Category Archives: Royalty

Language of the Hand Fan

If you’re uninformed, you might just think this is a boring portrait of a lady fanning herself.

But she’s actually a subtle coquette whispering to you in fan language. There is a long history of a silent hand fan language that women use to attract lovers when out in public. Spanish women used to have pretty confined circumstances and in homosocial (restricted to one’s sex) high society they rarely had time alone to themselves to consort with other men.

So, they had to talk via the fan when they were out at events, like the bullring or the opera.

Of course, the men knew this too, as did the servants, so it was not very easy to get away with. But in those times in the Latin world, affairs were quite the norm, though monogamy was not openly flouted.

These little fans are called “abanicos” in Spanish. Here’s an article in Spanish which has some more information on the way one spoke with the hand fan.


Changing my mind

I wrote a couple weeks ago that after Juan Carlos, King of Spain, dies, there might possibly be a referendum to transform Spain into a republic, like the United States, France and Germany.

I’m changing my mind. The royal wedding just took place in England and the Spaniards were glued to their TVs the whole time. Every news channel ran a long segment on the wedding and went on to talk about the Spanish royalty. The Spanish, especially the women, love the idea of royalty at home and abroad. This tradition is not going to change; there’s no real any need for it to change anyway.

Conclusion. Unless there’s some huge upheaval in Spain, i.e. a war, which isn’t likely, the monarchy is going to be around for at least a couple of generations.

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Posted by on April 30, 2011 in Culture, Politics, Royalty, Spain


After the King Dies

Spain is currently a constitutional monarchy. Juan Carlos, appointed by the law succession after the death of Franco in 1975, oversaw the transition from dictatorship to democracy. In 1982, his rule became almost entirely symbolic, though he commands great moral authority and is a very popular figure in the Spanish media and politics. His opinions and words are taken seriously.

Juan Carlos is now 72 years old and recently had a benign tumor removed, but speculation about his health is unclear. When he dies, his son Felipe, Prince of Asturias is destined to take over as symbolic head of the state. But in Spain there is resurgent cry for a republican style of government in Spain, like that of Second Spanish Republic, established in 1931 and fought for during the Spanish civil war. Republican flags were seen flying and strapped to the backs of demonstrators in Puerta del Sol, Madrid on Thursday night to celebrate its establishment 80 years earlier on April 14th, 1931.

According to a recent poll, 39% of Spaniards want Spain to be a republic, while 48% prefer the current monarchy. More supporters are from the People’s Party and more dissenters from the Socialist Party and left wing movements. Many people speculate, however, that it’s not the monarchy most people support, but Juan Carlos. It was Juan Carlos who facilitated a quick transition from dictatorship to democracy and the integration into greater Europe, but people have a more lukewarm opinion on the system of monarchy itself.

The younger generation is more in favor of a republic and more indifferent, or even hostile, to the symbolism of the monarchy. Indeed, a poll taken just 6 years ago, showed a 65% preference for the monarchy and 22% for the republic, a huge difference from today’s numbers. As time passes, the respect for the monarchy is likely to continue to decline. The death of Juan Carlos may be the moment at which a referendum is called to vote for the official establishment of a republic in Spain.


The Fate of Ferdinand and Isabella’s Children

Spain owes its empire—which was actually rather brief and ineffectual as empires go—to the dynamic, Machiavellian duo, Ferdinand and Isabella. That’s not to say they were nice, at all. Or even sane. Like it or not though, what they achieved, through blood and iron, was the groundwork for a modern Spanish nation-state. Their children did not fare so well, however… Here’s an excerpt fromĀ The Last Crusaders by Barnaby Rogerson.

If Ferdinand and Isabella can be seen to have triumphed on every imaginable frontier in political life — conquering Granada, banishing Jews and Muslims from their land, annexing the Kingdom of Naples, pacifying Navarre, silencing all religious and political dissidence through the Inquisition and commissioning Columbus to discover America for them — there was yet a threshold where the gleaming canvas of perfection was turned to ruin, like the true face behind the mask in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Indeed Queen, towards the end of her life, began to believe that her family had been punished for her political crimes. Her daughter Isabella, after twenty years of negotiation, had been married to the crown prince of Portugal, Afonso, who promptly died in a hunting accident. Their second daughter, Juana, was betrothed to Philip the Handsome, the Hapsburg heir of Emperor Maximilian. Juana, who loved her husband, was driven insane by his fidelities and lack of reciprocal feeling. Ferdinand and Isabella’s son, Prince John, had been married to Emperor Maximilian’s daughter, Margaret, in a double-marriage pact. Their experience was to be the very opposite, for the young couple were so madly, so ardently in love, so delighted by the mutual freedom of their bodies, that they wore each other out. The court physicians grew alarmed at the amount of time the lovers spent in bed. By July the crown prince of Spain knew he was dying of love. His published will, providing a millionĀ maravedis to house poor orphans and half as much again to ransom prisoners, might indicate that he was too good for the world into which he was born…By tragic coincidence, John passed away the week that his widowed elder sister, Isabel, was married to the new King Manuel of Portugal, so that “the rejoicing of the wedding were exchanged with lamenting and mourning … within a single week.” Then, like some triple-twisted Gothick tale, Princess Isabel died giving birth to a male heir, the infant Miguel, who stood to inherit every throne within the Iberian Peninsula. When he died two years later he delivered the “third stab of pain to pierce the Queen’s heart.”

It goes on. It’s hard to believe this isn’t fiction. It turns out that Juana’s adulterous husband then died and she:

Like some dark heroine from a Gothic novel, she refused to be parted from his body and would night after night set forth on a torchlight procession to the crypt chapel, where she would command the coffin once again to be opened so that she could embrace her true love and assure herself that he had indeed departed from her.

Reading this makes the antics of the various travelers in Don Quixote more understandable—and indeed, less dramatic and over-the-top than it seems to modern eyes. It also makes Shakespeare seem less of a dramatist and more of a realist, since this behavior was pretty standard among royal families in Europe.

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Posted by on March 12, 2011 in Royalty, Spanish History