NOVEMBER'S ROYAL OF THE MONTH: QUEEN SOFIA OF SPAIN
A member of one of Europe’s oldest royal houses (she can count Queen Victoria of England, German Emperors and Russian Tsars as relatives) and the epitome of queenly class and elegance, Queen Sofia of Spain, née Princess Sophie of Greece and Hanover, celebrates her 66th birthday this November 2.
The eldest daughter of King Paul I and Queen Frederika was born in Athens, later joined by her siblings King Constantine (born 1940 in Athens, Greece) and Princess Irene (born 1942 in Cape Town, South Africa).
During World War II, the Greek royal family was forced into exile, with Queen Sofia spending much of her childhood in Egypt and South Africa, before returning to Greece again in 1946.
As a young student, the future Queen studied at Schloss Salem, a German boarding school, later pursuing an education in childcare, music and archeology in Athens.
The Queen has been bestowed several honorary degrees and doctorates from educational institutions from around the world, including the San Fernando Academy and the History Academy, and the universities of Rosario, Valladolid, Cambridge, Oxford, Georgetown and Evora. In October 2000, Queen Sofia received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from New York University (NYU). The Queen was recognized for her longstanding efforts in health, education, agriculture, the improvement of lives for women and her support of the arts and humanities. NYU President L. Jay Oliva said at the time of the conferment, “Her Majesty is greatly admired and respected for her support of women throughout the Third World, for her leadership in the fight against drug addiction, and for efforts on behalf of the disabled. It will be a great privilege and pleasure for me to confer upon her an honorary degree in recognition of her leadership of so many important humanitarian causes.”
In September 1961, the exiled Spanish royal family announced from Switzerland (with a formal presentation in Athens, Greece) the engagement of their eldest son Don Juan Carlos de Borbón y Borbón to Princess Sophie of Greece. The wedding took place the following spring, on 14 May 1962, when the 23-year-old princess married the future King of Spain in a glittering Catholic and Orthodox ceremony attended by more than 150 members of Europe’s royal families. Among the guests, were Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Queen Ingrid of Denmark and Prince Ranier of Monaco and his glamorous wife, Princess Grace.
The young couple became a young family the following year with the birth of their first daughter, Elena Maria Isabel Dominica de Silos de Borbón y Grecia, on 20 December 1963 in Madrid. Daughter Cristina Federica de Borbón y Grecia was born on 13 June 1965, also in Madrid. The family was complete on 30 January 1968 with the birth of Felipe Juan Pablo and Alfonso de Todos los Santos de Borbón y Grecia, now the Prince of Asturias.
On 22 November 1975, following the death of Spain’s former head of state Francisco Franco, Don Juan Carlos was coronated the King of Spain, with his wife and three young children at his side. Only 20 days after her 37th birthday, the Greek born princess became the Queen of Spain.
While Queen Sofia participates in many official functions within Spain and with other Spanish-speaking nations around the world, the Queen is also an avid supporter of numerous social causes and cultural programs, as well as being involved in international organizations which aid women, children and provide viable economic solutions for the disadvantaged.
Through a small amount of funding contributed by the Queen herself, the Queen Sofia Foundation was established on 17 May 1977. The purpose of the non-profit charity and cultural foundation was twofold: to improve the welfare of all men and women and to support the cultural and artistic heritage of Spain through development and the maintenance of regional and local traditions. Today, the foundation continues to aid the less fortunate through financing social and humanitarian aid projects in co-operation with the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation. The Queen has made several humanitarian visits through this joint effort, including Bangladesh (1996), Paraguay (1997), Guatemala (1997), Tanzania and Mozambique (1998), Peru and Ecuador (1999), the Philippines and Bangladesh (2000), Central America (2001), Vietnam (2002) and the Philippines and China (2003).
Queen Sofia, a classical music lover, is also a major supporter of the arts. She is an honorary chairman of the Queen Sofia Higher School of Music.
In addition to her love of classical music, the Queen is also a sports lover, particularly sailing. (She was a reserve member of the Greek sailing team at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960.) Throughout the winter months, the Queen is fond of skiing.
A devoted mother to her three children, each grown and married now, the Queen is also a doting grandmother to five grandchildren (so far): Felipe Juan Froilan de Todos los Santos (born 1998) and Victoria Federica (born 2000), the children of her daughter Infanta Elena, and Juan Valentin de Todos los Santos (born 1999), Pablo Nicolas (born 2000) and Miguel (born 2002), the sons of her daughter Infanta Cristina.
Queen Sofia is a thoroughly admired and loved member of the royal family, and much heralded by the Spanish people.
September 1961: The engagement of Don Juan Carlos of SPain to Princess Sophie of Greece is announced. Present at the announcement were King Paul I and Queen Frederika and their children Prince Constantine and Princess Irene and Don Juan de Borbón y Battenberg, Count of Barcelona and Dona Maria de las Mercedes de Borbon y Orleans, Countess of Barcelona.
14 May 1962: The glittering royal wedding of the future King and Queen of Spain in Athens, Greece. The maids of honor were Irene of Greece, Irene of the Netherlands, Alexandra of Kent, Benedikte and Anne Marie of Denmark, Anne of France, Pilar of Spain and Princess Tatiana Radziwill. The best were Prince Michael of Greece, the Duke of Aosta, don Alfonso de Bourbon and Infante Alfonso of Orleans.
The Queen is a grandmother five times over through the children of her daughters. She is a doting grandmother to Felipe Juan "Froilan" and Victoria Marichalar and Juan Valentin "Juanito," Pablo and Miguel Urdangarin.
In order, from left to right by first row:
Presentation of Froilan de Marichalar (born July 1998).
Presentation of Juanito Urdangarin (born September 1999).
Presentation of Pablo Urdangarin (born December 2000).
Presentation of Victoria de Marichalar (born September 2000).
Sailing with Juanito, Pablo and Miguel.
The official Christmas card from the King and Queen with all their children in Zarzuela Palace, December 2003.
A day with with Froilan and Victoria.
This summer with her grandchildren.
Getting a kiss from Froilan and Victoria.
Source: Seegerpress, Corbis, Rex Features, Colourpress and IBL
The Greek-born Queen Sofia has returned to her birth country on several occasions, including for her mother Queen Frederika's funeral, a visit in October 1999 with King Juan Carlos and most recently, for the Athens Olympic Games.
Through the joint efforts of the Queen Sofia Foundation and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation, the Queen has made numerous humanitarian visits around the world, including Bangladesh, Guatemala, Honduras, Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam.