Spain’s 18th Duchess of Alba has died aged 88, surrounded by family in Seville, after being taken to hospital on Sunday with pneumonia.
She was one of Europe’s wealthiest aristocrats, and according to Guinness she held the world record for most titled person.
Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y Silva — ‘Cayetana’ to her friends — was 14 times a Spanish grandee (similar to a peer), five times a duchess, once a countess-duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 18 times a countess and once a viscountess.
Head of one of Spain’s oldest aristocratic families, dating from the 1400s, she was the third woman to hold the title of Duchess of Alba in her own right.
Her wealth was estimated at between 600 million and 3.5 billion euros.
Born in 1926 in Madrid, she spent much of her childhood in London when her father, an Anglophile and a royalist, was ambassador to Britain. She dined with Winston Churchill and played with Princess Margaret.
The duchess married fellow aristocrat Luis Martinez de Irujo in 1947 when she was 21. It was perhaps Spain’s last great feudal wedding. They produced six children.
Six years after his death, in 1972, she married former Catholic priest Jesus Aguirre Ortiz de Zarate, which was a scandal, as he was illegitimate. He died in 2001.
Her courtship with civil servant and public relations businessman Alfonso Diez gripped the nation, drew the Spanish monarchy’s disapproval and was opposed by the duchess’s offspring.
She silenced the six of them by splitting her fortune among them, then married Diez in 2011, when he was 61 and she was 85. He renounced any claim to her wealth, and at the wedding she danced flamenco.
A fixture of the international jet-set, the duchess enjoyed an eccentric style.
An aficionado of bull-fighting, she often took place of honour at the ring in her beloved Seville, usually sporting a ‘mantilla’ – the traditional Spanish lace veil worn over a high comb.