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The Wedding of Juan Carlos of Spain
and Sophia of Greece

By Arturo Beéche

           The skies over Athens were of a deep oceanic blue on May 14, 1962. Only those who have been
           lucky enough to visit this wonderful country can recall the beauty of the blue seas surrounding this
           beautiful country. On this happy date, two descendants of Queen Victoria were joining their lives
           in matrimony. Such was the commotion created by the impending wedding that many chroniclers of
           the time called it the most important royal marriage of the century. What is certain is that the two
           extremes of the Mediterranean Sea were brought closer by the marriage between Prince Juan
           Carlos of Spain and Princess Sophia of Greece.

           Juan Carlos and Sophia are related several times. Juan Carlos is a grandson of Queen
           Victoria-Eugenia of Spain, born a Princess of Battenberg. Victoria-Eugenia was the only daughter
           of Prince Henry of Battenberg and Princess Beatrice of Great Britain. Beatrice was Queen
           Victoria's youngest child. Victoria-Eugenia of Battenberg had the distinct honor of being a favorite
           of Empress Eugenie of the French, Napoleon III's widow. The closeness between the family of
           Queen Victoria and her friend Empress Eugenie's led to Beatrice naming her daughter in honor of
           the two older ladies. Some have also rumored that this friendship between Beatrice and Eugenie
           was the result of the English princess' love for Eugenie's unfortunate son, the Prince Imperial who
           died in Africa during the Zulu Wars in 1879.

            Royal Engagement in Lausanne, Switzerland: First row (left to right): Quuen Victoria-Eugenia of Spain, Prince Juan
                   Carlos, Princess Sophia. Back row: Queen Frederica, King Paul I and Princess Irene of Greece.

           Sophia is a descendant of Queen Victoria through both her parents. King Paul I of the Hellenes was
           the youngest son of King Constantine I and Queen Sophie, born a Princess of Prussia. Sophie was
           the third daughter of Kaiser Friedrich III and Kaiserin Victoria, who was Queen Victoria's eldest
           child. Sophia's mother, Frederica of Hanover, was the only daughter of Duke Ernst-August of
           Brunswick and Princess Victoria-Luise of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II's only daughter. Wilhelm II
           and Queen Sophie of Greece were siblings, both being children of Kaiser Friedrich III and
           Kaiserin Victoria. Duke Ernst-August was closely related to the English royal family, as the head
           of the old Hanoverian royal family. Ernst-August was the grandson of King George V of Hanover,
           only son of King Ernst-August of Hanover and Duke of Cumberland. Ernst-August was the younger
           brother of Edward, Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria's father.

           Many years had passed since Athens witnessed a royal celebration of this magnitude. More than
           150 members of Europe's royal families were invited to the wedding of the eldest daughter of the
           King of Greece and the future King of Spain. Among them were members of the royal houses of
           Greece, Spain, Great Britain, Bavaria, Parma, Brazil, Denmark, France, Hanover, Baden, Italy,
           The Netherlands, Norway, Bulgaria, Bourbon-Two Sicilies, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Sweden,
           Württemberg and Yugoslavia. Europe had not seen such a large gathering of royalty since the days
           prior to the great war in 1914.

           The city's streets were gaily decorated. The flags of Greece and Spain seemed to be everywhere,
           hanging from balconies, along the streets, in ever single light post. The route from the royal palace
           to the church was lined by well-wishers who had stood in place for hours to have a good view of
           the marvelous royal pageantry. Several Athenians made a handsome profit by renting their
           balconies to the highest bidder. Not one person in the city seemed willing to avoid being a witness
           to this most joyous occasion. It had been almost a quarter of a century since a Greek royal had
           married and Athens, Greece for that matter, made sure Europe witnessed the high regard in which
           Princess Sophia was held.

           Thousands of Spaniards traveled to Athens to participate in this historic event. Juan Carlos and
           Sophia recognized their efforts by hosting a large garden party at the Hellenic Tennis Club. The
           contagious enthusiasm demonstrated by Juan Carlos' future subjects was appreciated by both royal
           families.

           At eight in the morning of May 14, five cannon blasts announced the beginning of the day's
           festivities. Dignitaries were the first to arrive at the Church of Saint Dyonisius, among them Prime
           Minister Karamanlis and Spain's Ambassador Extraordinary, Minister of the Navy Abárzuza.
           Following closely were the over 150 royal guests of King Paul and Queen Frederica, amid the
           most renowned were: King Olav V of Norway, Franz-Josef II of Liechtenstein, King Umberto II of
           Italy, Queen Juliana of The Netherlands, Queen Ingrid of Denmark, Grand Duke Jean of
           Luxemburg, Michael I of Romania, Rainier III of Monaco and Queen Victoria-Eugenia of Spain.
           Other royal guests of note were the Count and Countess of Paris, Henri and Isabelle; Philip I of
           Württemberg; Tomislav of Yugoslavia; Duarte II of Braganza; Friedrich-Franz V of
           Mecklenburg-Schwerin; Kraft of Hohenlohe-Langenburg; Amadeo, Duke of Aosta; Philip I,
           Landgrave of Hesse; Ernst-August V of Hanover; Luis, Prince Imperial of Brazil; Franz of
           Bavaria; Berthold I, Markgrave of Baden; Marina, Duchess of Kent; Alfonso, Duke of Calabria;
           Robert, Duke of Parma; Friedrich of Windisch-Graetz; and Lord Louis Mountbatten, Earl
           Mountbatten of Burma.

