Spain’s Richest Duchess Dies Aged 88

The Duchess of Alba Dancing after her 3rd wedding

Spain’s Richest Duchess Dies Aged 88

The Duchess of Alba, Spain’s richest woman and one its most eccentric figures, has died aged 88 in Seville.

Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart had more titles than any other aristocrat and owned palaces and an extensive property portfolio as well as paintings by Goya and Velazquez. She died at home on Thursday after a short illness.

The duchess is survived by her husband of three years, Alfonso Diez, who is 25 years her junior. The Duchess of Alba was the head of one of Spain’s oldest noble families.

The frizzy-haired eccentric aristocrat was one of Spain’s most-loved figures whose antics filled the nation’s gossip magazines and gripped the audiences of TV chat shows even during the final months of her long life.

Described as the “rebel noble”, she spurned convention to forge her own path in life, following her passion for flamenco and, as a patron of the arts, amassing a private collection of masterpieces said to rival any in Europe.

Her exuberant character, complete with squeaky voice and flamboyant dress-sense, enraptured Spaniards who followed the vicissitudes of her 88 years.

Once a famed beauty who turned down a request to be Picasso’s muse, she shocked the establishment when she married her confessor, a defrocked Jesuit priest, in 1978, six years after the death of her first husband with whom she had six children.

The Duchess of Alba pictured in 1947
The Duchess of Alba pictured in 1947

But it was her third marriage to a civil servant 25 years her junior in 2011 that provoked an even bigger scandal, a union that was opposed by her children as well as King Juan Carlos of Spain, but that was welcomed by Spaniards as a colourful drama.

The duchess was the world’s most titled person, according to Guinness World Records. She was five times a duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 18 times a countess, 14 times a Spanish grandee and once a viscountess.

She was a regular in Spanish gossip magazines and was famous for hosting Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy on their visits to Spain.

In 1959, she turned her palace in Madrid over to French designer Yves Saint Laurent for a Dior fashion show.

The Duchess’s children visited her in hospital in Seville where she was treated for pneumonia

One of the more memorable images from her latter years came when she flung off her shoes to perform an impromptu flamenco dance before a crowd of photographers and guests at her third wedding in 2011.

“Together we have a wonderful time,” her husband Alfonso Diez said in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine.

“It often seems that I’m the older of the two,” he said.

Her wealth, estimated at between €600m (£380m; $753m) and €3.5bn, is expected to be shared among her six children.