The 18th Duchess of Alba, Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, who died early on Thursday as a result of complications following a bout of pneumonia, is known for having held 57 aristocratic titles, more than any other noble on Earth due to her complex international ancestry which included links to the English and Scottish crowns, among others.
But from the moment of her birth in 1926, Cayetana was a mover and a shaker in all kinds of different social scenes, her varied tastes causing her to rub shoulders with the noblest of the noble, Hollywood upstarts and ordinary people from the Seville area, her real home and where she will be cremated on Friday.
1. King at the beginning: Born in the Madrid Liria Palace which she owned up to her death, María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva was baptized in Spain’s Royal Palace, with a king as her godfather. Spain’s Alfonso XIII and his consort, Victoria Eugenia, were the godparents of the little aristocrat.
2. Royal friendship: With the arrival first of the Second Republic in Spain in 1931 and the country’s Civil War five years later, young Cayetana Fitz-James found herslf in exile with her family. First the Duke of Alba decided to move to Paris, and then to London where she would count the future Queen Elizabeth II, her exact contemporary, among her playmates.
3. Triple tragedy: Having lost her mother to tuberculosis when she was just eight, Cayetana Fitz-James would have to endure two more cruel blows from mortality, being widowed twice in her lifetime. Her first husband, Luis Martínez de Irujo, died in 1972 after 25 years of marriage. Her second spouse, the former priest Jesús Aguirre, lasted slightly less, dying in 2001 23 years after they had surprised many by marrying. The biggest surprise of all however, was her late match in 2011 with Alfonso Díez, who survives the duchess.
4. Not bowled over by Norma. During the duchess’s six-month-long honeymoon after marrying Martínez de Irujo, the couple made a stop in Hollywood, where she would make the acquaintance of a host of stars including Douglas Fairbanks, Bing Crosby, James Stewart, Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin and a young Marilyn Monroe. "She did not make much of an impression on me," the Spanish aristocrat would later comment. Marlene Dietrich, however, struck her a "veritable goddess".
The Duchess of Alba described Marlene Dietrich as a "veritable goddess". Photo: AFP
5. Bullfighter: Never one to remain cooped up inside her palace, in 1962 the excellent horsewoman Cayetana Fitz-James took part in a Seville bullfight as the mounted lancer (picador) who assists a mounted bullfighter.
6. Snubbing a genius: Pablo Picasso wanted the young Duchess of Alba to be his muse, but she flat out refused to be painted by the master. "I think he would have worn me out,” she said in 2009. “Being a model is very dull, it’s horrible,” she added.
7. Green and white stripes: She may have had blue blood, but when it came to football the aristocrat preferred the green and white stripes of Real Betis to the club’s posher cross-town rival Sevilla. The duchess attended matches at Betis’ home stadium and further afield, such as the club’s last great success, the 2005 King’s Cup final, which it won in Madrid against Osasuna. She was also a great supporter of tennis and equestrian sports.
8. Land of plenty: The Duchess of Alba was a massive landowner, something that clearly helped to underpin such an active lifestyle. She owned 34,000 hectares of land in Spain, a space in which the Principality of Monaco could be fitted 170 times. Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo, Andalusia’s redistributive political maverick, had her estates occupied by his rural workers’ unionists on several occasions, taking a particular shine to her land in the Carpio area of Córdoba province.