People - María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, 18th Duchess of Alba de Tormes, Grandee of Spain

Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, 18th Duchess of Alba. 1926-2014

Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, known as Cayetana, was an aristocrat and art collector who lived principally in the Palacio de Dueñas in Seville, although she owned properties all around Spain. She was the head of the Casa de Alba (House of Alba), one of Spain’s most prominent aristocratic families, with an extensive and priceless art collection, and was the most titled noble in the world.

Born in Madrid in 1926, her father was the 17th Duke, a politician and diplomat, and her mother a beautiful socialite. Cayetana was their only child. Tragically, the Duchess died of tuberculosis when Cayetana was just eight years old, and soon after she and her father went to live in London where he was Spanish ambassador. The Civil War had broken out in Spain, and the Palacio de Liria in Madrid, where they lived, was bombed, so London offered a safe haven. Cayetana was sent to an English boarding school.

Back in Spain, after a dalliance with a bullfighter, at the age of 21 she married Luis Martinez de Irujo. They had six children: five sons – Carlos, Alfonso, Jacobo, Fernando, and Cayetano - and one daughter, Eugenia. Cayetana’s father died in 1953 and she inherited all his 50-odd titles and his entire estate, as his sole heir, becoming the 18th Duchess of Alba.

The Duchess was widowed in 1972 and six years later she married again, to an intellectual and former Jesuit priest, Jesus Aguirre. He died in 2001, and in 2011 she married for a third time, to Antonio Diez, a civil servant. In accordance with her children’s wishes (or possibly demands), the Alba estate was dispersed among her family before the wedding.

The Duquesa had a vast fortune, including a priceless art collection and real estate throughout Spain – it is said that you can cross the country from one end to the other without leaving her land. Her fortune has been estimated at between 600 million and 3.5 billion euros.

Video about the Casa de Alba Collection

 

The House of Alba’s extraordinary, world-class art collection includes paintings by Fra Angelico, Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, El Greco, Reynolds, Renoir, and Chagall, as well as by Spanish painters Goya (including the famous painting of the 13th Duchess, Cayetana’s favourite work), Velazquez, Murillo, Zurbaran, Sorolla, and Zuloaga, who painted both the Duchess and her mother, Picasso and Dali. The library has letters from, and drawings by, Christopher Columbus, and a first edition of the most celebrated work in Spanish literature, Don Quixote. The Duchess herself bought many impressionist paintings, often in London. Exhibitions have occasionally been held showing paintings from the collection, such as at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville, in 2009.

Her properties included palaces, castles, country estates and beachfront villas: Palacio de Dueñas in Seville, Palacio de Liria in Madrid, Palacio Monterrey in Salamanca; Castillo de Andrade in La Coruña, and Castillo de Los Duques de Alba in Salamanca; Casa Arbaizena in San Sebastian; villas in Ibiza and Marbella (Finca Las Cañas on Playa Casablanca); and several fincas, including in Andalucia: Sanlucar de Barrameda, where the Goya portrait was painted (Huelva); La Pizana in Gerena, and Las Arroyuelas in Carmona (Sevilla); and Hacienda Buena Vista in El Carpio (Cordoba).

According to the Guinness Book of Records, she had more recognised titles than any other noble in the world, including Duchess of Berwick – she was directly descended from King James II of England through his illegitimate son with Arabella Churchill, James Fitz-James Stuart, 1st Duke of Berwick.

La Duquesa was known for her love of flamenco, bullfighting, and Semana Santa – an Andaluza through and through. A devotee of Las Gitanas hermandad, whose church is close to the Palacio de las Dueñas, Cayetana chose this as her final resting place.

She had an individual, bohemian sense of style, preferring colourful and hippyish outfits to the tailored suits often favoured by European nobles, wearing ankle bracelets, and being photographed at the beach in bikinis, well into her 80s. Her preferred designers included Victorio y Lucchino, who designed the dress for her third, and final, wedding. The Duchess loved to travel and spoke five languages, including fluent English.

When the Duchess died, on 20 November 2014, aged 88, she was survived by her husband, six children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her eldest son Carlos inherited the title, becoming 19th Duke of Alba.

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