This past week, I joined a panel discussion on the Monocle 24 Foreign Desk radio show to discuss the Abdication of King Juan Carlos and the future of Europe’s monarchies.
I discussed the Abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain and the future of Europe’s monarchies with the BBC World Service this week. (My interview is the last 10 minutes of the program).
1) King Felipe VI of Spain’s Installation to Take Place on June 19, 2014
The History: King Juan Carlos of Spain announced his intention to abdicate on Monday June 2, 2014. The installation of his son as King Felipe VI will take place on June 19 in a joint session of Spain’s Congress and Senate in Madrid. Since Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953 televised coronation ceremony is so well known, a number of journalists have described the upcoming ceremony as a “coronation.” Felipe will not be crowned but instead sworn into office in the same manner as his father, Juan Carlos, in 1975. There will not be any foreign royalty or other heads of state in attendance at the ceremony because of the short notice and shortage of seating room in Spain’s parliament.
The surrounding festivities, however, will differ between the two reigns. Juan Carlos attended a celebratory Mass following his installation. There will not be any religious component to Felipe’s succession to throne. The focus will be on Felipe VI’s role as leader of Spain’s armed forces with the new King attending the installation in uniform and full military honours taking place outside Congress. The King’s military leadership played a crucial role in recent Spanish history. In 1981, Juan Carlos prevented a coup against Spain’s nascent democratic government by ordering the troops to stand down in a televised address as Commander-in-Chief.
2) Prince Philip will celebrate his 93rd birthday on June 10, 2014
The History: Queen Elizabeth II’s consort Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh will turn 93 on June 10, 2014. Despite health problems in recent years, Philip maintains a busy schedule of royal engagements and continues to support the Queen in her duties. Philip is the oldest and longest serving royal consort in British and Commonwealth history.
There have only been four other men married to undisputed reigning Queens over the course of English history. Philip II of Spain, consort of Mary I, and William III, consort of Mary II were both reigning monarchs in their own right. George of Denmark, consort of Anne, and Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, consort of Victoria, were both junior members of foreign royal houses like Prince Philip. From the beginning of the Queen’s reign, Philip made clear that he intended to re-imagine his role to support a modern monarchy. He explained to his biographer, Gyles Brandreth, “Queen Victoria was an executive sovereign, following in a long line of executive sovereigns. The Prince Consort was effectively Victoria’s private secretary. But after Victoria the monarchy changed. It became an institution. I had to fit in with the institution.”
3) Prince William to launch new United for Wildlife Campaign on Monday June 9, 2014
The History: The Duke of Cambridge will announce his new initiative for United for Wildlife, the online #WhoseSideAreYouOn campaign, at London’s Google town hall on Monday June 9, 2014. At the launch, William will be joined by soccer star David Beckham. As part of the campaign, high profile athletes will encourage opposition to trade in illegal wildlife products by engaging with young people on social media.
The #WhoseSideAreYouOn campaign combines three key assets that royalty have brought to philanthropy for decades: personal engagement with problems that require multi-generational solutions, a willingness to promote their message through new technologies and the public profile to bring different groups together in support of a single cause. By founding United for Wildlife, which combines the resources of seven global conservation organisations and the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, William is following in the footsteps of his father, Prince Charles and grandfather, Prince Philip who both champion environmental conservation efforts.
I participated in a panel discussion about the abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain and the future of Europe’s monarchies on Monocle 24 radio (based in London, UK) today.
King Juan Carlos of Spain announced today that he will abdicate in favour of his son Felipe, Prince of the Asturias, who will reign as King Felipe VI.
I was interviewed by Bloomberg News about the Spanish royal family prior to today’s announcement. Click here to read Spain’s King Juan Carlos Abdicates to Make Way for Youth
I will be participating in a Postmedia online royal chat this Wednesday, June 4 at 2pm ET on King Juan Carlos of Spain’s plans to abdicate, whether the continental European trend toward abdication will have any influence on Queen Elizabeth II, royal attendance at the D-Day 70th anniversary ceremonies , Prince Philip’s 93rd birthday and the Duke of York’s upcoming visit to Canada.
In my first column of 2014, I discuss the recent unpopularity of the Spanish royal family, placing the scandals of the past few years within the context of the otherwise successful reign of King Juan Carlos. If the King decides to abdicate in the coming year, the end of his reign will be an opportunity for Spain to look back on his key role in the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy in the late 1970s.
My latest article on the website for the Magna Carta Canada 2015 touring exhibition discusses the connections between King John’s England and the wider world in 1215. King John was the father-in-law of Llewellyn the Great, Prince of Wales and King Alexander II of Scotland, and his sisters married the rulers of Saxony (now part of Germany), Sicily and Castile (now part of Spain). John’s elder brother, King Richard I, traveled extensively in Europe, the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Land as a leader of the Third Crusade. English knowledge of the world beyond these regions was more uncertain in 1215 but gradually increased during the reign of John’s son, Henry III when contact was made with the growing Mongol Empire ruled by Genghis Khan.
My column in Saturday’s Kingston Whig-Standard discusses why Queen Elizabeth II will never abdicate despite the 2013 retirements of Pope Benedict XVI, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, the Emir of Qatar and King Albert II of Belgium.
On January 2, 1492, King Mohammed XII of Granada, known to the Spanish as Boabdil, surrendered his capital to King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. The Moorish King’s capitulation ended the eight month siege of Granada and the the ten year war waged by Ferdinand and Isabella to unify all Spain under their leadership. The Fall of Granada, however, was not simply a change in political circumstances for the Iberian peninsula. For Ferdinand and Isabella, the reconquest of Granada was a religious crusade intended to replace the co-existence of Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities with a unified, Roman Catholic state.
