Prince William was hailed as a mould-breaker for marrying a commoner—Kate Middleton—a woman with no noble blood.
But Felipe, the new King of Spain, following the abdication of his father, King Juan Carlos today, was even bolder in his choice of bride.
For the new Queen of Spain, 41-year old Letizia Ortiz, was not just born a commoner, but she was also divorced. For the Crown prince to marry a divorced commoner was paradigm shift that deeply divided the fiercely Catholic country at the time.
Even more shockingly for many conservatives in Spain, a book recently published by a disloyal cousin—who openly admitted he was seeking to cash in on his connections—claimed that the new Queen had an abortion when she was a young woman.
Spanish newspapers devoted front pages to the allegations.
At the time of the alleged termination, the procedure was tightly regulated and permissible only in cases of risk to the mother’s life. The cousin claimed that Princess Letizia asked him to destroy paperwork detailing the abortion.
The book also sought to portray the Princess as an 'obsessive' person who is suspicious of her relatives, claiming that the Princess, when pregnant with the couple’s first child, Leonor—born in October 2005—told certain family members that she was carrying a boy and that he was to be named Pelayo. The cousin said she did this to see whether the story would appear in the press.
If Letizia did know how to sniff out a media rat in her camp, it was undoubtedly due to her professional training as a journalist. The daughter of a nurse and journalist herself, she worked for CNN and Bloomberg and was named winner of the Madrid Press Association’s Larra Award for most accomplished journalist under 30. During the Iraq War, she was embedded with a unit of fighters and broadcast live from the frontlines.
Ortiz met Felipe in November 2002 on assignment, covering a story about an oil spillage in northern Spain. Felipe—who had met Letizia before at a dinner party—was also there, offering support, and the two started a romantic relationship.
In 2003, just months after she had been promoted to the position of anchor on the national news channel, she quit her job and days later the royal engagement was announced.
As her first marriage had not taken place in a church, the country’s Roman Catholic authorities did not oppose her remarriage and gave permission for her to be married in a lavish—if rain-soaked—service at Almudena Cathedral in Madrid.
While her elegant style was welcomed, she nonetheless struggled to gain the affection of Spaniards, and was perceived as being distant and cold.
But public sympathy for Ortiz finally welled up under tragic circumstances in 2007 when her sister, a literary agent, died prematurely, in what was reported by Spanish press to be an overdose of prescription drugs.
Dressed in black and pregnant with her second child, Ortiz broke down in tears as she briefly addressed a crowd of reporters after leaving a memorial mass for her sister.
“Thanks to all who have felt sadness over the death of my little sister,” Ortiz said as she clung to the arm of Felipe.
Felipe widely polls above 60% in approval ratings, but will he and Letizia be able to restore the Spanish monarchy to the popularity it once enjoyed under his father in the long term?
Only time will tell, but the truth is that this young and dynamic couple represent the Spanish monarchy’s last shot at redemption.