Heavy Lies The Crown for New King of Spain

June 2, 2014 6:55 PM

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Just after one o’clock in the morning on Feb. 23, 1981, while most of the country’s legislators cowered beneath their desks, a young King Juan Carlos appeared on television screens across Spain. Dressed in his army uniform, he denounced an attempted coup then underway on the floor of Parliament by armed military officers intent on returning the country to a rightwing dictatorship. That act of political courage would not only bring the insurrection to a quick and bloodless end, but would cement the king’s reputation for decades to come. Britain might chortle at a prince given to dialing in distasteful endearments to a woman not (then) his wife, and Monaco might mock a princess given to body guards and elephant trainers. But for decades after Juan Carlos assumed the throne in 1975, Spain largely respected and admired its monarch. Yet even the memory of heroism can’t withstand expensive, indiscreet travels and a money-skimming son-in-law, at least not at a time of dire economic crisis. In recent years, the king’s reputation has been profoundly damaged, and with it, the monarchy’s. The abdication Juan Carlos announced Monday, after 39 years of rule, was quite possibly the best option left to him for preserving it.

By advocating in favor of his son Felipe, Juan Carlos has tapped the one adult member of the royal family—apart from his wife Queen Sofia—who still ranks high in the public’s esteem. With a Master’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University, and an apparently happy marriage that h...

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