From the establishment of the Caliphate of Cordoba in the 8th century, establishing Muslim rule over much of modern day Spain and Portugal through the gradual Christian reconquest of the Iberian peninsula during the later Middle Ages, Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities co-existed and lived in relative harmony. There was cultural exchange between members of the three religions, most notably in centres of learning such as the University of Salamanca.
Despite increased conflict between the three religions during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, there was still evidence of interfaith co-operation and celebration in the decades immediately preceding the fall of Granada. When the future Queen Isabella’s sister-in-law, Blanca of Navarre arrived in Castile to marry King Enrique IV in 1441, the Chronicle of King Juan II recorded that in the village of Brivesca, “Following [the artisans] came the Jews with the Torah and the Moors with the Quran [dancing] in the manner usually reserved for [the entry of] kings who come to rule a foreign country. There were also many trumpets, tambourines, drums and flute players.” The celebrations accompanying Blanca’s arrival demonstrated the enduring tradition of interfaith co-operation and coexistence in medieval Spain.
Isabella, Ferdinand and Muhammad had few examples of harmony or coexistence in their own early lives. All three future rulers were born into uncertain circumstances and had to fight for their place in the royal succession. Isabella was born in 1451, the daughter of King Juan II of Castile and his second wife, Isabel of Portugal. Her father died when she was three and her mother increasingly withdrew from public life due to depression. Isabella’s elder half-brother, Enrique IV did not allow Isabel full access to her dower income and the family lived modestly for royalty. According to the chronicler Fernando del Pulgar, “The Queen, Our Lady, from childhood was without a father, and we can even say a mother . . . She had work and cares, and an extreme lack of necessary things.”
In Aragon, Isabella’s second cousin Ferdinand, born in 1452 as the son of King Juan II of Aragon and his second wife, Juana Enriquez, faced the potential collapse of his kingdom before ascending to the throne. The region of Catalonia was determined to regain its independence and the elderly King Juan did not appear to have the energy or authority to maintain the cohesion of his kingdom. The young Ferdinand and his mother assumed authority over the conflict with Catalonia.
At sixteen, Ferdinand was already a politically active figure, addressing the Parliament of Aragon in Zaragoza in 1468, “Lords: You all know with what hardships my lady mother has sustained the war to keep Catalonia within the House of Aragon. I see my lord father old and myself very young. Therefore I commend myself to you and place myself in your hands and ask you to please consider me as a son.”
In Castile, Isabella was determined to avoid marriage to a distant sovereign that would prevent her from eventually succeeding her brother, Enrique. The King of Castile was unpopular and his acknowledged daughter Juana was rumoured to be illegitimate, circumstances that improved Isabella’s political situation. In 1469, the eighteen year old Isabella entered into secret negotiations with seventeen year old Ferdinand and the Prince slipped into Castile disguised as a servant so they could be married without the knowledge of Enrique IV.
Isabella became Queen of Castile in 1475 and spent the early years of her reign fighting factions loyal to Infanta Juana. Ferdinand became King of Aragon in 1479. The “Catholic Kings” as the royal couple were known acted as partners throughout their kingdoms. A German visitor to the court of Castile in 1484, Nicolaus von Poppelau observed, “The King did nothing without the consent of the queen; he did not seal his own letters until the queen had read them, and if the queen did not approve of one of them the secretary tore it up in the presence of the King himself.” Isabella’s authority within her marriage was unusual as lands belonging to royal heiresses of this period were often controlled by their husbands.
Ferdinand and Isabella shared the goal of reconquering Granada throughout their reigns. The fall of the last Moorish kingdom in the Iberian peninsula would not only contribute their religious goals but neutralize a political threat in the person of Muhammad XII. Muhammad became King of Granada in 1482 following the expulsion of his unpopular father, King Abu l-Hasan Ali. To prove his ability to rule over the competing claims of his uncles and exiled father, Muhammad invaded Castile on numerous occasions. The conquest of Granada allowed Isabella and Ferdinand to impose Roman Catholicism on all of modern day Spain and neutralize any threats to their authority and religion. Jews who refused to convert to Catholicism were expelled from the Iberian peninsula in 1492 and the Isabella and Ferdinand created the Spanish Inquisition to investigate the sincerity of conversions.
The explorer Christopher Columbus was present at Mohammad XII’s surrender and described the event in a letter to the Catholic Kings, “After your Highnesses ended the war of the Moors who reigned in Europe, and finished the war of the great city of Granada, where this present year on the 2nd January I saw the royal banners of Your Highnesses planted by force of arms on the towers of the Alhambra, which is the fortress of the said city, I saw the Moorish sultan issue from the gates of the said city, and kiss the royal hands of Your Highnesses.” The fall of Granada provided Queen Isabella with the funds to provide Columbus with ships for his first Atlantic voyage in 1492.
Ferdinand and Isabella’s goal of a unified Spain, however, proved elusive. The death of their only son, Juan, resulted in the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon becoming part of the Holy Roman Empire during the reign of their daughter Juana’s son, Emperor Charles V. The dynastic union of Aragon and Castile would not become a formal political union until the reign of the first Bourbon King Philip V, following the War of the Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century. The Battle for Spain increased the wealth and religious authority of the Catholic Kings but the political unification of Castile and Aragon would not occur for another two centuries.
Peggy K. Liss, Isabel the Queen: Life and Times, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
ed. David A. Boruchoff, Isabel La Católica, Queen of Castile: Critical Essays, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003.
Henry Kamen, Spain, 1469-1714: A Society of Conflict (3rd Edition), 3rd Edition, Harlow: Pearson, 2005.
Chris Lowney, A Vanished World: Medieval Spain’s Golden Age of Enlightenment, New York: Free Press, 2005.
Next Weekend: Napoleon, Josephine and the French Caribbean