Juan Carlos has been on the throne for 39 years and was a hero to many for shepherding Spain’s democratic and economic transformation, but has had repeated health problems in recent years.
His longstanding popularity took a big blow following royal scandals, including a 2012 elephant-shooting trip he took at the height of Spain’s financial crisis during which he broke his right hip and had to be flown from Botswana to Spain aboard a private jet for medical treatment.
The king’s image was also tarnished by the investigation of his son-in-law, who is being investigated on suspicion of embezzling large amounts in public contracts.
Juan Carlos’ daughter Princess Cristina in January was forced to testify in the fraud and money-laundering case targeting her husband Inaki Urdangarin, an Olympic handball medalist turned businessman. She became the first Spanish royal to be questioned in court since Juan Carlos took the throne.
In his speech the king did not mention any of the scandals, played down his health issues and praised the crown prince.
“My son Felipe, the heir to the throne, embodies stability,” Juan Carlos said.
Felipe would presumably take the title King Felipe VI. He has a law degree from Madrid’s Autonomous University, obtained a master’s in international relations from Georgetown University in the United States and was a member of Spain’s Olympic sailing team at the Barcelona games in 1992.
Felipe is married to Princess Letizia, a former television journalist. Their daughters are ages 8 and 7.
Like his father, Felipe has traveled the globe trying to maintain Spain’s influence especially in former Latin American colonies, while seeking to promote the nation’s international business interests.
King Juan Carlos came to power in 1975, two days after the death of longtime dictator Francisco Franco. He endeared himself to many Spaniards, in large part by putting down an attempted military coup in 1981 when he was a young and largely untested head of state.