- - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

MADRID — As Spain’s first commoner princess, Letizia will need to win over subjects disenchanted with the monarchy and with her — a tall order for the royal consort who will be queen come Thursday.

When Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia are crowned, they will inherit not only dynastic rights but also a country in the throes of a grave financial crisis and skyrocketing unemployment. Over the past two decades, the popularity of the monarchy has plummeted from a record high of 75 percent to a historic low of 38 percent, according to the Center for Sociological Studies in Madrid.

The public’s dislike of the monarchy was a major factor in King Juan Carlos‘ abdication at the beginning of the month after nearly 40 years of rule. In addition to his ailing health, Juan Carlos, 76, has been coping with the fallout of an investigation into his daughter’s business dealings and a scandal stemming from a lavish elephant hunting trip in Africa in 2012 as Spain’s economy was reeling.


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Although monarchists are hoping the new king and queen can reverse the damage, many say Letizia’s unpopularity can be only a liability.

“We don’t like Letizia because she is stuck up,” said Isabel Pardo, who grew up on Mallorca. The princess does not care for the Spanish island where the royals often vacation.

In 2003, Felipe announced out of the blue that he was engaged to Letizia Ortiz Rocasolano, an attractive journalist without aristocratic connections.

Her father is a journalist. Her mother is a nurse who is active in a labor union. Her grandfather was a taxi driver. But Letizia is far from working-class. Until her relationship with Felipe was made public, she was the anchor of the most-watched news show on Spanish public television. Her work included coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq War.

Her romantic past also raised eyebrows among Spain’s conservative royalists: She was briefly married to her high school English teacher before they divorced in 1999.

Since Letizia married Felipe, 46, her family has created headaches for the royal family. In 2007, her publicity-shy youngest sister committed suicide. Last year, her cousin and former lawyer published a tell-all book that revealed the future queen had an abortion before arriving in the palace.

Analysts and citizens stress, however, that Letizia’s past isn’t why she is unpopular. Rather, her image as an ambitious, career-ladder-climbing perfectionist — including her numerous well-publicized plastic surgeries — does not correspond with Spaniards’ expectations of how a princess should comport herself.

At their first public appearance after their engagement, Letizia interrupted her prince and told him — in front of the media — to let her finish a sentence, a faux pas that hasn’t been forgotten.

“She’s an extrovert and has a strong character, which is a good thing, but she can’t control her outbursts,” said Jaime Penafiel, a journalist and author who specializes in Spain’s monarchy. “This has put the prince in some very uncomfortable situations. On several occasions, she has told the prince ‘let’s leave’ when she was bored or tired at a public event or ceremony.”

Jose Apezarena, author of a biography of Felipe, said the press often treats Letizia unfairly. She often comes across badly because she is not accustomed to the formal expectations of her.

Letizia is more herself in low-profile events, such as when she visits a hospital, than in ceremonies where she has a role as a princess,” Mr. Apezarena said. “She has set the standard very high for herself as a princess, which conveys tension and lack of ease in public appearances. This is also due to the scrutiny to which she is submitted by the press. It takes away her casualness.”

Letizia, 41, has tried to preserve her independent lifestyle in spite of the strictures of her royal marriage. She has been spotted regularly at independent film screenings, theater performances and concerts. Her affinity for alternative American rock bands such as the Eels and the Killers has led the Spanish paparazzi to dub her the “hipster queen.”

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