Inside King Felipe's Relationship With His Family

All families have their fair share of drama which they have to navigate, but the Spanish royal family has to do so in the public eye. The current king of Spain, King Felipe VI, not only has to honor the expectations that come with leading the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon, a dynasty that has been ruling Spain off and on for over 300 years, but he must also deal with the complex relationships within his own family. After all, King Felipe VI is not only Spain's head of state, but he is also the acting family patriarch.

Although the relationships between King Felipe VI and his family may be overshadowed in the media by the drama of other royals such as the rift between Prince Harry and his family or even the controversy over titles among the Danish royals, the relationships within the complex but devoted House of Bourbon are worth a closer look. Not only have they established themselves as royals with an extremely lavish lifestyle, but the Spanish royals have also been characterized by timeless romances, reconciliation, and several unforgettable scandals.

King Felipe VI has a complicated relationship with his father

King Felipe VI inherited his father's throne sooner than expected when, towards the end of a nearly 40-year reign, the reputation of his father, Juan Carlos I, was left in tatters. Juan Carlos' daughter, Infanta Cristina, and his son-in-law, Iñaki Urdangarin, were accused of corruption and financial fraud and, although he denied any part in the scandal, former king Juan Carlos I lost the trust of his people as well as the trust of his own family. In 2012, his reputation worsened when he went on an expensive elephant-hunting trip in Botswana, back when Spain was struggling in a recession. Unable to repair his wrongdoings, Juan Carlos I abdicated the throne and, in 2014, King Felipe VI, became the new king of Spain. 

Juan Carlos I moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2020 and began living in exile. Since the abdication, his relationship with King Felipe VI appears to have become quite strained. During his 2020 Christmas address, King Felipe VI appeared to confirm their rocky relationship when he directed veiled criticism at his father, saying that "ethical principles are above all other considerations, including personal or family ones" (via El País). Furthermore, King Felipe VI put an end to his father's annual stipend and, in an attempt to distance himself from his father's controversial legacy, even refused to accept an inheritance offered to him by Juan Carlos I.

There is hope still for the relationship between King Felipe VI and his father

Despite the tension that has characterized the relationship between King Felipe VI and former King Juan Carlos I, there have been signs that suggest reconciliation between the father and son. Though King Felipe VI and Juan Carlos I are not often seen together in public due to Juan Carlos' self-exile, they were photographed in an embrace when they reunited at the funeral of King Constantine of Greece in January 2023. Although they were not sitting together for the service, they shared a sweet moment that, regardless of their past, demonstrated the fondness they share for each other. 

King Felipe VI has always seemed to maintain some measure of respect for his father — even when the reputation of Juan Carlos I was at its lowest. In January 2015, about six months after he assumed the throne, King Felipe VI gave a speech at the military ceremony of Pascua Militar in which he shared kind words towards his father and former king. In this speech to the troops, King Felipe VI not only honored the Spanish military but also honored his father, saying, "To him I also dedicate on this day the homage of gratitude and respect that he deserves from all of us" (per the Spanish royal family's official website). Like many fathers and sons, their relationship seems complex and yet, they have never given up on the chance for reconciliation. 

He appears to be very much in love with his wife, Queen Letizia

For years, the marriage between King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia has been viewed as a ray of sunshine amidst the scandals of their relatives. Their love story began when Queen Letizia was still known as Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano and worked as a TV journalist. After King Felipe VI asked their mutual friend, journalist Pedro Erquicia, to introduce them in October 2002, the two began dating in secret. In 2003, they made their fairytale story known to the public by announcing their engagement. In May 2004, the two were married in Madrid in a ceremony held at the beautiful Almudena Cathedral.

Both the world and King Felipe VI have fallen in love with Queen Letizia. Whenever the royal couple makes a public appearance, alone or accompanied by their two daughters Princesses Leonor and Sofia, they receive praise for the way their own, distinct fashion styles still seem to complement each other. And the two seem to enjoy experimenting with what they wear as a couple, as they occasionally step out in matching power suitsthat make quite a statement. But this power couple has their soft moments too when, in early August 2023, they were photographed gazing lovingly at each other after a family dinner. After all these years, these two royals appear to be still very much in love. 

