made an exception. To mark her 12th birthday, Princess Leonor, heir to the throne, has a new portrait to celebrate. In fact, it's her first official portrait and it comes at a very interesting time indeed.

The image, taken on Spain's national day just a few weeks ago, has been shared on the official Casa Real website on the royal birthday. It's by Francisco Gomez and shows the girl who will be queen posing, relaxed and happy, at the Royal Palace in Madrid. It is released exactly twelve years after the arrival of the first child of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia - Leonor was born on October 31st 2005 in Madrid.

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So far, so very standard. But it's the timing that's really interesting about this portrait.  Spain's royals have barely been seen in the weeks since the disputed independence referendum in Catalonia on October 1st 2017. Leonor's father, King Felipe, has cancelled several engagements in the past few days - a tumultuous time which has seen Catalonia declare independence and the Spanish government impose direct rule on the region ahead of new elections in December this year. No one was expecting this portrait of Leonor and yet, just when her Royal Family needs her, there she is smiling out in a portrait for the history books.

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Turning twelve is a big deal and so it may always have been the plan to release this image. But the last time that Spain's royals shared an official portrait of Leonor to mark her birthday was back in 2006 when she turned one. Then the photos also celebrated the news that her parents were expecting another baby. Now, this new picture comes as her family faces tough questions about its role and little chance of making any public appearances given the political situation. It's a good news stories for Spain's beleagured royals. Any first official portrait is always one for the history books but this photo really does have a special place in Spain's regal story.