Home European Royals King Felipe presents Leonor with Order of the Golden Fleece on his 50th birthday

King Felipe presents Leonor with Order of the Golden Fleece on his 50th birthday

by Olivia Moran

Today, King Felipe VI presented his eldest daughter Leonor with the Order of the Golden Fleece, in a moving ceremony to mark his 50th birthday. As Princess of Asturias, 12-year old Leonor is heiress to the throne.

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The Order of the Golden Fleece (‘Toison de Oro’) is a gold chain decorated with a small sheep; the recipient is also presented with a red ribbon to wear which represents the honour. The original Order is named after the Golden Sheep which features in the famous Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts.

As King, Felipe is Master of the Order, which originally dates back to 1430 when it was created by Phillip the Good. Today, there are two branches of the order: the Spanish branch and also that held by Karl von Habsburg, grandson of Emperor Charles I of Austria.

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The chain Leonor received today was previously owned by her great-grandfather, Don Juan de Borbón.

This was the first time that Felipe had presented the honour, and also the first time that the ceremony was broadcast live on television.

As well as being a state occasion, today’s ceremony was also a moment for family – Felipe and Infanta (Princess) Leonor sat alongside Queen Letizia, Infanta Sofia and the former King and Queen, Juan Carlos and Sofia. This also marked Leonor’s first official act as heir to the throne.

The Spanish Royal Family at the ceremony (L-R: Sofia, Juan Carlos, Leonor, Felipe, Letizia and Sofia)

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The Royal Family were joined by guests, including Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish Prime Minister (Presidente), and Ana Pastor, who is the Spanish equivalent of the Speaker in the House of Commons. Today’s ceremony comes at a particularly poignant time for Spain, which is facing political turmoil due to the push for Catalan independence.

The ceremony took place in Madrid’s Palacio Real, in what is known as the ‘Salón de las Columnas’. It is not often we see the whole family together at official events, making today a special occasion for the Spanish Monarchy.

The presentation itself was relatively short; Leonor appeared apprehensive at first, but quickly relaxed as she and her father stood in front of the assembled guests.

King Felipe VI presents his eldest daughter Leonor, Princess of Asturias, with the Order of the Golden Fleece (Casa de S.M. El Rey)

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Felipe and Leonor share a tender moment during today’s formal ceremony (Casa de S.M. El Rey)

The ribbon was solemnly pinned on Leonor’s chest and the atmosphere then became more light-hearted. Leonor curtsied to her father, who then kissed her on both cheeks (as is Spanish custom) and took her face in his hands, beaming proudly at his eldest child.

Leonor then returned to her immediate family, kissing each member on both cheeks.  She also curtsied to her grandfather, the former King of Spain. The young Princess then moved to the assorted guests and greeted those seated, offering handshakes and kisses as she went.

Leonor embraces her younger sister Sofia as Queen Letizia watches on (Casa de S.M. El Rey)

Leonor kisses her mother after receiving the Order of the Golden Fleece from her father (Casa de S.M. El Rey)

Felipe also made a touching speech, telling his daughter that she will be “guided by the Spanish Constitution” and explaining that she must always remember the demands of being heir to the throne; the Order will serve as a reminder of these duties. Felipe also emphasised the values that Leonor should follow throughout her role, including dignity, honesty, integrity and the need to sacrifice her own interests for the good of the Spanish people.

Once again, Felipe broke with the formal atmosphere and ending the speech by assuring Leonor that: “Your family will always be by your side, especially your mother and Sofia, who will stand by you and support you, as well as your grandparents, and of course, your father, who you know trusts in you completely”.

While Leonor is the only person to receive the Order from King Felipe, former King Juan Carlos presented the honour to 24 people. Amongst the notable recipients are Queen Elizabeth II, Nicolas Sarkozy and former Spanish Prime Minister Adolfo Suárez.

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