REUTERS - Spain's new king, Felipe VI, was sworn in on Thursday in a low-key ceremony which monarchists hope will usher in a new era of popularity for the troubled royal household.
Felipe became king after his father, Juan Carlos, abdicated earlier this month following a series of scandals that led many Spaniards to question the role of the monarchy itself.
Hopes for the new king are high, and some believe that, despite his role being mainly symbolic as head of state, he will use his position to push dialogue over the challenge of a separatist movement in wealthy northeastern Catalonia.
Felipe's ascent to the throne makes his wife, divorced former journalist Letizia Ortiz, Spain's first commoner queen.
With a background contrasting deeply with the royal privileges of her husband, many see in the 41-year-old former TV anchor the survival of the monarchy because of her down-to-earth middle-class roots.
Ortiz, daughter of a journalist and a nurse and the granddaughter of a taxi-driver, dated Felipe in secret before their engagement was announced in November 2003. They met at a dinner organised by a journalist friend.
Spain's most conservative factions expressed opposition to the prince's choice, underlining her lineage as a commoner, or one outside the nobility.
But others saw a possible regeneration of the monarchy's archaic ways for a new era.
"I think (their marriage) was a very positive thing," historian Charles Powell of Real Instituto Elcano told Reuters TV. "What she brings to the marriage is basically that she grounds him. She makes him aware of everyday issues, everyday problems."
Jose Antonio Fernandez, a 71-year-old pensioner, appeared to agree.
"The monarchy seems medieval to me, but if there has to be a queen I would prefer it to be someone who doesn't have blue blood," said
Ortiz divorced in 1999 after a year of marriage with her former high-school literature teacher, Alonso Guerrero.
Her profile is similar to those of other royal partners elsewhere in Europe, and she has been compared with Kate Middleton, the wife of Britain's Prince William, who is believed to be one of the reasons for a surge in popularity at the House of Windsor.
"The preparation of the future queen is solid ... because before she was queen ... she was a woman with a degree, who comes from the lower middle class with parents and grandparents who had to work for a living," Paloma Barrientos, a reporter who covers the palace in Madrid, told Reuters.
Born in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo in 1972, Ortiz worked as a journalist at newspapers La Nueva Espaסa and ABC, as well as at news agency EFE before TV channels at Bloomberg, CNN+ and Spain's state TV company Television Espaסola.
She worked in Mexico for Siglo XXI and covered stories such as the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Iraq war.
Ortiz made headlines when the couple announced their engagement and she told Felipe in public to shut up. "Let me finish," she said, smiling, in front of a throng of cameras.
Letizia and Felipe have two children Leonor, 8 and Sofia, 7.
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