Dukes of Alba

Some dynasties are remembered primarily for one member, for good or ill, and such is the legacy of the ‘Iron Duke’, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, the 3rd Duke of Alba (1507-1582). His military genius served King Philip II of Spain very well until he was sent to quell religious and political unrest in the Low Countries, and instead ignited a genuine revolution due to his heavy-handed approach.

The 3rd Duke of Alba, by Antonio Moro

But the dukes of Alba represent a good deal more of Spanish history than this single legacy, and from the 15th century to the present day have embodied the richness and grandeur of the aristocracy of Spain. When the 18th Duchess of Alba died in 2014, the news was covered as if she was royalty—and indeed, some would suggest she was the true claimant to the thrones of England and Scotland; journalists revelled in naming her the most titled aristocrat in the world, with over forty titles, including eight dukedoms.

The 18th Duchess of Alba, in Seville

This over-abundance of ducal titles held by Doña Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva points to one of the singular characteristics of the Spanish aristocracy (shared somewhat in Portugal and Italy) that titles of nobility by custom pass to a woman in default of a male heir. As such, the Duchess of Alba was head not just of the Casa de Alba, but also the House of Fitz-James (the illegitimate descendants of King James II and VII), the House of Silva, and others. And the head of the House of Álvarez de Toledo, the original holders of the dukedom of Alba, are in fact distant relations whose main title is a different dukedom altogether, that of Medina Sidonia. So unlike most other blogs on this site, I will be following the title (Alba), not strictly the patrilineal dynasty (Álvarez de Toledo). It is very messy from a genealogical standpoint, but blame the Spaniards and their more egalitarian ways!

The basic coat-of-arms of the Alvarez de Toledo family

To start with the origins of the Álvarez de Toledo family, however, we need to plunge back into the midst of the Reconquista of the 11th-12th centuries, as Christian armies retook the Iberian peninsula from the Moors, and the city of Toledo in particular, south of Madrid. A family that rose to prominence locally, as successive alcaldes (magistrates) of Toledo, gradually took the patronymic of one of their founding members, and the sons of Álvaro became known as Álvarez de Toledo. In the 1360s, they acquired the lordships of Valdecorneja and Oropesa, to the west of Toledo, and formed the two main branches of the family. The Counts of Oropesa (a senior line, but illegitimate in origins) flourished in the 16th century, then that title passed out of the male line in 1621, into a cadet line of the House of Portugal. The lords of Valdecorneja were lifted to the premier ranks of the Castilian nobility through the efforts of an important churchman, Gutierre de Toledo, successively bishop of Palencia, archbishop of Seville, then archbishop of Toledo and primate of all Spain (d. 1445). He had acquired a lordship to the west of Madrid, near Salamanca, called Alba de Tormes, a fortress at an important crossing of the river Tormes, which flows north into the Douro.

The tower at Alba de Tormes

The Archbishop gave this lordship and its castle to his nephew, Fernando, a soldier on the southern frontier, who was created 1st Count of Alba in 1439, by Juan II, King of Castile and León, given the court offices of Copero mayor (Cupbearer) and chamberlain, and married into the highest circles of the court. His son, Garcia, proved his valour on the battlefield in Andalucia in the 1450s, and was one of the powerful noblemen who supported King Enrique IV and his daughter Juana in the dynastic crisis of 1464. He was rewarded with lands: the marquisate of Coria and the county of Salvatierra de Tormes (further upstream from Alba), and the elevation of Alba de Tormes into a duchy in 1472.

the first Duke of Alba

But when King Enrique IV died in 1474, the 1st Duke of Alba did not side with the Infanta Juana in the ensuing civil war with her half-sister, Infanta Isabella, for he had marital ties to her new husband, Ferdinand, King of Aragon: his wife, Maria Enriquez, and Ferdinand’s mother were half-sisters. The 2nd Duke of Alba, Fadrique (sometimes anglicised to Frederick), therefore had even closer ties to the royal house, and he was put at the head of the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella in the invasion of Roussillon in 1503 and the conquest of Navarre in 1512. As a reward for the latter, he was named Captain-General of Andalucia, and given the lordship of Huéscar in Granada. When Ferdinand and Isabella’s grandson, King Carlos I of Castile and Aragon, aka Emperor Charles V, set out to more formally delineate a high court aristocracy for a united Spain, the Duke of Alba was named first of the Spanish knights of the Golden Fleece, in 1519, and one of the first twenty noblemen officially entitled to the style Grandee of Spain, in 1520. He also acted as Mayordomo mayor of the King-Emperor, that is, head of his household, and Councillor of State, and he accompanied Charles V in journeys to his various domains in Germany, the Low Countries and Italy.

