Spain's new king Felipe VI is sworn in - Thursday June 19, 2014

Chumbawamba - Tubthumping

They are the very model of a modern royal couple. No, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain, who arrive in Washington this week for their first official visit — without the frenzied media mob that follows the British monarchy.

They are the very model of a modern royal couple. No, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain, who arrive in Washington this week for their first official visit — without the frenzied media mob that follows the British monarchy. There are no breathless morning television countdowns, no stakeouts for their trips to Mount Vernon or the White House.

They could walk the streets of Georgetown, where he attended graduate school, without turning a single head. Felipe was the cherished royal son expected to marry a nice Catholic princess — until he defied his parents for a love match. Letizia is the first Spanish commoner to become queen, a feat even more remarkable when you realize that she was a celebrity journalist with an ex-husband and a live-in boyfriend before meeting her prince.

The visit comes after a rocky first year on the throne: One of his sisters is about to go on trial for tax fraud. And his country is crawling back from a crippling economic crisis.

The question is whether these two mortals — one a descendant of Ferdinand and Isabella, the other the granddaughter of a taxi driver — can save the fragile Spanish monarchy. British biographer Andrew Morton, who knows a thing or three about modern royals, says it comes down to one woman: Because Spain still adheres to the male line of succession, Felipe became crown prince and heir to the throne.

He was always a serious kid who embraced his future role with a laserlike focus: From the age of 22, he began the lifelong job of traveling throughout Spain and Latin America soaking up all things Spanish. In , the 6-foot-6 sports nut enjoyed one of the real perks being prince: He only strayed from the predictable path when it came to women. He had no interest in a princess bride, and his parents vetoed two serious girlfriends as unsuitable marriage material. One was a Spanish socialite with a family drug problem, the other a Norwegian underwear model.

Then he met Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano. She married her high school literature teacher when she was 25, a union that lasted less than a year. She was named the best Spanish journalist under the age of 30 and landed an evening anchor spot — and moved in with her sports-reporter boyfriend.

Everyone in Spain knew her name. Then, while reporting on an oil spill off the Spanish coast in late , she ran into Felipe. The two met earlier that year at a dinner party, but this time he asked her for a date. They kept their courtship under the radar and announced their engagement a year later. His parents were opposed to the match. Because she wed in a civil ceremony, that union was not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church and she could marry the prince without getting an annulment.

The wedding was watched by 25 million people in Spain, and the bride officially became a princess. It is, by all accounts, a happy marriage. The couple have two daughters: Infanta princess Leonor, 9, and Infanta Sofia, 8. Felipe quickly embraced his roles as husband and father and looks happiest in informal photos with his family. But from the beginning, all eyes have been fixed on Letizia. Now the Spanish monarchy is on shaky ground, a fate few would have predicted in the heyday of King Juan Carlos I.

People know that and recognize themselves in the king and queen. He married a Greek princess and had three children. He loves women, wine and the finer things of life.

That proved to be a problem in , when the year-old monarch went on an unannounced elephant hunt in Botswana with a German socialite whom tabloids identified as his longtime mistress. The royal family was already struggling with a scandal closer to home: The case is ongoing, and the princess, the first member of the Spanish royal family to be indicted, faces more than a decade in prison if convicted of tax fraud and money laundering.

The hunting trip was the last straw. It was open season on the royal family, and everyone was fair game. Juan Carlos was urged to abdicate to save the throne. The 18th-century Spanish crown was displayed but not placed on his head, no foreign royals were invited, and there was an afternoon reception for 2, guests with tapas instead of a lavish banquet. Juan Carlos and Cristina did not attend.

In his first address as king, Felipe tried to reassure the politicians and public that things had changed: And I undertake my task with energy, with enthusiasm and with the open and innovative spirit that has inspired the men and women of my generation.

Kings have to earn their salary and their roles. Felipe also banned members of the royal family from working for private companies or accepting expensive gifts, stripped his sister of her title of duchess and her duties, and has promised that no one is above the law.

Even the leader of a new leftist party praised the king on his first anniversary — which is critical but rarely discussed, says Morton: Besides, Spain — still struggling with more than 20 percent unemployment and an uncertain economy — is less concerned with the monarchy right now than with the growing secession movement in the northeastern region of Catalonia, where more than a million people marched through the streets of Barcelona last week calling for independence.

The wealthy, educated taxpayers are balking at footing the bill for the poorer regions of the country; local elections at the end of September will determine how serious the threat really is.

The king is officially above the fray but speaks Catalan and has visited the region several times in the past year. So, for the moment, the Spanish crown is relatively secure — as long as Felipe and Letizia live happily ever after.

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