MADRID – With the death on Thursday of the Duchess of Alba, Spain has lost one of its most charismatic figures, an unconventional aristocrat with more titles than anyone in the World, who dressed in an eccentric manner, danced flamenco in public and married three times.
Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva died at her palace of Las Dueñas at age 88 in Seville, the city in southern Spain which she loved and where she was most popular.
A Grandee of Spain with 46 noble titles and ties to the Scottish and English monarchies, the Duchess did not hesitate to dance flamenco in public, and was also a great fan of bullfighting.
Her image dancing in the light pink dress she wore at her third wedding to a civil servant 24 years her junior was on the front page of newspapers and celebrity magazines in 2011.
In her memoirs, she described dancing, flamenco and Seville as “the melting pot” of her spirit and said the strum of a guitar had saved her from sadness many times in her life.
She could also often be seen wearing the traditional Spanish “mantilla” (lace shawl) at a bullfight, where she enthusiastically applauded some of her best friends, like matadors Pepe Luis Vazquez, Antonio Ordoñez and Curro Romero, or her former son in law, Francisco Rivera, who married her only daughter, Eugenia.
Following the tradition of her family, she was a patroness of the arts and owned several palaces and one of Spain’s greatest collections of masterpieces, including works by Francisco de Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Jose de Ribera, Titian and Chagall, only to mention a few.
But the Duchess extended her family’s love for the arts to popular culture, including cinema and music – one of her favorite bands were The Beatles –, turning into what she described in her memoirs as a “pop Duchess.”
She last made international headlines in 2011 when she married her third husband, civil servant Alfonso Diez, 24 years her junior, and gave her six children their inheritance in advance to quell their fears over the wedding.
She became the 18th Duchess of Alba and the third woman to inherit the title in 500 years in 1953, upon the death of her father.
One of her titles was that of Duchess of Berwick, as a direct descendant of King James II of England and VII of Scotland.
She is survived by five sons and a daughter from her first marriage and her husband, Alfonso Diez.
Her eldest son, Carlos Fitz-James Stuart y Martinez de Irujo, the Duke of Huescar, will become the 19th Duke of Alba.