the 2nd Duke of Alba

The 2nd Duke’s eldest son died relatively young, fighting in a disastrous campaign to conquer Djerba (in Tunisia) in 1510, but his second son, Pedro, Marques of Villafranca del Bierzo (in León, near the border with Galicia), maintained the family’s pre-eminent position as one of the most powerful viceroys of Naples in that Kingdom’s history. For twenty years (1532-52), he worked to improve the city of Naples, building new streets, new shipyards, a new viceregal palace, and centralised the legal and governmental systems to the detriment of the old feudal barons—with a severity which nearly caused a revolt that sent him packing in 1547. Such was his high profile on the Italian peninsula, that his daughter, Eleanora de Toledo, was considered a worthy bride for the Duke of Florence (later Grand Duke of Tuscany), Cosimo I de Medici. She is the subject of my very favourite Renaissance portrait, by Bronzino.

A third son of the 2nd Duke, Juan, also entered Italian politics, but in Rome—having climbed the episcopal hierarchy in Castile (bishop of Cordoba, then Burgos, later archbishop of Santiago), he was named a cardinal in 1538, and bishop of two important Roman sees, Albano and Frascati—a philosopher and theologian, he was well regarded and considered a candidate for the papal throne itself in the conclaves of 1550 and 1555 (and died in 1557).

Back in Spain, the 2nd Duke’s grandson now came to maturity and distinguished himself in early military commands in the conquest of Tunis, 1535—a sort of revenge for his father’s ignominious death—and in the defeat of the armies of France at Perpignan in 1542. The 3rd Duke, Fernando, is today considered one the greatest generals of the 16th century, loved by his soldiers and feared by his enemies. In 1547 he helped Charles V defeat the German Protestant princes at Mühlberg in Saxony, and in 1557, he humiliated Pope Paul IV by marching on Rome to keep him from openly siding with the French. A later pope, the distinctly more pro-Spanish Pius V, rewarded the Duke for his efforts in North Africa and Germany by sending him the ‘Golden Rose’, the highest papal honour, along with other symbolic honours, the blessed sword and the blessed hat, the designations of a ‘champion of the Church’. It seemed logical therefore for Alba to be sent to the Low Countries to help his king, Philip II, root out heresy amongst his Dutch subjects and restore good order.

The 3rd Duke of Alba had gained administrative experience as Governor of Milan (1555-56) and Viceroy of Naples (1556-58), so in 1567 he was named Governor-General of the Netherlands, and arrived soon after at the head of a large Spanish army. Reversing the policies of his predecessor who wished to settle disputes between emerging Catholic and Protestant factions peaceably, Alba set about restoring the authority of the King of Spain through the creation of a tribunal, the Council of Troubles (known as the ‘Council of Blood’ or Bloedraad locally). But by targeting and ultimately executing even Catholic moderates, famously the counts of Egmont and Hoorn, he pushed the Dutch too far, and instead of smouldering discontent, the country burst into the flames of open rebellion. Alba as before was an unstoppable general, defeating the armies of Louis of Nassau and the Prince of Orange, but the vicious brutality of the capture of the cities of Mechelen in 1572 (known as ‘the Spanish Fury’) and Haarlem in 1573 finally convinced Philip II that Alba’s policy was not working, and he was recalled to Madrid.

a contemporary image of the brutality of Spanish justice at Haarlem
A Franco-Dutch political cartoon depicting Alba eating babies, encouraged by the Catholic hydra (headed by cardinals de Guise and Granvelle), the headless bodies of Hoorn & Egmond at his feet.

In the last years of life, ‘El Gran Duque’ continued to dominate the court—he had been Mayordomo mayor since 1541, for both Charles V and Philip II, a Councillor of State and Grand Master of this Order of the Golden Fleece from 1546—and leader of the ‘hawk’ faction, pressing for harsher actions in the Low Countries, and punishments for England or France if they dared to get involved. In one final heroic act for the Habsburg monarchy, he led Spanish troops, at age 73, to Lisbon where he defeated the troops of the rival claimant to the throne of Portugal (Prior Antonio) in 1580, and served as that kingdom’s first Habsburg viceroy, a position he held until he died in 1582.

