Spanish and Danish royals abandon blue blood to marry commoners

Two royal weddings within eight days show how Europe's crowned heads have abandoned blue-blooded alliances in favour of diluting - or enriching - their reigning dynasties with the usual red of ordinary folk.

Two royal weddings within eight days show how Europe's crowned heads have abandoned blue-blooded alliances in favour of diluting - or enriching - their reigning dynasties with the usual red of ordinary folk.

Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, scion of Europe's oldest royal family and heir to the Danish throne, married Mary Donaldson, an Australian businesswoman, in Copenhagen yesterday.

But the ceremony was hailed by the Spanish media yesterday as a mere "dress rehearsal" for the marriage a week today in Madrid of Crown Prince Felipe, 35, with Letizia Ortiz, a former television journalist. Yesterday's front pages showed Ms Ortiz, 31, with her prince in Copenhagen in the Spanish couple's first appearance among European royals.

Spain's future queen is divorced, the daughter of a nurse who is also divorced, and granddaughter of a taxi driver. Doña Letizia has, however, the advantage of being Spanish, which endears her to her future subjects.

Her humble origins have enabled the Spanish establishment to welcome her as a woman of her time who has much in common with ordinary Spaniards. This is important for Spain's ruling Borbons who are aware that popular approval determines the security of their throne.

The princes of Denmark and Spain are among a new generation of royals who not only marry whom they choose, but can inherit the throne as well - a development that reflects the waning importance of monarchies in the power structures of today's Europe.

Dutch and Norwegian princes have struck similar alliances with commoners. Princess Maxima of Holland is daughter of a member of Argentina's former military dictatorship. Norway's Princess Mette-Marit was a single mother whose former partner had a drugs conviction.

Ms Ortiz's first marriage was by civil ceremony, which means she will marry in Madrid's Almudena Cathedral and wear white, with the blessing of Spain's Catholic hierarchy. She will become Princess of Asturias, to match Felipe's title as heir, which is neat because she hails from the Asturian capital of Oviedo; a group of Asturian bagpipers will play outside the cathedral in their honour.

Plans for an extravagant national fiesta were sharply scaled down in the wake of the bombings on 11 March, and the couple asked that money for fireworks displays and song and dance shows to go instead to a memorial for families of the 192 who died. They also cancelled their hen and stag night parties.

Security, by contrast, has been stepped up to confront a possible terror threat. More than 21,000 police officers will patrol the heart of Madrid, a vast operation that will seal off the city centre to traffic, and subject sightseers to unprecedented checks.

Airspace above the capital will be closed to private aircraft across a distance of some 50 miles. Four F-18 fighter planes, and an Awacs surveillance plane lent by Nato, will patrol the skies for 26 hours.

Commercial flights will be unaffected, but anyone entering Spain from within the EU will have to show their passport. The Schengen agreement that allows for unrestricted travel within Europe is suspended for nine days.

Spanish security wants to prevent repetition not only of the slaughter of 11 March, but the act of terrorism that spoiled the wedding in 1906 of Prince Felipe's great-grandfather, King Alfonso XIII. An anarchist's bomb hurled at the procession killed several bystanders, and the bride arrived at the altar with blood on her dress.

Saturday's crowds will probably brandish only hundreds and thousands of commemorative fans - but are warned, in the interest of security, not to toss flowers at the couple.

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