The Duchess of Alba, the flamboyant Spanish aristocrat who lived life by her own rules, has died, aged 88. She had suffered from health problems for some years, but the sense of loss and shock is still palpable in a country where the duchess commanded the kind of awe reserved for the likes of the Queen Mother and Elizabeth Taylor.
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The Duchess of Alba has died aged 88
Her passing was confirmed by the mayor of Seville, the city where she spent the last years of her life. He said the duchess "always held a place in her heart for Seville and so she will always be remembered in the heart of Seville."
Her husband Alfonso Diez was by her side along with her six children, who have been keeping vigil ever since their matriarch was admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia. On Wednesday, the duchess was taken home to spend her last hours in the 16th-century palace, which was her matrimonial home with Alfonso, her third husband.
Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart held more titles than the Queen, had a fortune estimated at £3billion, and was said to be able to cross Spain from north to south without leaving her estates.
Her vast wealth was put in the shade only by by her colossal reputation as a woman who lived life to the full. Cayetana outlived two husbands, remarried at the grand age of 85, and counted famous celebrities like Tom Cruise, Sophia Loren and Jackie Kennedy among her acquaintances.
The duchess meeting Prince Charles with her daughter Eugenia and son Cayetano
The Duchess of Alba was a descendant of King James II of England, through his illegitimate son James Fitz-James, Duke of Berwick whose mother was Arabella Churchill, the sister of the Duke of Marlborough.
Aside from the dukedom of Alba, of which she was the 18th holder, Cayetana was a duchess seven times over, a countess 19 times and a marquesa 23 times.
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She was born on 28 March, 1926 in her family's lavish home in Madrid, Liria Palace, which housed some 249 paintings by artists including Rembrandt, Goya, Van Dyck and Rubens, as well as the Alba Bible which dates back to 1430.
Known for her striking looks, the society darling was once asked by Picasso to become his muse – an offer she declined because "being a model is horrible".
After Liria Palace burned down during the Spanish Civil of 1936-9, she spent some years helping her father rebuild it.
When Cayetana married naval officer Don Pedro Luis Martinez de Irujo y Artacoz, son of the Duke of Sotomayor, in 1947 the wedding rivalled that of the Queen Elizabeth's to Prince Philip, which took place a month later. The bride walked down the aisle in an opulent lace dress with a full skirt and the glittering diamond and pearl Alba tiara, atop her head.
The duchess with her son Cayetano on her wedding day in 2011
The union produced five sons and a daughter and lasted 25 years until his death in 1972.
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Her next marriage in 1978 shocked Spanish society. The groom was controversial former Jesuit priest Jesus Aguirre y Ortiz de Zaráte, an intellectual whose work was banned by the Franco dictatorship. He too died in 2001, making her a widow for the second time.
There was more controversy to come when the duchess wed Alfonso, a civil servant 25 years her junior, in 2011. She had known him for 30 years through her second husband – although romance only blossomed after a chance meeting at the cinema.
Impervious to the raised eyebrows, she described him as "a fantastic person", adding: "He has completely changed my life".
Millions of Spaniards tuned in to see to see TV coverage of the groom arriving at Seville's Las Dueñas Palace, Cayetana's 16th-century Andalusian base.
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The Renaissance estate which covers 9,542 square metres in the heart of the city, was a focal point for supporters wearing traditional dress and white wigs in reference to her curly hairstyle.
After the ceremony, the newlywed duchess came outside to get the fiesta started, kicking off her shoes in abandon as she danced in front of well-wishers, while her husband looked on indulgently. Till the end that gusto ahd love for life remained.
"I confess I am thinking of keeping on living," said the Duchess of Alba recently. "Although it's only so I can enjoy the expression on people's faces when I point at them and say "I'm going to bury you all".