The Duchess of Alba, the grandest grandee in Spain, is said to be able to cross the country from north to south without leaving her estates, and possess as many titles as the Queen of England and of higher rank.
But despite wealth and her bluest of blue blood, Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, 82, is being denied her heart's desire after her children scotched her plans to marry an antique dealer 24 years her junior. Furious at their opposition, the feisty duchess plans to petition Spain's Queen Sofia to intercede in her favour.
The House of Alba fears for the safety of a sumptuous patrimony should the twice-widowed duchess marry a third time. The duchess is mistress of a fabulous collection of estates, palaces and artworks, including portraits by Goya of an illustrious antecedent said to have been the artist's lover.
Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart, a spectacularly colourful member of Spain's bizarre celebrity clique, has never been camera shy. With her piping, querulous voice and eye-popping outfits, the duchess is constantly in the public eye at society weddings and bullfights featuring her ex-son-in-law Francisco ("Fran") Rivera Ordóñez, a popular torero from a distinguished bullfighting family.
Since the death of her second husband seven years ago, she has enjoyed a close relationship with an old family friend, Alfonso Diez Carabantes, 58, and wants to marry him. "It's true that I planned to marry. We were both full of enthusiasm for the idea," the duchess told Hola! magazine this month. Plans for a secret ceremony were apparently well advanced before the family found out by chance. Backed, it is said, by King Juan Carlos, they vetoed the match.
Some gossip columnists hint that Mr Diez is little more than a carpet- bagger battening upon a frail old woman estranged from her children. Others say it's bit much if Spain's top aristocrat can't choose her own partner for her twilight years.
Spain's royals have a deciding voice in matters concerning the House of Alba, so the headstrong Cayetana has sought an audience with Queen Sofia to enlist her support. "They don't want me to marry, but they change partners more often than I do," the duchess complained this week about her six children, all of whom made high-profile marriages that ended in divorce.
The saga bounced into public view a week ago when the national news agency Efe published the following brief communiqué issued by the House of Alba: "In the light of reports about the relationship between the Duchess of Alba and Alfonso Diez, this House emphasises only the affectionate friendship between the Duchess and Mr Diez, there being no plans whatsoever of matrimony."
The curious declaration seems to have been wrenched unwillingly from the duchess in a vain attempt to stem months of tittle-tattle. She admits to furious rows with her children over her marriage plans.
Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva was born in the Liria Palace in Madrid. The palace houses Francisco de Goya's full-length portrait of Cayetana's ancestor, The Duchess of Alba, reputed to have been his lover and model for his masterworks, The Clothed Maja and The Naked Maja.
A dazzling beauty in her youth, possessor of 44 noble titles and 150 hereditary ones, today's duchess is renowned for her forthright character, forged during a high-rolling spell in England in the Second World War where her father, the 17th Duke, was Spanish ambassador in London.
In 1947 She married Luis Martínez de Irujo y Artacoz, son of the Dukes of Sotomayor, in "the most expensive wedding in the world". The couple lived mostly in the ancestral Las Dueñas palace in Seville, and had six children. She is said to have enjoyed a lively love life. The father of her fourth son, Fernando, is widely reported not to have been her husband but the Sevillian flamenco dancer Antonio el Bailarin.
After her husband's death in 1972, the duchess controversially married the free-thinking former Jesuit priest Jesus Aguirre y Ortiz de Zarate, in 1978. On his death in 2001, the title and property reverted to Cayetana. Dedicated Alba-watchers say her six children are split over their mother's marriage plans.
Her sons Carlos, Alfonso and Cayetano, are said to oppose the match, while Jacobo, Fernando and Eugenia want their mother to do what makes her happy. At present, Carlos, her eldest son, stands to inherit everything. He has progressively assumed responsibility for the family holdings since Aguirre's death. That may change if she marries again.
There was more excitement last week when the duchess's failing health was said to have deteriorated sharply. She attended the wedding of her grandson Javier Martinez de Irujo Hohenlohe, Alfonso's son, to Ines Domecq, scion of the sherry dynasty, in Jerez last weekend, in a wheelchair.
She retreated after the reception to her palace in Seville, where she choked on orange juice. Pulmonary, later cardiac, complications set in and a doctor reportedly saved her life. She has suffered circulation problems and reduced mobility for more than a year.
But days later, the duchess sallied from a restaurant and told the press she was fine, fuelling speculation that if she wins over the Queen, the marriage may go ahead after all.
What's in a name? A selection of Duchess's 150 titles
*18th Duchess of Alba de Tormes
*11th Duchess of Berwick
*Duchess of Arjona
*Duchess of Hijar
*11th Duchess of Liria and Jerica
*14th Countess-Duchess of Olivares
*Marchioness of El Carpio
*Countess of Aranda
*Countess of Lemos
*Countess of Lerin and Condestablesa of Navarra
*Countess of Miranda del Castañar
*Countess of Monterrey
*Countess of Osorno
*Countess of Palma del Rio
*12th Marchioness of la Algaba
*Marchioness of Almenara
*14th Marchioness of Barcarrota
*Marchioness of Castaneda
*19th Marchioness of Coria
*Marchioness of Eliche
*Marchioness of Mirallo
*Marchioness of la Mota
*Marchioness of Moya
*Marchioness of Orani
*Marchioness of Osera
*11th Countess of Tinmouth
*Viscountess of la Calzada
*11th Baroness of Bosworth
*29th Dame of MoguerReuse content