Queen Sofia: The Spanish Royal Bound To The King By Marriage And Blood

The question was never if little Princess Sophia Margarita Victoria Federica Greece and Denmark would someday rule a country, but rather, which country would she lead alongside a kingly spouse? Born to a king and queen with royal DNA pulsing through her veins, the future Spanish queen's destiny to reign was written in the stars. Fate would twist and turn her path away from her home country's Greek throne and toward an entirely new country, religion, culture, and future. 

Following her tumultuous early life as a Greek royal in exile, she rose from a disgraced royal house to become the most important woman in Spain (ultimately changing her name to the Spanish-styled Sofia). Her marriage to her third cousin, future Spanish King Juan Carlos, offered Sofia another chance at a royal title. When her husband took his place on the throne, Sofia reigned alongside him from 1975 until 2014, only stepping aside to make space for the pair's son King Filipe and his wife, Queen Letizia, to slide into the position of king and queen.

No longer the queen in title, Sofia of Spain remains every bit the picture of regality and grace. She continues to honor the charitable causes that are close to her heart. She also prides herself on being the very best granny the Spanish royal grandkids could ask for. Sofia might not wear her queenly title any longer, but to a nation of people, she still sits upon the throne in their hearts.

Her royal roots run deep

Queen Sofia is one of three royal children born to King Paul of Greece and Queen Frederica of Hanover. Sofia's family line is packed with kings, queens, princesses, and princes from all over the world. Her brother is former King Constantine II of Greece, and her only sister is Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark. Her sister-in-law is Princess Anne-Marie of Denmark (later Queen Anne-Marie of Greece), and Sofia is the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She is also the second cousin to Charles, now the King of Wales, and is double third cousin to the late Queen Elizabeth of England.

She was royalty upon entering the world, and every branch of her family tree dons a tiara or a crown; still, her childhood wasn't smooth sailing. While some little princesses grow up within palace walls awaiting their turn at the throne, Sofia lived much of her younger years in foreign places like South Africa and Egypt because of her family's push into exile. She did return to Greek soil in 1946, but would not remain there for long.

Ultimately, Sofia's destiny as queen would have nothing to do with her birth heritage. Juan Carlos, a handsome Spaniard who was never meant for the position of king, slipped into power and put a ring on Sofia's finger, which resulted in two unlikely characters occupying Spain's thrones.

Queen Sofia is bound by marriage and blood

Queen Sofia of Spain is often regarded as the "most royal" person in all of Europe, because she descends from pretty much everyone who has ever had a title and worn a crown. By the time she approached adulthood, she had a royal pedigree no one could match, stunning good looks, and an extensive education. Hence, it was no great surprise that when Juan Carlos of Spain saw his future queen in 1954 aboard a cruise ship sailing throughout the Greek Islands, he was captivated by her (via Vogue). However, it would be quite a while before these two royals would make it down the aisle. One year after their first meeting, they saw one another at the wedding of the Duke of Kent. It was there that Sofia and Juan Carlos knew they were destined to be together.

It is said that the future king of Spain proposed in an unusual way. Per Vogue, Juan Carlos tossed a ring box at Sofia and, in Lausanne, remarked, "Sofia, catch it!" She caught the ring box, caught a future king, and eventually caught a new royal title. The pair, who are actually third cousins through Queen Victoria of England, went on to marry in 1962. The royal nuptials lasted for three days, and included Sofia giving up her claim to the Greek throne and making an official name change from Greek-styled Sophia to the Spanish-styled Sofia.

She is an educated queen

Sofia of Spain might not have always known which country she would reign over someday, but she always knew education was important, and she made sure to get the very best schooling throughout her life. The future queen of Spain received her education in various corners of the world, not solely in her home country of Greece. During her family's exile, she worked on her studies in Egypt, attending El Nasr Girls' College (EGC) in Alexandria and then studying in South Africa before her family returned to Greek soil in 1946.

From there, Sofia of Spain attended Schloss Salem boarding school in Southern Germany. Upon returning to Athens, Greece, she focused her studies on pediatrics, music, and archeology. She also studied at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge. During her education, Queen Sofia of Spain learned to speak several languages, including Spanish, Greek, German, French, and English. 

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain have passed the throne on to their son, King Felipe, and his wife, Letizia. The current queen, Letizia, is following in her educated mother-in-law's footsteps. Before taking her place as head of the nation, she also earned several degrees, including a journalism degree and a master's in audio-visual journalism. Queen Letizia is keeping the tradition of queenly education alive by ensuring that her daughters also receive extensive schooling. Her daughter, Princess Leonor, completed her first year at the International Baccalaureate at UWC Atlantic College in Wales in 2022, per Express

Queen Sofia hates bullfighting

Bullfighting is a longstanding cultural tradition in the country of Spain, dating back to the 1700s. While many Spaniards enjoy a good old-fashioned bullfight, not everyone is a fan of the sport, and many regard it as cruel to the innocent animals forced into the fighting ring. Queen Sofia of Spain, who isn't a Spaniard by blood but rather by marriage, does not enjoy the timeless tradition and is not shy when it comes to sharing her thoughts on the matter. Per The Guardian, Sofia of Spain has said, "Making a bull suffer in the plaza for the public's enjoyment while a few people do business? Let them do what they want, but I won't share it."

