When the Duchess of Alba, head of the 530-year-old House of Alba, passed away in her Sevilla palace last week at the age of 88, she truly marked the end of an area. Prior to her death, the duchess had more nobility titles than any living person (seven times Duchess, once Countess-Duchess, 19 times Marquesa, 22 times Countess and once Viscountess), making her outrank the King of Spain and her contemporary Queen Elizabeth. As a successor of the Stuart dynasty, a direct royal descendant of King James II of England, a descendant of Christopher Columbus, as well as granddaughter of Queen Victoria, la Duquesa would have been the rightful heiress to the throne of an independent Scotland, should the election results have turned out differently. Not that the duchess was looking for a job…
María del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Fitz-James Stuart, or Cayenana, as she preferred to be called, had all but a boring life. Born before the Spanish civil war, she outlived her first two husbands by several decades, had six children (eleven pregnancies) and married her last husband, a humble civil servant 25 years her junior, just before turning 85. Her middle-aged children were openly against the match and had the spouse-to-be sign a prenuptial agreement that neither her titles nor her alleged 3.5 billion euro fortune, larger than that of Spain’s Royal family, would go to him upon her death. But those who knew her saw her as happier than ever during the last 3 years of her life at the side of her beloved Alfonso. “Love is the same at forty, as at eighty”, she said.
Fame and fortune puts one under the scrutiny of the media and Cayetana certainly had her share of media scandals. Be it her plentiful and not all successful facial surgeries, her twenty-something palaces, her second marriage to an allegedly gay, ex-Jesuit priest or her last marriage to a man who was younger than her oldest son, Cayetana was a favoured topic of gossip magazines in Spain and abroad. However, in spite of her titles and her fortune, Cayatana did not care much for convention. She loved bullfights and flamenco, and even kicked of her shoes to dance at the doors of the Sevilla Cathedral after her 2011 wedding.
Though born in Madrid, la Duquesa de Alba was Andalcuian in spirit. She chose to live her last years and to die in Seville’s lovely Palacio de Duénos, a 15-century palace that had been in her family since the 17th century. She loved her hometown; saying in one of her last radio interviews that “Sevilla is the most magical place on earth.”
With more than 100,000 people filing by her coffin on regal display in Sevilla’s town hall, la Duquesa certainly made a grand exit. One of the last things she the duchess said, speaking to a hospital nurse, was “Please call me Cayetana”. One may think what one may about nobility, but La Duquesa de Alba was certainly no ordinary duchess.
Story Written for La Serranía Services