• Spain's news in English

Children of Spain's unconventional 'Red Duchess' do battle over estate

The Local · 9 Oct 2015, 08:51

Published: 09 Oct 2015 08:51 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Spain's "Red Duchess" capped off an unconventional life by marrying a much younger woman just hours before her death in 2008 - and making out her will to her new spouse.

Now Luisa Isabel Alvarez de Toledo's three children are facing off in court against her former German partner, Liliana Maria Dahlmann, over the inheritance.

At stake is a palace in Sanlucar de Barrameda, a rural area near the southern city of Cadiz in Andalusia, which was declared a national heritage site in 1978 and is managed by the Spanish ministry of culture.

Dahlmann, as the duchess's widow, can live at the palace until her death under the terms of the will.

De Toledo, whose official title was Duchess of Medina Sidonia, also made Dahlmann - her longtime secretary - responsible for the palace's archive which contains around six million historical documents, the oldest of which dates back to 1228.

The palace and the archive are estimated to be worth around €60 million ($67 million) according to Spanish media.

The inheritance could have been far greater but de Toledo -  dubbed the "Red Duchess" for her opposition to the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco - gave away her vast estates to form rural co-operatives until she owned little more than the palace itself.

A court in Sanlucar de Barrameda, a town of whitewashed houses, began hearing the case on September 30 and a ruling is expected at the end of the month.

The duchess's three children from her marriage to Jose Leoncio Gonzales de Gregoria Marti which ended in divorce - Leoncio, Pilar and Gabriel - argue their mother went too far in her will.

"The children of any person, unless they have been disinherited...have according to our civil code, the right to two thirds of the parent's property," Leoncio said in an interview published in daily newspaper Diario de Cadiz last week.

Dahlmann and the aristocrat's oldest son, Leoncio Alonso Gonzalez de Gregorio y Alvarez de Toledo -- two former friends who were both born in 1956 - were the first to testify.

The duchess met Dahlmann, who is nearly two decades younger, in 1983, at the wedding of her eldest child. Dahlmann was the witness for the bride at the ceremony.

De Toledo surprised her children by marrying Dahlmann in a civil ceremony conducted by a council official just hours before she died on March 7, 2008 from pneumonia at the age of 71.

Spain's Socialist government had approved same sex marriage three years earlier.

Jail and exile

The wedding was seen as a final act of defiance by the duchess, known for her rebelliousness and commitment to social justice.

Only five feet (1.52 metres) tall and of a slight build, the duchess was combative and opinionated.

She was expelled from various convent schools -- an embarrassment at the time for one of Spain's oldest aristocratic families.

Story continues below…

The duchess spent eight months in jail in 1967 after she led a demonstration demanding compensation for farmers whose lands were contaminated when two American aircraft collided and accidentally dropped hydrogen bombs near the village of Palomares in southern Spain.

In a letter sent to her oldest son from prison, she wrote that in jail "I have learned what I could never have learned in the street."

"It is like a compendium of the country's problems. A synthesis that you can't find anywhere else, which allows you to get to the bottom of things, hidden from the world outside," she added.

De Toledo left Spain after she was sentenced to jail again in 1970 because
of a book she wrote that was critical of police brutality and prison conditions.

Unwilling to spend another term behind bars she moved to France and only
returned to Spain after Franco's death in 1975.

By Anna Cuenca

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