Frederik and Mary of Denmark in the autumn of 2013, ten years on from their engagement announcement
Felipe and Letizia in September 2013, almost a decade on from their engagement
Ten years ago this week, the princess in waiting most likely to succeed was Letizia Ortiz. On the day of her engagement press conference she was confident, calm and in control. She had a high profile background and was already known to many in Spain as the face of the TV news bulletin. She was happy to speak in public and knew how the press would treat her, still being a member of it herself. Her other great advantage was that she was a home grown princess. Not only had Felipe chosen a Spanish wife, he had picked a girl from Oviedo as the first Princess of Asturias in decades. The only question remained whether her status as a divorcee would be a sticking point but in the days after the announcement of their marriage plans, surveys for papers and magazines showed that most people didn't care at all.
Letizia Ortiz Rocosolano entered her engagement seemingly in total control of the situation around her and gave every indication that life as a public figure would be an easy adaptation for her to make
It's not that Mary Donaldson was the complete opposite of that. On the day of her engagement announcement she coped well with a balcony appearance, a photo call and a question and answer session. But she had nowhere near as much self assurance or calm quietness about her that Letizia showed just weeks afterwards. At times she seemed almost surprised by the attention being shown to her and clung tightly to her prince. Mary, of course, wasn't Danish born and bred and had tried to learn the notoriously difficult language but didn't have enough of it to manage a whole interview without lapsing into English. The image of her at the last event of what was an epic day of photocalls perhaps summed her up best at that moment. Walking into the banquet held in honour of the engagement, she looked slightly caught in the headlights. At the start of November 2003, the money would have been on Letizia to be riding high a decade later.
Mary Donaldson arrives at the banquet held to mark her engagement to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in October 2003
And yet ten years on, it is Mary who seems in control. In the recent poll on who was most prepared to be a queen consort, Mary won by a landslide with 84% of voters choosing her as the girl most ready for a crown and just 16% selecting Letizia. Mary's reputation at home and abroad is strong and steady whereas Letizia rarely wins praise and quite often finds herself under attack. So how did the two women end up, a decade on, with such different legacies of their first ten years as a royal?
The poise belongs to her now - Mary of Denmark enjoys high popularity ratings while Letizia of Spain struggles, at times, to find supporters
Part of it is nothing to do with either of them. There's no doubt that the Spanish monarchy has suffered a huge nosedive in popularity in the years since Felipe and Letizia married in the Almudena Cathedral on a wet day in May 2004. The scandal involving Inaki Urdangarin shows no sign of diminishing just yet and while it hangs over the House of Bourbon, efforts to rebuild a tarnished image will be difficult to say the least. And the unprecedented criticism of King Juan Carlos in 2012 after he had to be rushed back to Madrid for an operation after breaking his hip in a fall on a safari holiday that no one knew about has taken its toll as well. In 2003, Juan Carlos was still a hugely popular figurehead and if nothing else could be relied on by the Spanish royals, his popularity was a constant. Now, nothing is certain anymore.
The Spanish royal family in 2007 before the troubles that have assailed them in recent years began
So to some extent, Letizia's path was always going to be more difficult. But there's also little doubt that the princess can stir up extreme feelings without much help from others. Being Princess of Asturias was always going to be a tough call - Felipe was the first heir to the throne to marry for almost 100 years and his choice of wife had been one of the most hotly debated topics for many years before he said 'si, quiero'. A lot of people had a lot of expectations of Letizia and she could never please all of them, all of the time. But the princess, in the last ten years, has slowly come to please fewer and fewer people to the point where criticism of her can seem all but relentless.
