MADRID — Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, the 18th Duchess of Alba, died earlier today at her Seville palace, Las Dueñas. Cause of death was respiratory insufficiency brought on by pneumonia.
Reportedly, the 88-year-old aristocrat was the most titled woman in the world, 47 at last count — six times a duchess, 10 a countess, 24 a marquise and 14 times a grandee that entitled her to wear a hat in the presence of the king — and one of Spain’s richest with holdings valued at roughly 3 billion euros (US$ 3.8 billion) including palaces and houses in Madrid, Marbella, Ibiza and San Sebastian and vast tracts of land that if laid back-to-back would stretch from one end of the Iberian Peninsula to the other — not to mention the Goyas, Titians, Rubens’, El Grecos and Velasquez’.
In an interview in People magazine in the late Seventies, she said, “There are lots of people, not necessarily aristocrats, who have a thousand times more money. I have a lot of art work — her private collection is considered one of the world’s best — but I can’t eat it, can I?” In addition, she denied the so-called “legend of love” suggesting that Francisco Goya had an affair with her great-great-grand aunt, the 13th Duchess of Alba, known to art lovers everywhere as the Naked Maja. Picasso wanted to paint the current duchess in the buff, she said, “but it never came about. My children were too young at the time.”
Twice-widowed, her former husbands were socialite/engineer Luis Martínez de Irujo and ex-Jesuit priest Jesús Aguirre who died in 2001. Dubbed “the rebel duchess,” she married Alfonso Diez, a civil servant 24 years her junior, in October 2011. The nuptials caused much-publicized family contention until the House of Alba settled the estate albeit unequally between her six children by Martínez de Irujo a few months prior to her third marriage.
Seville-based designers Victorio & Lucchino did the wedding dress. It was pink “with an Andalusian flourish consistent with her youthful spirit,” they said at the time. The Duchess didn’t dress in a shy way. She was well known for her boho style or what she called “flamenco with a touch of elegancia” that included splashy prints and loads of color especially purple, flat ballerinas and matching patterned hose, ankle bracelets, hairbows – and bikinis. “I am not a slave to fashion,” she claimed on more than one occasion.