How the relationship between the two queens of Spain started to sour

As a video of Letizia and Sofía physically tussling after an Easter Mass has revealed, tensions are high in the Spanish royal family

Letizia and Sofía spar over the children at Easter mass.Photo: atlas
Mábel Galaz

When the engagement of future Spanish King Felipe and TV newsreader Letizia Ortiz was announced back in November 2003, the then-queen of Spain, Sofía, became a fundamental element of support for the new arrival to the royal family. Sources who were present at the time explain that the queen “adopted” the fiancée of her son, guiding her along the path that lay ahead. Such was the complicity between the pair, that Letizia had words of gratitude for her in the first statement she made since becoming engaged.

But that particular speech will be remembered for another reason, after the future queen of Spain hushed up her husband so that she could finish saying the words she had prepared to the assembled media, in El Pardo palace.

The birth of Leonor and Sofía represented a before and after in the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law

“From now on, and more and more, I am going to integrate fully in this new life with the responsibilities that come with it and with the support and affection of…” Letizia was saying. At that point the then-prince cut her off, prompting her to respond: “Let me finish… With the affection of the king and queen and the priceless example of the queen.”

Those words were a genuine statement of intent as to her future plans of how to be queen. But that was 15 years ago, and things have changed, as a controversial video of the pair exiting an Easter Mass on Sunday has revealed.

The birth of Queen Letizia’s daughters, Leonor and Sofía, represented a before and after in the relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The arrival of the girls strengthened Letizia, who was by then more familiar with the way the palace worked and was ready to mark her territory.

For her part, Sofía has often stated that she puts being a mother and grandmother before being queen. As such, the arrival of Leonor and Sofía – the children of her adored son, for whom she has an admitted weakness – was a huge source of joy for her.

Queen Letizia applauds Sofía at an event in 2016.
Queen Letizia applauds Sofía at an event in 2016.GETTY

Sofía was accustomed to visiting the girls every so often until it was made clear that she was not welcome, given that her presence interrupted the routine of the young girls. Despite the fact that the former king and queen and the current monarchs live in houses in La Zarzuela palace separated by just a kilometer, Sofía has complained in small circles of the little contact she has with her granddaughters. King Felipe has always tried to act as a unifying force. Until he became king, he personally took responsibility for taking his daughters to visit then-monarch Juan Carlos, who also spends scant time with Leonor and Sofía.

Meanwhile, the presence of the mother of Letizia, Paloma Rocasolano, has become more regular in La Zarzuela. The queen is relying on her to take care of the girls when she has to travel, despite having two nannies working for her. They also spend a lot of free time together.

The presence of the mother of Letizia, Paloma Rocasolano, has become more regular in La Zarzuela palace

From the outside, however, the relationship between the two queens has always looked positive, in particular due to the professionalism with which Sofía occupies her role since her husband’s abdication. But in the palace, the deterioration of relations between both is evident. There are two families: the one that appears in the photos, and the domestic one. In the latter, relations are far from easy, despite the huge efforts that King Felipe makes to bring them together.

This year, the king managed to bring Juan Carlos to Palma de Mallorca, so that he would appear in the photo after the Easter Mass on Sunday – he had been absent from the event since 2013 – his surprise abdication would come the following year.

What no one could have predicted was that the planned photo of apparent family harmony was going to be shattered by a video lasting a few seconds in which the obvious tension between the two queens is evident, as they tussle physically over a photo opportunity for Sofía with her two granddaughters. The refusal of Letizia to let this picture be taken says everything, as do the words of mediation uttered by King Felipe on seeing the scene unfold and the puzzled gaze of former King Juan Carlos, and his gesture of stepping back from the scene of tension.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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