01 August 2013


Trainer Tales, Volume 1

Does anyone remember "Tutor Tales"? I can't write them any longer, for obvious reasons, but that doesn't mean I have no interesting things to say about the job I lucked into last year. In fact, I will never run out of interesting things to say because other people say interesting things to me--namely, my trainees.

A few nights ago, I had an appointment with a trainee from Spain. I had given her the assignment of reading a news article about England's royal baby merchandise and the conversation objective to compare the British royal family to the Spanish royal family, and boy, did she have a lot to say!

Well, everyone I know has had a lot to say, and I should actually start with my mother . . .

The instant she saw Kate step out in a polka-dot dress, my mother remembered Diana's own. And on one of those rare evenings she and I were both free to talk, she told me all her gossipy memories of the early days of Prince Charles and Diana's marriage. Until she was able to compare Diana and Kate, she said, she hadn't realised just how sad and just how shy the older woman had been. Kate, on the other hand, seems more confident than Prince William!

I was more interested in the change in succession law which will let the firstborn child, male or female, inherit the crown. Apparently, it won't officially pass into law until all the Commonwealth countries which consider the monarch of England to be their head of state can agree on it . . . and Canada are digging their Quebecois heels in. As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with adherence to hundreds of years of tradition (which is where I personally stand) and everything to do with making anti-monarchist political plays (which I'm ambivalent about, inasmuch as I think Quebec should be allowed to secede if it wants to). Anyway, everyone I knew who supported the succession change was hoping that William and Kate would have a girl baby. I was so relieved when I learned they had had a boy.

So I have a one-generation reprieve before I have to deal with more attacks on tradition from people who think royal families should be re-engineered in the image and likeness of their subjects' political fads. (What do you think you're dealing with? A democracy? Bwahahahahahahahahaha!)

But what does this have to do with the Spanish royal family, pictured below?

First of all, this is not a recent photo. You can tell because Prince Felipe's two daughters are still so small and Infanta Elena had not yet separated from her husband. Ever since that divorce, my Spanish trainee told me, the royal family has been embroiled in scandal after scandal--with more and more of their subjects calling for the abolition of what they see as an outdated and expensive institution.

Kind of like the British royal family fifteen years ago? Yes, my trainee replied, adding that she was personally stunned at how suddenly traditional the English have become.

And could anyone have predicted back in the 1990s that England would be this crazy for its royals in the 2010s? No, my trainee said, and was immediately caught by the drift already bearing me along. Our discussion grew even more animated.

If the British royal family can live down Diana, Fergie and Camilla, and become such a proud symbol of Englishness less than two decades later, then I personally expect to see the Spanish royal family rising like a phoenix in as many years' time. In fact, I demand it! =P And not just for the very real edification that will come if they manage to do it without what chess players call (fittingly enough) the Queen Sacrifice.

This brings us back to the laws of succession. In England, if the monarch has only female children, then a daughter inherits the crown anyway. In Spain, if the monarch has only female children . . . well, here is where I fail you and admit that my trainee's English skills faltered right before I could ask whether a woman could receive the crown, and the rest of the training time was used up by grammar corrections. But I'm guessing that the heir must be male every time, if only because of what my trainee was saying about Letizia, Princess of Asturias. ***

Letizia is the wife of Prince Felipe of Asturias, who is the heir to the throne. But Felipe isn't the eldest of King Juan Carlos's children; he has two older sisters. And so far, Letizia has only given birth to daughters, neither of whom can inherit the throne unless the law of succession were changed. But to change the law now would mean that Elena, and not Felipe, would be the next monarch! Even if Elena were disqualified because of her divorce, we'd still have Infanta Cristina! So you see Letizia's unique problem. How is she to secure a royal future for her daughters (and to maintain her reputation as a "modern" Spanish woman) without nudging the crown too close to her sisters-in-law?

The obvious answer to wait until Felipe is king to campaign for a change won't do, precisely because it is obvious--and it will make Letizia look scheming and unprincipled. You might say it is a more obvious solution for Felipe and Letizia to keep trying for a son (which is what I thought), but there seem to be a few snags in that plan. At least that's the impression I got from my trainee, who was hampered as much by her own amusement as by her lack of vocabulary while trying to explain the rumour that Letizia is now resorting to all sorts of reproductive technology to make sure that her next baby is a boy.

I will love watching how Letizia and the Spanish royal family pull off this move in their grand chess game of history. And someday, I would love to have a royalist child of my own to tell all about it, when Prince George and the Infantas Leonor and Sofia start to graduate from precious pawns to full players. 

*** UPDATE: One woman who didn't get to weigh in before I wrote this female-heavy pro-male primogeniture post was my grandmother, who watches Television Espangola religiously. She clarified that if Felipe and Letizia have no sons, then their eldest daughter will be queen. The pressure on Letizia is also the cognitive dissonance of the Spanish people, who already like Leonor very much but: a) are not sure how to square it with their willingness to pass over Elena and Cristina, and b) would be a little disappointed if a boy prince once again came along to supplant his older sister. In other words, if you're going to have a boy, Letizia, then you'd better have one now, so we can all have some closure on this issue!

Image Sources: a) New mothers Diana and Kate, b) Spanish royal family


Shaz said...

Give the British another 10 years and they'll be anti-monachary again. The Brits love to miserable and agrieved and seem to go out of their way to hate things simply so they can later embrace them.

Um, I didn't realise Spain had a royal family. They certainly sound . . . interesting. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


And give them another ten years after that and they'll be pro-monarchy once more! ;-) What I admire about the European royal families is the power of vision that lets them ride these tides of love and hate and still keep their (crowned) heads above it all. I think the average commoner has trouble seeing the forest of history for the trees of the present moment.

There may be another post on Europe's royal families. Even my French trainees, who are very happy to be republicans, have a lot to say about other countries' monarchies--some of it quite positive!