Not just any connection between the British and Spanish Royal Families

by Lorraine Williamson
royal families

MADRID – The death of Queen Elizabeth II has sparked a flood of messages and condolences from all corners of the planet. All royal families in the world want to express their condolences for the passing of one of the most important figures of the 20th century. 

But there is one family that has particularly strong ties to the British Royal Family: the Spanish. What is the relationship between the two Royal Families? Although the answer is more complicated, everything can be summed up in one sentence: Elizabeth II, her late husband, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Emeritus Kings Juan Carlos I and Sofia of Greece are great-great-grandchildren of Queen Victoria of England. 

United through history 

There are several links between Buckingham Palace and the Spanish royal palace Zarzuela. One of these unites the emeritus King Juan Carlos I with Queen Elizabeth II of England. To know the origin of their most recent relationship, one has to go back a century, namely to 1906. That year, Alfonso XIII, the heir apparent of Spain, married the granddaughter of the Queen Victoria of England (and great-great-grandmother of Elizabeth II): Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg. 

Through this marriage, the two royal houses are forever united. Alfonso and Victoria Eugenia are the paternal grandparents of King Juan Carlos I and great-grandparents of the current King Felipe VI. This kinship is what has united the monarchs of both countries for years. So much so that at a reception at the palace, King Juan Carlos I introduced Queen Elizabeth II as “his Aunt Lilibet,” an affectionate nickname by which her family and those close to her knew her. 

Ties through the Duke of Edinburgh 

But there are also links between the British and Spanish royal families through Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Elizabeth II who died in 2021. The Duke’s mother, Alicia of Battenberg, was the second niece of Victoria Eugenia of Battenberg, (grandmother of King Juan Carlos I and great-grandmother of Felipe VI). 

And Queen Sofia, wife of emeritus King Juan Carlos of Spain? She also has roots in the United Kingdom and is related to the Duke of Edinburgh through her grandfather, King Constantine. King Constantine was the brother of the father of the Duke of Edinburgh. 

State visits: rapprochement between the two families 

But it is not only the royal kinship that unites the two families. For years they have maintained a close relationship through time and generations, through official state visits or private invitations. 

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Although several private visits had already taken place, it was not until 1986 that King Juan Carlos I and King Sofia made the first official visit to the United Kingdom since the Emeritus took the throne. The Kings Emeritus were received at the airport by the then Princes of Wales, Charles and Diana, and stayed at Windsor Palace. They also had time to meet Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and visit the British Parliament. 

Queen Elizabeth II has only visited Spain once. That was in October 1988. Despite her good relationship with the Spanish monarchs, the English Queen never set foot in Spain again, at least not officially. 

The Spanish monarchs did set foot on British soil again during the first official visit of Felipe VI and Queen Letizia in the summer of 2017. 31 years had passed since the previous visit to Great Britain by a Spanish head of state. 

Charles and Diana’s Honeymoon in Gibraltar 

While relations between the British and Spanish royal families have always been healthy, there have also been ups and downs and points of conflict. The biggest took place in 1981 when Kings Juan Carlos I and Sofía decided not to attend the wedding of the heir to the British crown, now renamed Charles III, and Lady Di. That decision came after they learned that the couple would begin their honeymoon in Gibraltar. The newlyweds at the time justified that it was a “private trip”, but the Spanish monarchs ultimately decided not to go to the wedding after all. 

Charles of England and Lady Di in Marivent: summers in Mallorca 

Despite the fact that Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh did not revisit Spain (at least officially), Prince Charles and Lady Di were the ones who did visit Spain. This happened in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1990. During their stay with the Spanish royal family at the Marivent Palace in Palma, they enjoyed the Mallorcan summer, the beaches and the regattas with the Spanish monarchs. 

But apparently, they weren’t all good memories. In the sixth head part of the documentary series Los Borbones: Una familia real, Lady Di tells in her memoir about these summers and her relationship with the Spanish king: “He flirted with me, even in front of the queen”. 

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