• Spain's news in English

The Duchess of Alba: eight amazing facts

The Local · 20 Nov 2014, 17:40

Published: 20 Nov 2014 17:40 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

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.   

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Local (news@thelocal.es)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Russia withdraws request to refuel warships in Ceuta
The aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov was due to dock in Ceuta

Russia has withdrawn a request for its aircraft carrier group to be refuelled at the Spanish port of Ceuta, authorities confirmed.

Bulls replace guard dogs at scrap yard in Valencia
Two bulls will be patrolling the scrap yard in eastern Spain. Archive photo: AFP

Guard dogs were not proving enough of a deterrent to thieves at a car breakers yard in eastern Spain so the owner has brought in a pair of fighting bulls.

Two-headed shark born in Spanish laboratory
Scientists are studying the rare find. Photo: IBIMA / University of Malaga

Scientists at the University of Malaga found the embryo of a shark with two heads and just one body.

Spain under pressure to stop refuel of Russian warships
Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is due to arrive in Ceuta. Photo: Mil Ru / Wikimedia

Spain is facing international pressure to refuse permission for a Russian warship flotilla to refuel in Ceuta en route to continuing airstrikes against the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Most wanted: Fugitive rapist arrested in Tenerife
Mohammed Jahangir Alam was arrested n Tenerife. Photo: Crimestoppers.

Mohammed Jahangir Alam, one of Britain's most wanted fugitives, who fled the country in 2008 after allegedly raping a woman, was found working in Tenerife.

Spain's Rajoy says king has tasked him with forming govt
Photo: AFP

Spain's king on Tuesday tasked Mariano Rajoy with forming a government, taking the acting conservative prime minister a step closer to power again after a 10-month political deadlock.

Two imams arrested in Ibiza resort over 'Isis support'
The men were arrested in the resort of Sant Antoni de Portmany. Photo: Jose A / Flickr

Two Moroccan imams at a mosque on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of backing the Islamic State group and inciting jihad.

Balearic Islands choose to keep summertime forever
The islands will have longer evenings during winter. Photo: AFP

The Balearic Islands want to keep summertime when the rest of Spain turns the clocks back on Sunday.

  Brazilian had 'uncontrollable desire to kill': Spain police
Francois Patrick Nogueira Gouveia has been charged with murdering his uncle, his wife and their two children. Photo: Guardia Civil.

A Brazilian teenager accused of dismembering his uncle and aunt and killing their two young sons in a grisly crime that shocked Spain had an "uncontrollable desire to kill", police said on Monday.

Man rescued from bin after climbing in to find old clothes
Photo: Policía Local Murcia

Police were called after passersby reported hearing a man calling for help from within a rubbish bin in the Vistabella neighbourhood of Murcia, southern Spain.

Analysis & Opinion
Out of the dark: Five years on from Eta ceasefire
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Spain's top court overturns bullfighting ban in Catalonia
Hunt launched for ten most wanted Brit fugitives hiding out in Spain
Napflix: Spaniards launch very boring TV channel for siestas
Madrid parish church faces fine over 'too noisy' bells
Celebrate expat life at Madrid’s THRIVE convention
Fury after kids told to bring their own loo roll to school
Disney announces plans for Don Quixote action movie
Activist tells 8-yr-old matador wannabe with cancer 'just die'
King to make last minute push to avoid third vote in Spain
Amazing photos of Catalonia's 'human tower' contest
What's on in Spain: October 2016
'No way, Jose! You'll never get your hands on our Rock'
Recipe: How to make a classic Spanish tortilla de patatas
Chorizo in paella? Go back to cooking school Jamie Oliver
Spain in eye of a perfect storm after 10 months without govt
Thousands share clips of life for 'Spain in a Day' film
Ten incredible Spain locations for Game of Thrones season 7
Analysis & Opinion
Why moving to Spain could be the best decision of your life
Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Spanish study finds four types of personality. Which are you?
New search underway for civil war grave of poet Lorca
jobs available