           The royal cortege left the royal palace at 9:20 am. As the motorcade progressed along the
           beflagged route Athens went wild with ovations and demonstrations of support for the Greek royal
           family. Heading the royal cortege was the Athenian Chief of Police, followed closely by a
           limousine carrying Queen Juliana of The Netherlands and King Olav V of Norway. Juliana
           astonished the gathering royal mob with a diamond parure said to be worth millions. It was a
           fitting adornment for the richest woman of the world. Following next were Queen Victoria-Eugenia
           of Spain with Queen Ingrid of Denmark; Bernhard of The Netherlands with Helen, Queen Mother
           of Romania; Umberto II and Marie-José of Italy; Michael I and Anne of Romania; Franz-Josef and
           Gina of Liechtenstein. After a short period of quiet enthusiasm, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace
           of Monaco made a triumphant arrival. She looked fabulous and the crowds loved her wildly. The
           list of arriving royals was completed by Grand Duke Jean and Grand Duchess Josephine-Charlotte
           of Luxemburg.

           Once the foreign royals were seated inside the church it was the turn for the Spanish and Greek
           royal families to make their entrance. Four cars transported the maids of honor: 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 men chosen by the couple were
           Prince Michael of Greece, the Duke of Aosta, don Alfonso de Bourbon and Infante Alfonso of
           Orleans.

           Preceded by six mounted guards, Queen Frederica and Don Juan, Count of Barcelona, arrived at
           the church. They were followed by Prince Juan Carlos who was accompanied by his mother, the
           Countess of Barcelona. Escorted by his proud mother, Juan Carlos' entry into the church sent the
           adoring crowds into boisterous rapture. Once inside the church, the Countess of Barcelona sat next
           to her husband. Queen Frederica waited patiently for the arrival of her husband, son and daughter.
           The noisy clamor filling up the church announced the bride's arrival.

           Outside, the crowds went simply wild. Seated inside the majestic golden royal coach, Sophia,
           accompanied by her father and brother Constantine, arrived at Saint Dyonisius. Her bridesmaids
           waited patiently as the royal bride descended from the carriage. Within minutes they had managed
           to straighten the bride's long train. Sophia's entrance into the church was tremendously emotional
           for bride, family, guests and crowd. Greece, royal Europe in fact, had not seen such outpouring of
           love in many decades. For a moment it seemed as if all worries were thrown to the wind.

           Sophia was an enchanting sight. Her coiffured head was topped by a beautiful tiara given to her by
           Queen Frederica. This fantastic jewel kept the fifteen foot long veil in place. It was the same veil
           used a quarter of a century before by Frederica of Hanover when she married Prince Paul of
           Greece. Her wedding dress was designed by Jean Dessés, a beautiful creation in lamé with ancient
           brocade.

           The day's emotions finally got to Sophia by the time she reached the altar. As tears fell down her
           cheeks, a concerned Juan Carlos gallantly offered her his handkerchief. He held her arm to comfort
           her and demonstrate his intense care. Everyone present at the church witnessed this demonstrations
           of love with great satisfaction.

           The Catholic ceremony lasted almost an hour. The doubling of bells announced to the entire city
           that their princess was no longer so. From that moment forward she would be the future Queen of
           Spain. Once the nuptials were finished, mass was celebrated. The beautiful notes of Mozart's
           Coronation Mass, along with Perosi's Magnificat, kept the church filled with joyful melodies. As
           Haendel's Alleluia filled the church, Juan Carlos and Sophia walked out of the church to be
           greeted by the rapturous crowds.
 


                                                  A Royal wedding in Athens: Juan Carlos and Sophia.

           The magnificent carriage pulled by six horses took them to the royal palace where the couple
           rested for a short while. After the royal palace in downtown Athens, everyone headed to the
           Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral of the Virgin Mary. Decorated with 30,000 roses, the Orthodox
           cathedral was a sight to behold. The crowds were terribly pleased as the entire royal guest list
           once again made a triumphant entrance.

           Once finished with the Orthodox ceremony, the newlyweds returned to the royal palace. After a
           brief civil ceremony held inside the royal realm, a fantastic banquet was held in honor of Juan
           Carlos and Sophia. More than one thousand guests attended the celebration. Photos were taken,
           anecdotes shared of a day that would forever remain the most impressive royal occasion in
           Greece's history. Once the banquet was concluded, Juan Carlos and Sophia left for the royal
           retreat in the island of Corfu. From this Ionic paradise they left for a honeymoon that took them
           around the world.

           Thirteen years later, and surrounded by their three young children, Juan Carlos and Sophia
           ascended to the restored throne of Spain. Juan Carlos and Sophia are the parents of the Infantas
           Elena and Cristina, and Prince Felipe of the Asturias. Elena and Cristina are married now. And the
           royal couple await the birth of Elena's first child in August of 1998. Today Juan Carlos and Sophia
           enjoy the respect and considerable love of their Spanish subjects. They are also held in high
           regard by politicians and leaders throughout the world. King Juan Carlos' efforts in restoring
           democracy to his country are not only admired, but also a source of inspiration to many of his
           exiled Eastern European cousins.
 


                                         The Successful Monarch: King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía.

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