La Cayetana y La Dueña de Las Dueñas: A True Fairytale

23 Jan

There was once a tiny, old white-haired woman who lived in a beautiful, arched two-storey 16th century house in Seville filled with precious objets d’art. The rambling home with its stable for six horses, called Las Dueñas, sat amongst neatly bordered courtyards and gardens of tall palms, fruit-laden citrus trees. Bright purple bouganvillea climbed the yellow walls, mozaic tiled fountains bubbled cooling cascades of water and birds sang and bathed in the fountains. 

The old woman had more money than she knew what to do with so she bought designer gowns for every occasion, acquired more art, sponsored bull fighters and had plastic surgery to smooth her face and plump out her lips until she became a caricature of her former self.

Having outlived two husbands already (the first a young aristocrat, the second an illegitimately born former Jesuit priest), and with six children (five by her first husband and one said to be the result of an affair with a flamenco dancer), she fell in love with a handsome civil servant 24 years younger and three years later married him when she was 85. Their plans to marry had been on hold while she finalised her will such that her assets would be distributed to her children and grandchildren and her future husband renounced all claims to her wealth.

After the wedding, for which she wore a short, apricot, silk frock with an olive green velvet ribbon at her waist, she kicked off her shoes and danced some few steps of flamenco, flourishing her hands for the assembled paparazzi.

In her lifetime the tiny, old woman inherited 57 titles handed down from aristocratic families of Spain and Britain. She was both the richest woman in Spain and the most titled person on the planet. Her own name was tongue-twistingly long:

María del Rosario Cayetana Paloma Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Fernanda Teresa Francisca de Paula Lourdes Antonia Josefa Fausta Rita Castor Dorotea Santa Esperanza Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva Falcó y Gurtubay.

Her people, the Sevillanos, knew her affectionately only as La Cayetana, but to the rest of the world she was the eccentric, Duchess of Alba.

When she died of pnuemonia in November 2014, aged 88, her eldest son Carlos Fitz-James Stuart, 14th Duke of Huéscar, born in 1948, inherited the Alba titles and much of her fortune, including her favourite house in Seville, Las Dueñas (which means the owners or the mistresses).

In only fifteen months, the Duke created a house museum and opened the gates of Las Dueñas to the public. The gardens and ground floor are accessible to the visitor. It is easy to see why the Duchess’ loved it the most of the many properties she owned. The only improvement I would make is to not try to display so much. Most of the rooms are crammed with art, porcelains, documents, books and photographs. Still, it is fitting legacy for the woman who packed more into her 88 years than most of us can aspire to.

¡Ole La Cayetana!

4 Responses to “La Cayetana y La Dueña de Las Dueñas: A True Fairytale”

  1. Laurel bright January 23, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

    Such a lovely inspiring story ! Thanks for sharing it with me.

  2. Heather January 24, 2017 at 2:25 am #

    Let us hope this fascinating lady only had to sign by the name Dequesa De Alba and not her full name.

  3. bron53 January 28, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

    Lovely background story to somewhere that we should try to visit during our visit to Seville in mid June

    • Sharon Tickle January 28, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

      Definitely add to your list Bron. I will email some other suggestions. June should be lovely. Sxx

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