He cares deeply about his daughters

Crown Princess Leonor, the future queen of Spain, was born in October 2005 to parents who adored her from the beginning — their love was obvious to all when they lovingly carried her in their arms when they left the hospital. As Princess Leonor grew up, King Felipe VI chose only the best education for his daughter. She attended the same private school as King Felipe VI and, in 2021, enrolled in the prestigious Welsh boarding school UWC Atlantic College when she was 15 years old. King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia personally paid the $92,700 required for their daughter to attend. 

Infanta Sofia was born in April 2007 and became second in line to the throne when her grandfather, Juan Carlos, abdicated the throne. Following in the footsteps of her sister and father, Infanta Sofia has received the finest education. In August 2023, she relocated to the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales where she will, like her sister, attend UWC Atlantic College for their International Baccalaureate program. 

When Crown Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofia are not in school, they are attending to royal duties or spending time with their tight-knit family. The princesses may come from royalty, but they also know how to have fun with their family, and this was evident when they joined their parents and grandmother at the cinema to take part in the 2023 summer trend of seeing "Barbie" dressed in pink. They were all smiles. 

King Felipe VI has acted as a peacemaker between his wife and his mother

Because King Felipe VI values his privacy away from the public eye, royal watchers eager to know more about him sometimes need to watch his interactions with an eagle eye. One revealing moment was between King Felipe VI's wife, Queen Letizia, and his mother, Queen Sofía of Spain. In April 2018, the Spanish royals gathered on the Spanish island of Mallorca, an island off the East coast of Spain, for Easter Mass. In a video published by the BBC, the royals were seen exiting the cathedral when Queen Sofía of Spain gently guided her granddaughters, Crown Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofia, in for a photograph together. Shortly after the three royals began to pose for the cameras, Queen Letizia stepped in front of them in what appeared to be an intentional decision to prevent the photograph from being taken. Facing her mother-in-law, Queen Letizia then began to remove the Queen Mother's hand from Infanta Sofia. The moment grew even more awkward as the two women began to exchange tense words before King Felipe VI stepped in to resolve the conflict.

This uncomfortable moment only fueled rumors that the relationship between Queen Letizia and her mother-in-law has worsened over the years, per El País. After watching the awkward interaction, one can easily assume that this was not the first time King Felipe VI had to intervene in a conflict between the two Spanish queens.

He has a strained relationship with his oldest sister, Infanta Elena

If the Spanish royal inheritance didn't follow the tradition of male-preference primogeniture, the Spanish throne may have passed on to King Felipe VI's oldest sister, Infanta Elena. What-ifs aside, in the years since King Felipe VI inherited the throne, he and Infanta Elena have not appeared to share a particularly warm relationship. When her father was the King of Spain, Infanta Elena played a significant role as a working royal and appeared to enthusiastically embrace her responsibilities of representing the royal family. However, this all changed when King Felipe VI assumed the throne in 2014 and she no longer held the status of working royal — or the stipend that came with it. According to El País magazine, Infanta Elena has since "distanced herself" from her brother and his family in the years following this change, reflecting her unhappiness with her diminished position. 

In addition, the public has noticed that Queen Letizia appears to make efforts to limit contact between her daughters and her sisters-in-law. Express claimed that Queen Letizia does not want Princess Leonor and Infanta Sofia to follow the "frivolous" lifestyles of their aunts Infanta Elena and Infanta Cristina and their children. Though King Felipe VI has not personally commented on this, it is a potential reason for the reportedly distant relationship between the royal brother and sister.

King Felipe VI also has a difficult relationship with his other sister, Infanta Cristina

Taking center stage of the royal household's many scandals is the controversy surrounding King Felipe VI's sister, Infanta Cristina. The second child of Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia, Infanta Cristina's troubles began when she married businessman and former Olympian Iñaki Urdangarin in October 1997. A little over a decade later, in 2011, they brought scandal to the royal family when Urdangarin was accused of diverting funds from his nonprofit to his own, private accounts. Infanta Cristina, who faced eight years in prison, was accused of collaborating with him, per the BBC.

