Spain’s monarchy is apparently having a hard time–in the latest round of scandals, one of the princesses is accused of public corruption along with her husband. But where did it all start to go wrong for the House of Bourbon? Not, writes Spanish journalist Miguel-Anxo Murado in The New York Times, with Juan Carlos’s long ago collusion with General Francisco Franco to the point that Franco named him (Juan Carlos) his personal successor, his open support for conservative parties or talking down to Latin American leaders, but with a trip to Botswana in April 2012 to hunt elephants:

The country learned that the king had broken his hip while hunting elephants in Botswana, reportedly as the guest of a Syrian-born Saudi magnate. He was also — unusually, for a private trip — unaccompanied by the queen. The affair opened a Pandora’s box of awkward questions — from the state of the royal marriage to the nature of the king’s business dealings.

Above all, people were livid at the insensitivity of his shooting of pachyderms while the country was reeling under harsh austerity. The fact that the king was also a patron of the World Wildlife Fund did not help. (Soon after, the conservation group unceremoniously sacked the monarch.) To this day, the mere mention of an elephant in Spain sends people into an uproar over the king.

The irony is that Juan Carlos had been hunting and doing business around the world all his life. Most people simply didn’t know. The king and his family were shielded from criticism by an informal media covenant, their sources of income kept secret in part.

With hindsight, this proved to have been a mistake. The sudden contrast between image and reality only made disclosure all the more embarrassing. Now, thanks to the scandal, there is more transparency in the royal household, but probably not enough. Its official budget approved by Parliament is known to be around 8 million euros, but this is widely believed to represent a small part of the family’s total worth.

To his credit, the king apologized for his ill-fated safari. Yet he lacked experience in apologizing — and his people, in forgiving. It was simply awkward, and it’s become increasingly awkward as the king seeks to regain the favor of his subjects by multiplying his public appearances in spite of a series of surgeries from which he has not fully recovered.

Further Reading

No more caricatures

Engaging seriously with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s life could help us understand how South Africa got where it is and where it’s going.