The younger generation of Spaniards shares Sofia of Spain's perspective. PETA reported that 93% of 16- to 24-year-old Spaniards are adamantly against bullfighting, but those who oppose the longstanding tradition have an uphill battle to see it banned entirely. The king readily enjoys a bullfight, and has praised the matadors who make the sport their livelihood. Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is also a supporter of bullfighting, per BBC. Sofia and Juan Carlos' son, King Felipe, and daughter-in-law, Queen Letizia, have also been seen in attendance at bullfights, as the Daily Mail reported. Meanwhile, Sofia of Spain, an avid animal lover and professed vegetarian, stands alone in her aversion to bullfighting, while many in her family continue to honor the sport openly.

Queen Sofia is an Olympian

Of the nearly eight billion people in the world, only a tiny handful will ever get to call themselves a prince, princess, king, or queen. Olympic athletes are also something special. To make it to this elite level of competition, a person has to be one of the very best their country has to offer.

Now imagine you are part of a royal house and an Olympian! Just a few people in the world's entire history get to claim a crown and the five rings, and Spain's Queen Sofia is one of those: She has been a princess, a queen, and an Olympian. Queen Sofia and her brother, the future King Constantine of Greece, were both part of the Greek sailing team in 1960. She was a reserve member and didn't actively participate, but did share her country's gold medal win in Rome, Italy. 

Spain and Olympic sailing seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. Sofia of Spain's husband, former King Juan Carlos, also sailed in the Olympics. He competed in the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. The royal couple's daughter, Infanta Cristina, sailed in Seoul, serving as a member of Spain's sailing team and holding the honor of Olympic flag bearer in 1988. Cristina's husband, Spanish handball player Iñaki Urdangarin, participated in three different Olympic Games, which served as the backdrop for their love story.

She has taken up several causes for the greater good

A large part of being a princess or a queen is cultivating a charitable side that serves the country's people. Royal ladies all around the globe have poured their energy into various causes and charities. The late Queen Elizabeth, for example, lent her good name to some 600 nonprofit agencies, helping to raise $2 billion for various causes. 

Spain's former Queen Sofia has also made it a point to show support for various organizations. The Queen Sofia Foundation was started in 1977 by her majesty. The organization aims to promote education and health projects, focusing on the welfare of children, the elderly, immigrants, the disabled, and those affected by natural disasters. In recent years, the foundation has hyper-focused its attention on Alzheimer's. 

Sofia of Spain is also a supporter of UNICEF. In 2015, she was recognized for her efforts with the organization and awarded the Joaquín Ruiz-Giménez 2015 prize by none other than Queen Letizia, Sofia's daughter-in-law and the reigning queen of Spain. Sofia of Spain also received the Gold Mercury Humanitarian Award in 1984 for her contributions to various causes worldwide.

Sofia and Juan Carlos are still wed, but are living apart

In their many decades as husband and wife, former King Juan Carlos and former Queen Sofia of Spain have had some very high highs and terribly low lows. Throughout their union, they have taken the throne as king and queen and welcomed three children into the Spanish royal family. They have also known scandals and betrayals, which have driven them to a point where they not only live apart, but on entirely different continents.

Former King Juan Carlos collected serious strikes against him during his reign as king. He was rebuked for his infamous elephant-hunting excursion that occurred while his country was in the throes of a severe recession (via The Guardian). Then his alleged former mistress came forward, spilling sordid details of her secret life with the king as well as incriminating information regarding his amassed fortune, per the Daily Mail. Last was his abdication from the throne and eventual exile to Abu Dhabi

When the king fled his native country, avoiding possible prosecution for wrongdoings post-abdication, his queen could have packed up her worldly possessions and started anew with her husband. However, her feet never left Spanish soil – Sofia of Spain stayed right where she was, with her family and her people. A lifetime of men fleeing their home country seemed to have prepared her to stay firm, strong, and in her rightful position. 

Queen Sofia is a loving grandma

Sofia of Spain has enjoyed many titles over her 80+ years. She has been a princess, a queen, an Olympian, and a royal mother. Yet of all the roles she has held throughout her long and accomplished lifetime, the role of Grandma seems to make her most happy. 

The former queen has eight grandkids by her three royal children. Her only son, King Felipe, and his wife, Queen Letizia, are proud parents to two daughters, Leonor (who is the heir to the Spanish throne following her parents' reign) and her sister Sofia (who also has a solid claim to the Spanish throne). Sofia and Juan Carlos' eldest daughter, Infanta Elena, and her former husband, Jaime de Marichalar, have two children, Felipe Juan Froilán and Victoria Federica. The former king and queen's youngest daughter, Infanta Cristina, has four sons with her ex-husband, disgraced Olympian Iñaki Urdangarin.

This next generation of Spanish royals is a generation the former queen can be proud of, and she is often seen surrounding herself with her eight progenies. In 2019, she treated her granddaughters to a night on the town to see The Lion King (via Hola!), and while on holiday with her family, she was seen sporting a unique handbag adorned with the darling faces of her grandchildren.