NPR logo

Spanish Duchess Of Alba Remembered As A Colorful Figure

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/365761946/365761956" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Spanish Duchess Of Alba Remembered As A Colorful Figure

Europe

Spanish Duchess Of Alba Remembered As A Colorful Figure

Spanish Duchess Of Alba Remembered As A Colorful Figure

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/365761946/365761956" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The funeral was held in Spain for the Duchess of Alba on Friday. She was one of Europe's most eccentric — and richest — aristocrats.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

One of Europe's richest and most eccentric aristocrats was laid to rest today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

SIEGEL: The Duchess of Alba died yesterday at her palace in Seville. Lauren Frayer tells us about her colorful life.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Long before Kim Kardashian, there was the Duchess of Alba, famous for simply being famous and fantastically wealthy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

FRAYER: She was an aficionado of flamenco, bullfighting and horses, a stereotype of Spain itself. She was outrageous. She flaunted her flashy style, plastic surgery and marriages to much younger men. One had even been a priest. She brought a bit of levity into high society and for that, Spaniards adored her.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: A gaggle of old ladies in my Madrid barrio smile wide when I ask if they liked her. We read about her in all the magazines, one says, and she did a lot of charity work, says another. The Duchess also knew how to spark a good old-fashioned controversy like three years ago when at age 85, she married a commoner 25 years her junior.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: TV talk shows made fun of her. The Duchess's six children disapproved of the marriage - so did Spain's then King Juan Carlos. But the Duchess explained.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUCHESS CAYETANA: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: They're all against it, but I'm sincerely in love she told reporters at the time. Still, her new husband did sign a prenuptial agreement. Outside the wedding, the Duchess's third, she flung off her shoes and danced flamenco for the paparazzi. Her arms flailing above her frizzy, white hair. The Duchess's real name was Dona Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, but Spaniards knew her as simply la Duquesa, the Duchess, or Cayetana. She was born in Madrid in 1926, and her life spanned practically every major event in the formation of modern Spain says historian Hamilton Stapell.

HAMILTON STAPELL: The years of hunger after the Civil War, Spain's opening up to the rest of Europe, the smooth transition to Democracy - I mean, she saw and experienced all of that. And I think that's perhaps why Spaniards embraced her so much, because she had lived Spain's history and yet still danced.

FRAYER: She held the Guinness world record for Aristocratic titles - 57. She was the only person on Earth exempt from bowing before the Pope. She famously refused to pose for Pablo Picasso, but still amassed one of the world's biggest private art collections with Goyas, Rembrandts and yes, even Picassos valued at up to $5 billion. The Duchess of Alba died surrounded by her art and family in one of her many palaces after a bout with pneumonia, she was 88. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.