You can say one thing for the Duchess of Alba: she gets what she wants. When, decades ago, she fell in love with a freethinking, defrocked Jesuit hardly a suitable match for an aristocrat of her standing propriety did not stop her from marrying him. Nor does it prevent her today from wearing the signature Afro and ankle bracelets that surely constitute an assault on the delicate fashion sensibilities of Spain's sleek upper classes. Just last month, a court awarded her $426,000 after she brought a suit against a television station that dared to suggest that she cheated on her first husband with, of all things, a flamenco dancer. So it can come as little surprise that when her six children began obstructing the path to her most recent desire, the 85-year-old duchess did what it took to shut them up. At the beginning of July, she divided her property among them and in the process, paved the way to marry the younger man with whom she is in love.
Descended from the Duke of Alba who crushed rebellious Flanders for Philip II, from the duchess who purportedly posed nude for Goya and from a bastard line of James II of England, Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart is the most titled aristocrat in Europe (it is said that Queen Elizabeth II herself would technically have to cede precedence to her). She is also one of the wealthiest people in Spain, with holdings that include magnificent palaces in Madrid, Seville, Salamanca and San Sebastián, as well as the priceless works by Cervantes and Velázquez that stock the shelves and line the walls of those abodes. So you can understand why her six children got a little nervous when a few years ago, the duchess found a new paramour. The fact that her intended, Alfonso Díez, is both a civil servant and some 25 years younger than the duchess didn't help.
"It's a serious relationship," says Jaime Peñafiel, a journalist who writes frequently for the society pages and who is also a friend of the Alba family. "Alfonso first met Cayetana 30 years ago. He says he's been in love with her ever since."
But all the romance in the world couldn't assuage the anxieties of the duchess's children, who feared Díez would separate them from an inheritance estimated at anywhere from $850 million to $5 billion (the exact number is difficult to calculate because so much of the duchess's wealth is in real estate and art). Despite the fact that most of her patrimony including the 50,000 pieces of artwork and 18,000 volumes housed in the Palacio de Liria alone is now in the hands of the House of Alba Foundation and cannot be sold off without permission of Spain's Culture Ministry, her heirs mounted a campaign to block any possible marriage between Díez and the duchess, going so far as to suggest publicly that Fitz-James Stuart was emotionally unstable and even attempting to enlist the King of Spain in their efforts.
But the duchess mounted a counterattack. She granted interviews in which she complained about her children's meddling and made pointed barbs at their own marital vicissitudes (all six of her children have divorced spouses). She also announced, earlier this year that Díez had officially renounced any possible claim to the Alba fortune. And when none of that worked, she did the only thing left, which was to release her will and specify who gets what.
Each of her children will receive significant properties upon her death. Her eldest, the future Duke of Alba, Carlos will become director of the Alba foundation and as such will control both the Palacio de Liria and the Palacio de Monterrey, while the youngest and only girl, Eugenia, gets a palace in Ibiza and a vast estate in Andalusia. Contrary to the more scandalized headlines, however, the duchess is not giving up her fortune to marry only designating who it will go to once she dies. Until then, she remains in control of the House of Alba in its entirety.
The tactic apparently worked. "They're more or less satisfied," says Peñafiel of her children, "The key phrase being 'more or less.' But they can't put up any more objections."
According to Peñafiel, the duchess asked him three years ago to help her plan a secret wedding to Díez in London. Now that kind of conspiring is no longer necessary, and the couple will rightly be married, he says, in September in Spain. "Spain is still a macho country. If this were a wealthy man marrying a younger woman, no one would blink an eye. But because it's the reverse, they said he must only be doing it for her money. Well, now everyone can see that it's not money, it's love." Score another one for the duchess.