TODAY Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her Platinum Jubilee to mark 70 years on the throne, and it is fair to say that the Spanish royals will be sending her their best wishes.
King Felipe and Queen Letizia are known to have warm a warm relationship with the British Royal family, calling Queen Elizabeth ‘aunt’ and her late husband Philip ‘uncle’.
But Spain and the United Kingdom haven’t always been friends.
They’ve warred with each other at least ten times in the last 500 years, fighting over everything from islands in the Caribbean to outright attempts at invasion.
Sometimes war created unlikely friendships.
Like in 1587 when Francis Drake returned home to Queen Elizabeth I (after wrecking 100 ships in Cadiz) with thousands of casks of wine from Jerez.
Sherry, a corruption of Jerez, later became one of the United Kingdom’s most beloved tipples.
But sometimes these friendships created war, like when English miners made the mistake of playing football in Spain back in 1873.
Spain’s national team has gone on to six rankings as the FIFA Team of the Year, compared to England’s fat zero.
Despite Brexit in more recent times, Spain remains home to the largest British-born population in Europe outside the United Kingdom.
Both nations form part of NATO and the OECD, while British business is behind the second-largest foreign investment in Spain – over €1 trillion.
Not all of the 263,000 registered British nationals living in Spain know of the blood relations, historic infighting and mutual affection between our royal families.
Here are five ways you didn’t know the British and Spanish royal families are connected.
Blood ties between British and Spanish royals
Everyone who has had a British education knows of King Henry VIII’s marriages.
His first betrothal was to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Spain’s Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Catherine bore two still-born children and three who died young, with Queen Mary I of England the only surviving child.
But Henry VIII was adamant for a boy and defied the Roman Catholic Church to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn.
Today, both Queen Elizabeth II and Spain’s King Felipe VI are descendants of King Henry VIII’s sister – Queen Margaret of Scotland the grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots.
But they have closer direct ancestor: Queen Victoria.
Queen Elizabeth is the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, while King Felipe VI is her great-great-great grandson.
Romantic ties began when Spain’s King Alfonso made a state visit to Britain in 1905 and met Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria Eugenie.
The pair married, the princess becoming Queen Ena of Spain, and their grandson no other than Spain’s former monarch, King Juan Carlos I.
Juan Carlos I abdicated in 2014 in favour of his son, King Felipe VI.
King Felipe VI’s maternal great-grandfather (King Constantine I of Greece) was also Prince Phillip’s uncle.
Blood ties were strengthened during King Felipe VI’s state visit to the United Kingdom in 2017, when the Queen gifted him love letters sent from Princess Victoria Eugenie to King Alfonso.
Following Prince Phillip’s death in 2021 the Spanish king wrote affectionately of his sorrow at the passing of his ‘dear Uncle Phillip’.
He also referred to the British Queen as his ‘Aunt Lillibet’, revealing a hitherto unknown affection between these royal households.
Spain’s largest hunting estate in British hands
It’s uncommon knowledge that Spain has the largest hunting estate in Europe.
It’s even less well known the estate is in British hands.
The enormous Finca La Garganta boasts a 65km perimetre and is stocked with deer, wild boar and partridges.
The 6th Duke of Westminster, Gerald Grosvenor, acquired La Garganta in 2003 for a reported €90 million.
The Finca is home to its own railway station, a petrol station and accommodation for 100 staff on the 15,000 hectare estate.
Both Prince William and Harry have made high-profile hunting trips to the Castilla-La Mancha estate, including for a celebration of Harry’s advanced helicopter training in 2012.
Gerald Gosvenor was one of William’s godfathers until his death in 2016.
The estate is currently in the hands of the 7th Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor, once named as the world’s richest person under 30.
Romantic set ups between British and Spanish royals
Gerald Grosvenor regularly entertained Spain’s King Juan Carlos I at Finca La Garganta.
It was there in 2004 that Juan Carlos I is rumoured to have met his former mistress, Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.
The pair later visited the 6th Duke of Westminster’s estate in Botswana, a trip in which the former King broke his hip and the first reports of Juan Carlos I’s affair hit the press.
Aside from match-making there have been at least 10 royal Anglo-Spanish marriages in recent history.
- Eleanor of England and Alfonso VIII of Castile
- Richard I of England and Berengaria of Navarre
- Edward I of England and Eleanor of Castile
- John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster, and Constance of Castile
- Katherine of Lancaster and Henry III of Castile
- Henry IV of England and Joanna of Navarre
- Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Catherine of Aragon
- Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon
- Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain
- Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg and Alfonso XIII of Spain (King Felipe VI’s paternal great grandparents)
The sovereignity of Gibraltar
The British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar is forever in the scope of nationalist political groups in Spain.
This enclave of 33,600 people shares a land border with Cadiz in southern Andalucia and has been argued over since the United Kingdom acquired it in 1713.
Queen Elizabeth made her first visit to Gibraltar in 1954, which angered Spain’s then-dictator Fransisco Franco so much he threatened to confiscate Gibraltarians’ Spanish properties.
In 1967 Gibraltar held its first referendum on remaining under British rule with 12,138 saying yes and only 44 opting for Spanish sovereignty.
As a result, Franco closed the land border completely and severed all communication links until his death in 1975.
Queen Elizabeth did not make a state visit to Spain until three years after Gibraltar’s borders reopened – in 1988 – when she address Spain’s Congress for the first time.
“The democratic Parliament before me, and the manner in which it was achieved, will stand out as one of the brightest pages in your nation’s long and proud history,” she said in a speech that marked stronger relations between the nations.
That 1988 trip remains Queen Elizabeth’s sole official state visit to Spain, while King Felipe VI made an official visit to Buckingham Palace back in 2017.
Singeing the King of Spain’s Beard
Most people have heard of the Spanish Armada.
It’s commonly remembered as how not to start a war, after nearly half of 130 Spanish ships were destroyed during a failed attempt at invading England in 1588.
At the source of tensions was the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth I.
Conflict stemmed from the ‘treasure crisis’ of 1568 when Elizabeth seized over €100,000 worth of gold and silver from five Spanish ships sailing up the English channel.
The gold was intended for the Netherlands to reward rebels protecting Spain’s King Philip II’s rule over the Dutch.
Phillip retaliated in fury by seized English property in the Spain, and blocking all English trade with the Netherlands.
Nearly 20 years later Philip II of Spain supported the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots before deciding to invade all of England.
Elizabeth authorised privateer Francis Drake to sack Spanish colonies in Santo Domingo and Cartagena and then in 1587 he wrecked 100 ships at port in Cadiz.
Drake then infuriated Phillip II by boasting he had ‘singed the King of Spain’s beard’.
At war again just under a century later, English ships invaded Jamaica in 1655 and twice defended Spanish attacks at reconquering the Caribbean island.
The English also sided against Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 to 1714) which resulted in Spain establishing the House of Bourbon royal family, whose rule continues to this day.
Though the rival Bourbons held the Spanish crown, the British seized Menorca in the Balearic Islands and Gibraltar, with both ceded to Britain in perpetuity under the Treaty of Utrecht.
Despite centuries of fighting, Spain and the United Kingdom maintain healthy diplomatic and political relationships with many twinned towns between the nations.
The list of twinned towns include:
- Glasgow and Barcelona
- Manchester and Cordoba
- Peterboroough and Alcala de Henares
- Plymouth and San Sebastian
- Sherborne and Altea
- Stafford and Tarragona
- Totnes and Sante Fe
- Carmarthen and As Pontes
- Edinburgh and Segovia
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