This scandal did a great deal of damage to the reputation of the Spanish royal family aside from resulting in Juan Carlos I's abdication. As King Felipe VI took the throne, his sister and brother-in-law were facing the courts. In June 2015, Infanta Cristina's fall from grace resulted in King Felipe VI making the decision to take away his sister's title of the Duchess of Palma de Mallorca, which was given to her when she married Urdangarin in 1997. Though Infanta Cristina was acquitted during her trial, her husband, from whom she has since separated, was sentenced to six years and three months for embezzlement, tax evasion, and fraud. Like her father, Infanta Cristina no longer lives in Spain. She now resides in Geneva, Switzerland.

The King of Spain has to navigate the many scandals of his nephew

King Felipe VI's father and sister are not the only family members to find themselves in the center of a public scandal. Another relationship that seems to be under stress is the one between King Felipe VI and his nephew, Felipe Juan Froilán, who is simply referred to as Froilán in Spain. Froilán is the son of King Felipe VI's oldest sister, Infanta Elena, and her ex-husband, Jaime de Marichalar y Sáenz de Tejada.

The string of scandals began in 2012 when the 13-year-old shot himself quite literally in the foot with a firearm that was illegal for him to carry. Per the New York Post, Froilán did further damage to his already-shaky reputation when he reportedly used a racial slur against a student and struggled academically which led him to repeat a year of classes. Froilán has reportedly been involved in several physical altercations, including one after a reported attempt to skip the queue for the bathroom in April 2022 and his alleged role in a knife fight outside of a nightclub in Madrid in December 2022 for which he faced the threat of prison, as noted by the Daily Mail

Needless to say, this young royal has given King Felipe VI quite the challenge as he tries to manage the House of Bourbon's future. Froilán now lives with his grandfather, Juan Carlos I, in the United Arab Emirates. He remains fourth-in-line for the throne.

Like many parents, King Felipe VI is emotional when saying goodbye to his daughters

Though it may seem like every relationship within the Spanish royal family is fraught with tension, King Felipe VI and his daughters appear to share a bond that many parents, royal or not, can surely relate to. The year 2023 represented an important transitional period for both of King Felipe VI's daughters that seemed to stir the emotions of everyone involved. At the beginning of August, Crown Princess Leonor took a major step forward in her life as a young royal when her family dropped her off at the General Military Academy of Zaragoza. This represented the first step in a 3-year program in which Princess Leonor will spend time with the Navy as well as the General Air Force. Dressed in his own military uniform, King Felipe VI could be seen giving Princess Leonor a bittersweet embrace as they said goodbye. He then watched with a clear look of pride as his eldest, and heir presumptive, rolled her suitcase away. Waving to her family, the young royal confidently walked into the next chapter in her life.

Later that month, Infanta Sofia made her own significant step forward. In an emotional farewell much like her sister's, the young royal said goodbye to her parents as she prepared for an international flight to the United Kingdom. After sending their youngest off to college, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia are now royal empty-nesters.

King Felipe VI had a deep respect for relatives Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

One of the more unexpected but important of King Felipe VI's relationships is between him and his well-known relatives, the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. Though the King of Spain only saw his distant cousins at the occasional state banquets and royal visit, his respect for Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip is obvious in the words he shared after their respective passings. When Prince Philip passed away in 2021, King Felipe VI sent his condolences to the beloved monarch whom he addressed as "Dear Aunt Lilibet." He honored "Dear Uncle Philip" by writing, "We will never forget the moments that we shared with him and the legacy of service and dedication to the Crown and the United Kingdom by your side" (via Express).

When Queen Elizabeth II died in 2022, King Felipe VI expressed the way he felt about his late cousin when writing a letter to King Charles III, whom he addressed as "Dearest Charles." The letter, posted on Twitter, honored the life of Queen Elizabeth II and the legacy she left behind. He ended the letter by saying, "Queen Letizia and I send your Majesty and the whole family our love and prayers. You are all in our hearts and thoughts. We will miss her dearly." King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, along with other European royals, attended her funeral in 2022 to pay their respects.