My grandmother, the Duchess of Guise, had a younger brother, Ferdinand of Orleans, Duke of Montpensier, who was charming but somewhat wayward: taking drugs, among other things. His sisters, one of whom was my grandmother, decided to marry him off. They found the rare pearl they were looking for in a wealthy girl of the minor Spanish aristocracy, Isabella de Valdeterrazo, Aunt Bellina to us.
The marriage took place, and the first thing that Bellina did was to send away her new sisters-in-law and to isolate her husband.
In his will he had left a treasure trove of jewels and objets d’art to the head of the Maison de France. However, Aunt Bellina confiscated his drugs until he made a new will in which she would be the beneficiary. Then, strangely enough, he took an unusually large dose of drugs and died. Aunt Bellina inherited everything. Her sisters-in-law would never see her again.
She had, among other things, inherited the magnificent castle of Randan in the Auvergne, property which had for centuries belonged to the House of Orleans. One day, mysteriously, the castle caught fire. Bellina insisted that the insurance company reimburse her. The insurance refused on account of their finding petrol cans not far from the castle and the curious disappearance of all the precious objects from the building before the fire.
Bellina turned up everywhere, chiefly in Spain, as the Duchess, widow of Montpensier. She was always followed by her faithful and discreet secretary, Jose Maria de Huarte.
On a certain Friday evening in the year 1958, Bellina suffered a heart attack. Curiously, the secretary could not find a doctor until the following Monday. In the meantime, Bellina had died. Her will was opened. She had bequeathed everything to her secretary. Legal fees of 80% were demanded by the Spanish tax authorities. “No,” replied the secretary, “I am the groom.” Indeed Bellina had married him in secret. This was galling for the Spanish duchesses who for decades had had to bow to what they believed to be the widow of the Duke of Montpensier who, as it turned out, was no more than the wife of a secretary.
I was in Morocco in my grandmother’s office when a telegram was brought to her. She opened it, thought, and said, “Well, it was her heart that killed Bellina. I did not know she had one.”