The prince and princess on one of their happiest days, the christening of their first child, Leonor
She has been accused of being distant from her in laws and from her fellow citizens, of being opportunist, cold and controlling and addicted to plastic surgery. Certainly, the lack of real warmth between the princess and her sisters-in-law in public only adds fuel to the fire - regardless of which direction the initial froideur came from. And the change in her appearance over the last ten years has led to constant speculation that she spends quite a lot of time, and money, on treatments, surgical or otherwise. Whether she does or doesn't, the rise in criticism of her did increase from the summer of 2008 when she appeared in public with the remains of dark shadows under her eyes and a very different looking nose and the Royal Household issued a statement explaining she had had an operation for 'breathing difficulties'. It was around that time as well that the princess became more confident in wearing high fashion and trend forward outfits in public, garnering more criticism. The fact remains that, ten years on, what Letizia is best known for is her appearance and her clothes. And Mary is not.
A princess in blue jeans - Letizia arrives at the Quiron clinic in Madrid in September 2013 to visit her father-in-law, King Juan Carlos, after his most recent operation
Mary's great advantage over Letizia is to have married into a monarchy that has remained stable and well respected during her time as a princess. The Danish royal family has a well defined and fixed position in society and has experienced none of he turbulence affecting their cousins in Spain. There have been some rumours of marital issues for Frederik and Mary but the couple have overcome those - even when the prince found some snatched photos of himself in a nightclub being shared round breakfast tables across his future kingdom. But the problems have been relatively minor in comparison to the investigations over money that have hit the Spanish royals. There's no doubt that has given Mary a more secure base from which to develop her role as a royal.
No need to go to battle for this queen in waiting - Mary on a training exercise as part of her membership of Denmark's Home Guard
But Mary herself has made her own position secure. She has a high profile agenda of her own and is associated with many campaigns in Denmark and abroad. Her Mary Foundation, set up in the years after her wedding, has a global profile in issues such as women's rights and education and the princess has dozens of patronages of her own. She enjoys high popularity ratings and while she might not be turning up to state events with her arms round her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, her relations with her royal relations are cordial and invite little speculation. Mary has made the Vanity Fair best dressed list several times, just like Letizia, but it can be argued that the Danish princess' clothes are just a part of her reputation while her Spanish counterpart is known for little else.
Princess Mary of Denmark on a visit to Morocco in August 2013 as part of her work with the Mary Foundation
And however the two women go about their roles, they rely on the press to tell their stories. And perhaps that's the area where Letizia has surprised the most. She does have a harder time of it - the Danish press has a more genteel attitude towards their royals and not as many magazines and newspapers to put the first family under the microscope. But the two women have taken very different attitudes towards the people who tell their stories. Mary is much more open - maybe it's easier for her than Letizia. While the Princess of Asturias is criticized for rarely allowing her children to be seen in public, the Crown Princess of Denmark takes charge of taking photographs of her little princes and princesses to mark major occasions like birthdays. Her first born, Christian, has already carried out public engagements (like his counterparts in Norway and Belgium) but the Infanta Leonor is yet to start a public life, however limited. Letizia has also seen her reputation hit by reports of off the record quotes that have angered some - comments about not working weekends or not finding her stay in Mallorca anything like a holiday don't go down well. Whether she ever said them or not is beside the point. They are as much a part of the story being told about her as the photos of her engagement and it is perhaps surprising that a journalist like Letizia has been caught up more by words attributed to her.
Never far from controversy - Letizia has been a figure of debate for much of the decade since her engagement on November 1st 2003
So what do the next ten years have in store for the two commoners in line to be queen? A decade on from their engagements, there's no doubt that it's Mary who looks more secure and more confident as she heads into a new phase of royal life. Both are now mothers of future monarchs as well as consorts in waiting themselves. And in ten years time, whether they are princesses or queens, the mantle of youth that has been theirs so far will be in the process of being passed on. In 2023, the princesses on parallel paths will both be mothers of eighteen year old children and both will have turned fifty themselves. They have established themselves at the heart of the families they married into and at the heart of the future of their two respective monarchies. And how those monarchies develop is very much down to them. Their husbands may be called to wear the crowns and wield the limited powers of a king in the 21st century, but their public roles means that Mary and Letizia have a very big say in what happens next, both to themselves and their royal families.