MADRID — As royals from around the world gather at Britain's Windsor Castle on Friday to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II's 60 years on the throne, a 300-year-old diplomatic spat is keeping one fellow crowned head away: the queen of Spain.
Queen Sofia canceled her visit at the last minute Wednesday amid fresh tensions over Gibraltar, a giant rock that both countries claim. Once a strategic gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, the tiny peninsula of Gibraltar, with its famous rock, was part of Spain until 1713, when Britain took control. Madrid wants it back.
Now Spain is upset that Queen Elizabeth's youngest son, Prince Edward, and his wife, Sophie, plan to visit Gibraltar next month. The Spanish Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador May 8 to convey "disgust and unease" about the prince's travel plans. There have also been disputes over fishing rights in the waters off Gibraltar's coast, and talks between Spanish fishermen and British officials broke down earlier this week.
A Spanish government statement said it was "hardly appropriate" for the 73-year-old Spanish queen to attend a luncheon Friday in Elizabeth's honor — even though the two queens are distant cousins.
Friday's luncheon at Windsor Castle, followed by an evening banquet at Buckingham Palace, features a guest list that is rumored to include Emperor Akihito of Japan, Prince Albert of Monaco and the kings of Bahrain and Swaziland, both accused of unseemly wealth and human-rights abuses.
Spain's King Juan Carlos had already declined an invitation, but his wife had long planned to attend. Spain's royals have been keeping a low profile since the king angered his subjects last month by going elephant hunting in Botswana, a trip that cost about $50,000, more than twice the average salary in Spain.
The public only found out about his African safari when Juan Carlos fell and broke his hip and had to be airlifted home. The monarch offered an unprecedented apology for indulging in such a lavish pursuit during an economic recession.
For Queen Sofia, the final straw that made her drop plans to visit Britain could have been this: A British military band from Gibraltar is scheduled to entertain the lunch guests at Windsor Castle.
— Lauren Frayer
Photo: Queen Sofia of Spain reviewing the Royal Guard in Madrid earlier this month. Credit: Angel Diaz / European Pressphoto Agency.