The accession today of King Felipe VI of Spain to the throne of his ancestors will produce mixed feelings among monarchists. Hope for a renewal of the Spanish monarchy and good wishes for his reign will be combined with regret that his father Juan Carlos I, who has done so much for the Spanish people, was forced, it would appear, to step down through a tawdry set of circumstances not all of his making.
I think the appearance is a little deceptive. If the former King were going to abdicate due to the scandals that have surrounded the royal family he would have done so before now. His own statement that at 76 and in poor health, having had to endure a whole series of operations, he felt it was time to hand the crown on to a younger generation, better able to connect with the Spain of today and help to take the country forward, has to me the ring of truth.
Either way, and as discussed elsewhere in the forum, today’s accession is the latest in a series of ‘irregular’ successions to the Spanish crown that dates from 1808. With a male-preference primogeniture system one would expect that in most cases son would follow father on the latter’s death, but now and then there would be an abdication or a daughter, sibling or other relative would succeed in the absence of a son. The last occurrence in Spain of the expected case was on 14th December 1788.*
Ignoring the one Bonaparte and one Savoy monarch of the 19th century†, the six accessions since then were 1) Fernando VII succeeding on his father’s abdication; 2) the infant Isabella II succeeding on her father’s death, sparking a whole series of civil wars as the succession had been altered in her favour and against her uncle Infante Carlos; 3) Alfonso XII succeeding on the restoration of the crown and following his mother’s abdication; 4) Alfonso XIII acceding not upon his father’s death but on his own birth; 5) Juan Carlos I succeeding on the restoration of the crown, while his father who was never King still lived; and 6) today’s accession of Felipe VI on his father’s abdication.
But, while a quick mental survey of other realms that operate or have formerly operated male-preference primogeniture will show that the expected pattern does happen more often than not, that has never been so with the Spanish Bourbons. In fact, out of a total twelve accessions of a Bourbon in Spain, that 1788 succession of Carlos IV following the death of his father Carlos III was only the second of its kind, as well as the to date last. The previous five were; 1) Felipe V succeeding his great-uncle Carlos II, in pursuance of the terms of the latter’s will and following the renunciations of his father and elder brother; 2) Luis I succeeding upon his father’s abdication; 3) Felipe V returning to the throne on his son’s death; 4) Fernando VI succeeding on his father’s death; and 5) Carlos III succeeding on the childless death of his brother Fernando VI.
Felipe VI having two daughters but no sons, the next accession will in the expected order of things be that of Leonor I.‡ The future Queen, though not for many years we trust, today became Princess of Asturias, Spanish custom being for that title to be borne by heirs or heiresses presumptive when there is no heir apparent. As the eldest child, though, Infanta Leonor would undoubtedly be heiress today even if she had a younger brother, as the succession law would have been altered to ensure it. Changing the Spanish constitution in which the law is enshrined is no easy matter, as indeed it ought not to be, and since now Queen Letizia seems unlikely at 42 to have further children the matter has been left alone.
Turning to the relationships in the chart below, the number of multiple relationships for the new King is notable, far more than for any other sovereign. His father has just two multiple relationships, being equally related through four different ancestors to Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein and through two to Henri of Luxembourg. The double relationship to the latter through 19th-century Catholic monarchs still exists for Felipe VI, of course, but has been superseded in the chart by a nearer relationship through a more recent Protestant sovereign, Christian IX of Denmark.
The reduction of two relationships to one for Luxembourg is compensated for by an increase from four to five for Liechtenstein§, and elsewhere all but two of his father’s single relationships have doubled up. The main reason for this is that Felipe VI is descended from both Queen Victoria and Christian IX, respectively three and two times. Of those five descents four, the two from Christian IX and two out of the three from Victoria, are all in the same degree (he being their respective 3 x great-grandson twice each, plus Victoria’s 4 x great-grandson once).
His father has a single descent from Victoria, accounting for his nearest relationship to four of the other nine sovereigns, and none from Christian IX. But of those four sovereigns three are Christian IX descendants also, and descended in the same degree from Victoria and Christian IX alike, as Felipe VI is twice apiece. This has caused most of the doubling up mentioned, Juan Carlos I’s relationship though Victoria being joined by a second relationship through Christian IX for Felipe VI. Actually it is rather more than doubling up, as you will see if you click the relevant red links. Harald V of Norway for example appears as a third cousin once removed through Victoria and Christian IX. The relationship actually occurs twice through Victoria and six times through Christian IX, making the two sovereigns third cousins once removed eight times in all.
The one of that four not descended from Christian IX, Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, also doubles up through a different mutual ancestor of himself and his new fellow sovereign. Philippe of Belgium, who is not descended from Victoria but is from Christian IX, has a slightly nearer relationship to Felipe VI through him, fourth cousin, than that he enjoys to Juan Carlos I through Louis-Philippe of France.
Of the two sovereigns besides Hans-Adam II not descended from either Victoria or Christian IX, Albert II of Monaco shows just a one degree difference, as one would expect, and Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands has had his remote relationship to Juan Carlos I through Friedrich Ludwig, Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, supplemented by an equally remote relationship through Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.
I have written at such length both because of the peculiar and interesting history of Spanish successions, which I thought worth recording, and because this particular succession is likely to be be almost the last of its kind in Europe; a new sovereign with two royal parents, related to other sovereigns in intricately different ways than his predecessor was (or in this case, is). Since that is what these charts are all about, it seemed worthwhile discussing it in some depth, even at the probable cost of wear and tear on people’s scrolling fingers. And now, to the chart.
* The system at that date was actually semi-Salic, changed in the new reign, although the revised law was not promulgated until the reign after. However, had male-preference primogeniture been in operation from the beginning the results would have been no different – apart from there being no Carlist Wars, of course, as Infante Carlos would then have had no basis of claim.
† The former was an alien imposed by force who was never accepted by the Spanish people. The latter was an alien freely elected who found the behaviour of Spanish politicians and the unrest among the people so unconscionable that he threw up his hands in despair and returned to Italy. In other words, an alien who never accepted the Spanish people.
‡ She would be the second Leonor to be a regnant Queen in Spain, but the previous example was Queen of Navarre, and Spanish sovereigns are numbered in succession to earlier monarchs of Castile, and before that León.
§ The Introduction thread post #28 explains why one of these is not linked in the chart.