The Duchess of Alba, one of Spain’s most beloved and richest women, has died at the age of 88 in Seville.
Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, who was famed for being a flamboyant eccentric who lived life by her own rules, had suffered health problems for a while but her death from pneumonia is still shocking to the country that adored her.
The curly-haired aristocrat died on Thursday in Seville, where she had based herself in the last few years. Her death was confirmed by the mayor who said the duchess "always held a place in her heart for Seville and so she will always be remembered in the heart of Seville." Her family was by her side on her deathbed at her 16th century palace.
The Duchess had more titles than any other aristocrat, a fact that has been recognized by the Guinness Book Of Records who confirmed she was five times a duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 18 times a countess, 14 times a Spanish grandee and once a viscountess.
She certainly lived a colorful life. She was once a famed beauty who turned down being Picasso’s muse because she said, "being a model is horrible". She adored flamenco dancing and art and had an extensive property portfolio as well as paintings by Goya and Velazquez.
She also had a passion for love and enjoyed three marriages. Her 1947 wedding to naval officer Don Pedro Luis Martinez de Irujo y Artacoz rivaled the wedding of Queen Elizabeth a month later. She looked striking in an opulent lace dress with a full skirt and, of course, the glittering diamond and pearl Alba tiara.
This marriage produced five sons and a daughter and lasted 25 years until her husband’s death in 1972.
The Duchess next marriage shocked Spanish society as she married a defrocked Jesuit priest six years after her previous husband’s death. But it was her final marriage that proved to be the most controversial.
In 2011, she married civil servant Alfonso Diez who was 25 years her junior. The union was opposed by her children and she described her husband as "a fantastic person", saying “he has completely changed my life".
The wedding was as colorful and full of life as the Duchess herself. Well-wishers wore traditional dress and white wigs in reference to her frizzy hairstyle and after the ceremony the newlywed duchess kicked off her shoes and joined well-wishers for an after-ceremony dance.
"I confess I am thinking of keeping on living," said the Duchess of Alba recently. "Although it's only so I can enjoy the expression on people's faces when I point at them and say "I'm going to bury you all".