Bourbons Behaving Badly: How the Spanish Royals Got Into Trouble

Accusations of fraud are only the latest headache for Spain's monarchy

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Josep Lago / AFP / Getty Images

Spain's Princess Cristina arrives to attend a funeral mass for Juan Antonio Samaranch at Barcelona's cathedral, April 22, 2010.

Jan. 7 was not a good day for the Spanish royal family. After a lengthy investigation, Princess Cristina, the younger daughter of King Juan Carlos, was charged with tax fraud and money laundering and summoned to appear in court on March 8. The charges are related to Cristina’s husband, former Olympic handball player Inaki Urdangarin, who has been charged with embezzling 6 million euros ($8 million) in public funds through his charitable foundation.

Both Urdangarin and Princess Cristina have denied wrongdoing, and the princess’s lawyer has said he will appeal the summons. The prospect of an ugly public trial would be a major blow to a royal family that has steadily lost popularity in recent years. “Through a miraculous combination of political valor, public deference and children who know how to behave themselves, Spanish King Juan Carlos and his wife, Queen Sofia, have long enjoyed a level of prestige and respect of which most modern European monarchs can only dream,” TIME wrote in 2007. “Until now.”

(MORE: Spanish royalty’s soft-power push.)

That year, Catalan nationalists who set fire to photos of the monarchs during a visit to Girona were arrested for an “attack on the dignity of the monarchy,” but the act inspired photo burnings in other parts of the region. The protests may have revealed cracks in the public’s reverence for the royals, but in a series of blunders and scandals in the years since, the Spanish Bourbons figuratively (and once, literally) shot themselves in the foot.

The Verbal Smackdown
Only a month after the photo-burning protests, King Juan Carlos lost his preternatural cool at the Ibero-American Summit and told then-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, “Why don’t you shut up.” The Spanish press speculated that the king may have been feeling some family stress. That month, his eldest daughter, Infanta Elena, separated from her husband in what the palace called a “temporary cessation of their marriage.” Elena and her husband, Jaime de Marichalar, officially divorced two years later and he was stripped of his title as the Duke of Lugo.

The Lawsuit
In May 2004, Prince Felipe, the heir apparent to the throne, married news anchor Letizia Ortiz, a gorgeous, glamorous commoner who was popular with the press. So too was Letizia’s sister, Telma who, years before Pippa Middleton, snagged some of the spotlight from her royal-by-marriage sister. Only Telma wasn’t happy with the attention, and in 2008, she filed a lawsuit requesting a restraining order against the media. A judge in Toledo, Spain ruled that, like it or not, she was a public figure and not protected under a a privacy law. The media backlash was harsh, and to add insult to injury, Telma had to pay the defense’s legal expenses.

The Shot Heard ‘Round the Peninsula
The graft scandal that would eventually snag Princess Cristina was starting to gain steam in the spring of 2012. News accounts that the king’s son-in-law was being investigated for involvement in a massive corruption scheme were surely causing a headache for the monarchy when the king’s oldest grandson Felipe, then 13, literally shot himself in the foot. Felipe was finishing up target practice on his father’s estate when he accidentally fired a bullet into his right foot. Queen Sofia brushed off the accident, saying, “These things happen with boys.” Only Spanish law prohibits anyone under 14 from operating a firearm, and the country’s Civil Guard opened an investigation, calling the shooting a “clamorous infraction.” A judge would eventually dismiss the case, saying it was negligence, and Felipe recovered from his injury, but the accident shot a hole in the royal family’s image. 

The Elephant in the Room
Less than a week after his grandson’s shooting accident, King Juan Carlos broke his hip while on a hunting expedition in Botswana. The 74-year-old monarch was flown back to Spain on a private jet to have an emergency hip replacement. Rather than elicit sympathy from his loyal subjects, the king’s injury publicized that he had (legally) been hunting elephants. “For the first time in Spanish history, wide swaths of the public are openly criticizing the King, and in some cases going even further,” TIME wrote of the backlash. The newspaper El País said, “hunting elephants for pleasure is obscene and injures the sensibilities of millions,” while a website collected nearly 40,000 signatures calling for the king’s resignation as president of Spain’s branch of the World Wildlife Fund. But the outrage wasn’t limited to animal lovers. The website of the company the king traveled with advertised that their 14-day hunting excursions cost nearly $60,000. The lavish nature of the trip caused an uproar in the midst of an economic crisis, a criticism captured by the conservative newspaper El Mundo: “It transmits an image of indifference and frivolity that a head of state ought never to give.”

1 comments
EnriqueMorataSenar
EnriqueMorataSenar

Bourbon have always liked women and power . It is inside their genetics. But Independentists Catalans are not better.