Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, Duchess of Alba was the descendant of a bastard child of King James II of England, who had come to fight in Spain. It could have been said that she was the last of the line of Stuarts. She possessed innumerable duchies, marquisates and counties, which made her one of the most titled women in the world. For every one of these possessions, she owned just as many castles and palaces: a collection of unparalleled richness, of which some of the most prized objects were the portraits of her famous ancestor and namesake, the Duchess of Alba – painted by her lover, Goya – and a great many portraits by Winterhalter of his great aunt, the Empress Eugenie; as well as Titian’s effigies of his famous ancestor, the Duke of Alba, who represented the formidable secular arm of the power of King Philip II.
An only child, she lost her parents early in life. Yet, she was immensely wealthy and determined to live her life according her own rules and certainly not to let anybody stand in her way. Her first marriage, as was proper, was to a duke’s son, who gave her several children. He died.
Thereupon she married her Jesuit confessor, who, on top of everything else, bore the name of Jesus. With the permission of the Vatican, the Jesuit abandoned the holy orders to become the Duke of Alba. Legend has it that the other duchesses, for whom he had previously been the confessor, were now trembling with terror at the thought that, no longer bound to secrecy by the strictures of the role, he would be able to reveal all their sins. The Duke Jesus brought great happiness to Cayetana, but he too died.
Then, at the age of 85, the duchess’ third marriage was to a great friend of her late, second husband. She did not want it to be a white wedding and it was not a white wedding.
She had a particular fancy for the city of Seville where she owned one of the most beautiful palaces in Spain, La Casa de las Dueñas. She enjoyed an immense popularity in the city. She loved toreros and bullfights, she danced the sevillanas like a flamenco dancer. During her recent wedding, while the jubilant crowd beseiged her palace, she went down into the street, removed her shoes and, barefoot on the sidewalk, threw herself into a frenzied sevillana. The magazine Ola reported every week on the very smallest details of her existence, which made her a sort of national heroine. Adored as she was by the press, she did a great deal to serve the cause of the aristocracy and the monarchy without ever realising it.
Strikingly pretty in her youth, with age she came to acquire a rather singular physique. The frizzy hair, the slightly simian face, the multi-coloured outfits, made her a sensation. Up until her last day, she kept up an insatiable appetite for life. She died approaching her 90th birthday. She was one of the two duchesses, along with the Duchess of Medinaceli, to be allowed the honour of entering the cathedral of Seville on horseback.