Duchess of Alba: ‘Queen of Scotland’ dies aged 88

The Duchess of Alba was the most titled noble in the world. Picture: Getty

The Duchess of Alba was the most titled noble in the world. Picture: Getty

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SPAIN’S richest woman, an ­eccentric Spanish aristocrat who boasted more titles than the Queen and laid claim to the Scottish crown, has died aged 88.

The Duchess of Alba, who had an estimated ­fortune of £2.4 billion, died at Duenas Palace in the southern city of Seville after contracting pneumonia.

Her third husband, Alfonso Diez Carabantes, a commoner 24 years her junior for whom she gave up her vast fortune to marry three years ago, was by her bedside.

Known for her unruly frizzy hair, flamboyant dress sense and extensive plastic surgery, the duchess – born Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James ­Stuart and known affectionately as “Cayetana” – was Spain’s best known society figure, whose antics fuelled gossip magazines and gripped the audiences of ­television chatshows.

As the 18th Duchess of Alba, she had more than 40 noble titles and 150 hereditary ones, and was said to be able to walk the length and breadth of the country without ever leaving her property.

Such was her nobility that legend has it that she would not have to curtsey to either the King of Spain or Queen Elizabeth II. Nor would she have to kneel before the Pope.

Her lineage could be traced back to the Stuart dynasty, ­making her a contender for the Scottish crown, had it become an independent state.

She was a distant relative of both Winston Churchill and Princess Diana, and a childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth, who she got to know in London when her father was ambassador to Britain during the Second World War.

She married for the first time, aged 21, in ­Seville Cathedral in a celebration estimated to have cost the equivalent of £1.4 million today, to aristocratic naval officer Pedro Luis Martinez de Irujo y ­Artazcoz.

The wedding was said to rival that of Queen Elizabeth to Prince Philip a month later.

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She went on to have six children before being widowed in 1972.

However, six years later, she scandalised the establishment by marrying a defrocked Jesuit priest, her confessor Jesus Aguirre y Ortiz de Zarate, who died in 2001.

One of her big passions was flamenco and she was noted for her dancing talent, but she was also a patron of the arts, amassing a private collection said to rival that of any in Europe with ­masterpieces from the likes of Titian, Goya, Renoir, Chagall and Rubens.

Once a famed beauty, who in later years underwent countless plastic surgery procedures, she wrote in an autobiography that she had once turned down a request by artist Pablo Picasso to become his muse because she thought “he would have worn me out”.

She did become a fixture of the international jet-set, hosting film star Audrey Hepburn and US first Lady Jackie Kennedy on their visits to Spain, and turning her Madrid palace over to French designer Yves Saint Laurent to stage a Dior fashion show in 1959.

An afficionado of bullfighting, she often took place of ­honour at the events in her ­beloved Seville, usually sporting a magnificent mantilla – the ­traditional Spanish lace veil worn over a high comb.

But, in later years, it was the drama of her romantic life that gripped Spain.

In 2011, she ­announced she would wed her long-term ­companion, a civil servant 24 years her junior, ­provoking ­disapproval from King Juan ­Carlos and causing a rift among her children. She wed Mr Carabantes in a “quiet” ceremony attended by close friends and some ­family members after publicly ­renouncing her wealth and making her will public.

She divided the inheritance between her five sons, one daughter and eight grandchildren, giving them each a palace and huge estates.

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