Spain’s Princess Leonor turns 13 and takes one step closer to the Crown

The heir to the Spanish throne made her first public speech on Wednesday, reciting an article of the Constitution on the day of her birthday

Princess Leonor in Asturias.
Princess Leonor in Asturias.Carlos R. Álvarez (GETTY)

“I wanted the first words I say in public in my life to be about Asturias.” With fewer than 20 words, King Felipe VI made his first speech as the prince of Asturias in 1981. He was 13 years old – the same age that his daughter and heir, Princess Leonor, turns today.

In January, King Felipe VI gave her the Order of the Golden Fleece

But Princess Leonor is not her father. Indeed her life is very different. She was not born under a dictatorship and political and social circumstances have changed greatly. Today there is no compulsory military service, political parties openly question the monarchy, and princes do not only marry princesses. Technology too has radically changed. When Felipe VI was born in 1968, the Post-It note had just been invented and cassette tapes were gaining popularity. In 2005, when Leonor was born, Facebook had already been invented and Apple was working on the iPhone.

Today everyone carries a camera in their pocket, a change that has no doubt forced Leonor’s parents to take extra precautions to protect her privacy.

But it could be said that this year has been chosen to launch Leonor’s public life as a princess. As she approached her 13th birthday, small steps were taken to enshrine her institutional status. In January, King Felipe VI gave her the Order of the Golden Fleece, an “element of tradition, continuity and institution,” according to the Zarzuela Royal Palace. The king described the act as a “symbolic and very important step,” one that is a reminder of the “demands that come with being the Crown Princess.” It was the starting point of her career as heir to the throne.

Princess Leonor receives the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Princess Leonor receives the Order of the Golden Fleece.GTRESONLINE

In September, Leonor made another public appearance – and not just in her classroom at Santa María de los Rosales college. This time it was to celebrate 1,300 years of the Asturias kingdom and the centenary of the coronation of the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Covadonga, where King Felipe VI was declared heir to the crown in 1977.

But she was notably absent from this year’s Princess of Asturias Awards. Her father made his speech at the award ceremony of the Prince of Asturias Awards when he was 13. At the time of the last awards, Leonor was only 12. And while she may be quickly heading into adolescence, the princess is still a little girl. At public events, she wears braids in her hair, children’s dresses and ballet flats with a bow.

Felipe VI y la princesa Sofía durante su visita a Asturias.
Felipe VI y la princesa Sofía durante su visita a Asturias.Getty Images
While she is quickly heading into adolescence, the princess is still a little girl

Her path has closely followed her father’s but that might not always be the case. The king completed his high school studies in Canada and Leonor spent this summer with her sister Sofía at a camp in the United States, marking the start of her international education. It’s not known whether she will later study overseas, if she will go to university or where (her father studied law at the Madrid Autonomous University), at what age she will have her own official schedule, go on overseas trips by herself (Felipe began at age 15 with a trip to Colombia), or if she will have a military career like her father, who was in the army for three years from when he was 17.

But today on her 13th birthday, the same age Felipe began his career as prince, Leonor too has embraced her role as princess. And the stage for her first public speech could not have been more apt: the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the Spanish Constitution. Speaking at the Cervantes Institute, before representatives of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, Leonor read the first article of the historic text: “Spain is established as a social and democratic state, subject to the rule of law.”

Princess Leonor makes first public speech. (Spanish audio).

This act, intended to highlight the link between the Crown with the continuity and Constitution of Spain, has particular significance given the current political climate. In Catalonia, the regional parliament has approved a resolution to abolish the monarchy and anti-austerity party Podemos Unidos has reiterated its pledge to restore the Spanish Republic.

But the princess seemed unperturbed in her first official speech. With a smile and a strong voice, she reminded the audience that the “political form of the Spanish state is the parliamentary monarchy.”

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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