The Many Scandals of Spanish King Juan Carlos I

A seller shows a picture of Spanish King Juan Carlos, who abdicated today Jon Nazca/Reuters

King Juan Carlos I of Spain is stepping down after nearly four decades on the throne. His son, Crown Prince Felipe, will take over.

The decision is a personal one, he said today in a statement, made shortly after his 76th birthday in January. But that’s not really true. Despite his decades of popularity—particularly after he fought off a right-wing military coup in 1981—Carlos’s reign has been plagued by scandals in recent years, and a Reuters source has confirmed the political motivation behind the decision.

Below, a look back at several of the scandals that have soiled Carlos and the royal family in recent years.

The terrible case of the dead elephant. In the spring of 2012, Juan Carlos took a hunting trip to Botswana, where he posed proudly in front of an elephant he had shot. Seems simple enough—but it wasn’t. That dead elephant “was the beginning of the end” for the king, argues Time’s James Badcock. In the midst of rising unemployment and austerity measures, the lavish expedition—which reportedly cost $8,700 a week, plus $15,000 for the elephant—made for A-grade tabloid fodder, signaling how out of touch the monarch had become. The king had to be flown home after an injury, just days before his grandson, 13-year-old Froilán Marichalar, shot himself in the foot.

The royal daughter and son-in-law’s folly. Meanwhile, while the king was infuriating animal rights activists abroad, his son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarín was still weathering the aftermath of the “Urdangarín affair,” which found him and a former business partner accused of embezzling huge quantities of public funds. Urdangarín has been excluded from participating in official events; in February his wife was questioned as a suspect in the tax fraud and laundering operations. This marked the first time in Spain’s history that a royal family member was named in a criminal investigation.

Urdangarín’s “ungallant” emails. Later, Urdangarín was further scandalized when leaked emails showed him mocking his sister and making sexist jokes. One particular email, The Guardian reported, “mocks women’s intelligence by suggesting that an ironing board is the female equivalent of a computer.” The content of the full dump led the usually impartial British newspaper to conclude that Urdangarín appears to be a “rather ungallant character.”

Spain’s mounting economic woes. Scandals aside, it’s Spain’s deep economic crisis that has largely precipitated the king’s falling popularity. Spain’s long recession, with millions unemployed, is the backdrop to the tabloids’ efforts at painting Carlos as out of touch. Spain grew into an “economic powerhouse and a vacation playground for Europe” during the beginning of his reign, CNN points out, but those days are past. Unemployment has recently topped 25 percent, and the royal family’s approval rating in 2013 reached a low point, 3.68 out of 10.