Friday, 19 June 2015

One year a king

King Felipe VI of Spain marks his first year as king today. He took the throne on June 19th 2014 following the abdication of his father, Juan Carlos I, and now celebrates his first anniversary as a monarch.

Felipe VI, King of Spain, on the day of his accession, June 19th 2014

It was a silent accession in many ways. After the shock of the abdication and the theatre of the signing away of a crown by a world famous king, the actual changeover happened as the clock struck midnight in Madrid. Felipe of Asturias walked out of sight on June 18th 2014 as a prince and reappeared the following morning as King of Spain.

Juan Carlos I and Felipe VI of Spain on the balcony of the Royal Palace in Madrid on June 19th 2014. In front of them is the heiress to the throne, Princess Leonor

He had been given a difficult role. For years, some in his country had described themselves as 'Juancarlists not monarchists' while the Royal House he took on was at its lowest ebb in decades. But again changes came quietly with a short annoucement that his sisters, Elena and Cristina, were no longer part of the Royal Household and that the nucleus of the family was the king, his wife, his parents and his two young daughters.

And then there were six - the new royal family of Spain on the day of the accession of Felipe VI, June 19th 2014

Did the move work? It is perhaps still too soon to say. The decision that the Infanta Cristina would face charges of tax fraud still hit the royals hard as did the recent argument over how she lost her title of Duchess of Palma. But the fact that most royal activity is now focused on Felipe and Letizia and, to a lesser extent Juan Carlos and Sofia, has allowed a fresh face of the crown to begin to emerge.

The Infanta Cristina of Spain is no longer a duchess 

The change has certainly been positive internationally. Felipe and Letizia are a good looking pair and the queen's wardrobe has won her plenty of attention in the year since her husband became king. High profile coverage of them has helped boost their image overseas and at home. And Letizia has also seen her reputation change. In her years as wife of the heir to the throne she was sometimes seen as distant but in her year as a queen she seems to have embraced her royal role with a gusto that was missing before at times.

Letizia, Queen of Spain, has enjoyed increasing popularity in the first year of her husband's reign

And the opinion polls, a year on, largely show a favourable reaction to Felipe VI of the House of Borbon. One survey taken several months ago showed he was the political figure with the highest approval rating while his plans to modernise the monarchy and make it more transparent have also won him support. On the first anniversary of his accession many of his country's papers have polls showing a large majority supporting the changes he has made to the crown.

Felipe and Letizia on their recent State Visit to France - their international reputation has rocketed in the first year of the king's reign

But on the first anniversary of his reign he faces challenges, not least of which remains the ongoing debate about his sister who will probably have faced trial by the time Felipe marks two years on the throne. And he still has a lot of work to do to bring the monarchy back to anywhere near the popularity it enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s.

King Felipe of Spain will continue his reforms of the monarchy over the coming years

But on this first anniversary there are more celebrating that commiserating. The King of Spain will mark the day with a reception at the Royal Palace for different members of the country he now rules. And the papers, magazines and online media have produced largely positive retrospectives of this new king on his big day. It has been a year of surprises, of changes and of challenges. But Felipe VI now looks to the future as a king building on increasingly solid ground.

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