Pocket Profiles · Spain

The Spanish Nobility (Part Two – The Duchesses)

Hofdame Note: Thank you to our Baguette Iselen for this series on the Spanish nobility. Part one is here!

It’s a funny coincidence that the three most important aristocratic titles in Spain were inherited almost at the same time by three amazing women: clever, highly cultivated, independent and a bit eccentric too. Unfortunately, in the mid-1950s, they were living under a very conservative dictatorship and it conditioned their younger years.

Luisa Isabel Alvarez of Toledo and Maura

Luisa Isabel Álvarez of Toledo and Maura became the XXI Duchess of Medina Sidonia in 1957. She inherited a long list of other titles, a palace in Sanlúcar, amazing works of art and the biggest private archive in Europe, but not much cash. Luisa was gay and came out at the end of her life, literally, the last day of her life. It wasn’t a surprise though, everybody in Spain suspected it, I guess. Obviously, being gay under a dictatorship that exalted the national Catholicism was not an option and she did what was expected of her.

Luisa with her husband

Luisa married José Leoncio González of Gregorio, from the counts of La Puebla de Valverde family, one year after the debutante ball she held together with Infanta Pilar of Bourbon in Estoril. They had three children: Leoncio, the current duke, Pilar and Gabriel.


The marriage was not happy and the couple was living separate lives seven years later. The paternal grandmother brought up the kids and Luisa became involved in political activism. She was labelled “the red duchess” because Franco thought she was a communist. Luisa was just fighting for democracy and the rights of farmers in Andalusia. She was arrested and convicted serving 8 months in 1969. Later, she went into exile to Paris until the dictator died and she could come back home. During all those years, she wrote many books about her experience in prison and about the history of her family.

Embed from Getty Images

In 1983, she met Liliane Dahlmann at her son’s wedding and they began a relationship that lasted for 20 years. Together, they established the Medina Sidonia Foundation to protect the palaces, works of art and the archive. The duchess spent most of her life cataloguing more than 6,200 files, documents concerning the different branches of her family and titles since 1128, that are crucial for historians. Unfortunately, she made a mistake. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008 and married Liliane one day before she died. In her rush to secure her wife’s future and the foundation, she ignored a couple of inheritance laws that led to a long lawsuit between her heirs. It was solved a couple of years ago, finally. (You can see the current Duke, her oldest son, in yesterday’s post).

Embed from Getty Images

Victoria Eugenia Fernandez of Cordoba and Fernandez of Henestrosa

Victoria Eugenia Fernández of Córdoba and Fernández of Henestrosa, “Mimí” for her friends, became the Duchess of Medinaceli in 1956. She was the goddaughter of King Afonso XIII and Queen Ena and was baptised in the royal palace. Her mother died young, her father married again and left most of the cash to her half-sister in his will, leaving Mimí with titles, palaces, paintings of old masters, and little money.

Mimi (right) with Jacqueline Kennedy

She married Rafael of Medina and Villalonga, son of the Marquis of Esquivel and nephew of the count of Villalonga, in 1938. They had four children, some of them are well-known in Spanish tabloids for their colourful personal lives. The duchess hated this because Mimí tried to be discreet all her life: Ana married Prince Maximilian von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, Rafael married Model Naty Abascal and Ignacio married Princess Maria da Gloria Orleans-Braganza and Bourbon Two-Sicilies.

You can see the family bridal tiara here.

Mimi at home in later life.

Mimi established a foundation to protect the family palaces and works of art but her heirs are not happy with the terms of her will and have been fighting since she died 2013. The feud between Uncle Ignacio, the president of the Medinaceli foundation, and his nephews is very nasty right now, making headlines in magazines. Her grandson, Marco of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, said his grandmother would be horrified if she knew. The current Duchess is her granddaughter, who you can read about in yesterday’s post.

María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart and Silva

María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart and Silva became the Duchess of Alba in 1953. She was the goddaughter of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Ena, the only child of a loving father who spoiled her endlessly but also gave her the best education.

Embed from Getty Images

They lived in Paris and London. Her father was a clever man who kept all the works of art and family jewels hidden and safe during turbulent times in Spain. Only the Liria palace in Madrid got damaged in the civil war but was restored immediately. Cayetana saw the bombs falling on London during the II World War. She was a childhood friend of Queen Elizabeth and visited her relative Winston Churchill often. She was also a good friend of artists like Picasso or Zuloaga, and was a painter herself and a great flamenco dancer.

Embed from Getty Images

Following her father’s advice, she married Luis Martínez of Irujo in 1947. he was the son of the dukes of Sotomayor. They had six children: Carlos, the current duke, Alfonso, Jacobo, Fernando, Cayetano and Eugenia. All of them have noble titles since their mother had more than 45 titles to share.

Embed from Getty Images

Luís Martínez died in 1972 and in 1979 the duchess got married to Jesús Aguirre, a very educated but stern man who didn’t have a good relationship with Cayetana’s children but was the perfect counterweight to control the eccentricities of the Duchess. Jesús was responsible for the establishment of the Alba Foundation and he did a great job, managing the family fortune to adapt it to modern times and preserving the palaces and works of art. He died in 2001 and Cayetana married again, to Alfonso Diez in 2011, he’s a very discreet man who took care of her and still has a good relationship with her children. He was labelled a gold-digger but the truth is that he got very little in her will.

Cayetana with her second and third husbands below.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Cayetana, who was very clever and saw what happened to other duchesses, divided her possessions among her children and made sure they were all happy while she was still alive. As a result, they all work together for their older brother managing the foundation. She was also the one and only lady-in-waiting of Queen Sofia, helping her to adjust to live in Spain after she married Juan Carlos. Later, the queen had assistants in her office but never had another hofdame. Cayetana was a hard act to follow.

Cayetana’s oldest son, Carlos, is the current Duke of Alba.