Despite opposition from her children and grandchildren to her marrying a civil servant 24 years her junior, the 85-year-old Duchess of Alba – who is said to hold more titles than any European noble – exchanged vows yesterday at her 15th-century Palacio de las Dueñas in Seville, in southern Spain. Onlookers and journalists camped outside the palace walls all morning to catch a glimpse of Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva and her beau, Alfonso Diez. Souvenir wedding pins, wristbands and T-shirts circulated throughout the Andalusian capital as people turned the adjacent streets into a party.
Following the nuptials, the couple emerged down a red carpet flanked by flashing cameras, microphones and waving fans. The Duchess tossed her bouquet into the crowd, waved to the revellers, and removed her shoes to perform a quick sevillana dance.
The wedding was attended by around 40 friends and family, a small affair compared to the Duchess's first marriage in 1947 which was hailed as the world's most expensive wedding. The gossip website Divinity reported that the menu included both Spanish and British dishes: gazpacho, rice with spicy lobster (her favourite meal), beef Wellington and rice pudding.
With her estate estimated to be worth between £500m and £3bn, the Duchess's heirs were not keen on her twilight relationship with Mr Diez, 61, who works in Spain's social security office.
Mr Diez renounced any claim to the house of Alba's fortune, and in August the Duchess revealed her inheritance plans, which not only made clear to each person what they would receive on her death, but also emphasized that her love life was off-limits to family consultation.
"I have a young personality and I don't pay attention to numbers," the Duchess told Spanish radio earlier this year. "Alfonso has known me for 30 years, and he fell in love with me at first sight. But I married [someone else] and he had other relationships. Until one day three years ago, when we spontaneously fell into each others' arms... But my children are making it hard on me. [Alfonso] doesn't want anything except me."
The Duchess's family owns countless palaces, castles, properties and land throughout Spain. And then there is the artwork.
The Liria Palace in Madrid, where the Duchess was born, holds 50,000 works of art and an 18,000-volume library – including journals by Christopher Columbus and a first-edition Don Quixote. The massive collection also contains works by Velazquez, Goya, Rembrandt and Picasso.
Born in 1926, the Duchess inherited the title when her father died in 1953. She is the 18th duchess of Alba, a line descending from an illegitimate child of King James II of England. The King's mistress, an ancestor of Winston Churchill, gave birth to four children, given the surname Fitz-James Stuart, or the son of James Stuart. A previous duchess of Alba became famous for reclining seductively in the nude while Goya painted her.