Duchess of Alba: Spain's richest aristocrat dies aged 88
- 20 November 2014
- From the section Europe
The Duchess of Alba, Spain's richest woman and one of 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.
Her coffin was taken to the city council building in Seville, where relatives, dignitaries and members of the public paid their respects.
Spain's 'rebel noble', by Fiona Govan, Madrid
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.
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.
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 anywhere between €600m (£380m; $753m) and €3.5bn, is expected to be shared among her six children.
In her autobiography, published last year, the Duchess wrote that all she wanted was "health" and to "keep on living".