Having such a reputation to live up to, the succeeding dukes of Alba hardly stand out in the history of Spain’s ‘Golden Century’. The 4th Duke, while still the heir (from 1563 always known as Duke of Huéscar), scandalised the court when he broke a previous engagement with one of the Queen’s favourites, Magdalena de Guzmán, which cost him a year’s incarceration in the Castle of La Mota. He then led some of his father’s troops in the bloodiest campaigns in the Low Countries, before being disgraced once more in the eyes of Philip II upon the discovery that the real truth behind the earlier marital scandal was that he had secretly married his cousin Maria de Toledo; he was again exiled from court and died only three years after his father. Somewhat more successful were his illegitimate half-brother, Hernando, who was appointed Viceroy of Catalonia in 1571, and his legitimate full-brother Diego, who married one of the great heiresses of the age, Brianda de Beaumont, who brought the county of Lerin and the office of Hereditary Constable of Navarre into the family.

Diego’s son, Antonio Álvarez de Toledo de Beaumont, 5th Duke of Alba, restored the family’s prominence at court, as a Gentleman of the Chamber of King Philip III, Counsellor of State, and once again Mayordomo mayor del rey, in 1629. He also regained for a time his grandfather’s and great-uncle’s post of Viceroy of Naples, from 1622 to 1629. His period of rule in Naples was troubled, however, by bad harvests, a serious earthquake in 1626, and an increase in the number of Turkish pirate raids along the coasts of southern Italy. Back in Spain, he spent his time as one of the patrons of the poet Lope de Vega. His son Fernando II was also a patron of one of Spain’s great writers, Calderón de la Barca. The 6th Duke also married well, this time to the heiress of one of the leading families of Seville, Antonia Enríquez de Ribera. She brought with her several properties in Andalucia, but most importantly, the Palacio de las Dueñas in Seville, which would become, and continues to be, one of the main residences of the family. Like many palaces in the Mediterranean, Arab influence is easily seen in the architecture of this building, constructed in the late 15th century, in its relatively bland exterior, but exquisite inner courtyard, filled with an abundance of plants and fountains.

the gateway to the Palacio de las Dueñas in Seville
Las Dueñas interior courtyard

The 6th Duchess of Alba would ultimately become the heiress of her mother, Maria Manrique de Lara, as well, which allowed her son to add the Manrique dukedom of Galisteo (in Extremadura, near the border with Portugal) to the family’s growing collection of titles, in 1675. The next two generations do not particularly stand out: sons and daughters married well, mostly within the circle of Spanish ducal families (Fernández de Velasco, Silva, Guzmán, Ponce de León, López de Haro). The 9th Duke, Antonio IV Martín, gained prominence as ambassador to France in 1703-11, during the crucial transition between the rule of the houses of Habsburg and Bourbon, and attracted the attention of the young Philip V, who named him to be his Sumiller de corps, one of the top household offices, but he died en route back from France before taking up the post.

The 10th Duke of Alba, Francisco, was a Gentleman of the Chamber of Philip V and his son Louis I, Grand Chancellor of the Council of the Indies, as well as Montero mayor, of Master of the Hunt. In this last office, the Duke was in charge, as alcaide, of three of the most important rural royal residences, El Pardo, La Zarzuela and Valsaín. In 1688, he too married one of the greatest heiress of the era, Catalina López de Haro, 3rd Duchess of Montoro, 5th Duchess of Olivares, Marquesa del Carpio and of Eliche, Countess of Monterrey, Ayala, and so on. They had only one child, a daughter Maria Teresa, who inherited five duchies, five marquisates, five counties and the office of Constable of Navarre. In 1712, shortly after her father had succeeded as the 10th Duke, she married Manuel de Silva, Count of Galve, the youngest son of the Duke of Pastrana. The dukedom of Alba thus passed into the House of Silva for a time, and then in 1802 to the House of FitzJames-Stuart.

Before leaving the House of Álvarez de Toledo, we should note that the family continued and thrived in its junior line. The second major branch was founded by the Viceroy of Naples, the Marques de Villafranca del Bierzo (above), whose son acquired the Neapolitan dukedom of Fernandina and the principality of Montalbano, in 1569, during his time as Viceroy of Sicily and Captain-General of the Mediterranean fleet. This branch continued to hold prominent posts in the Spanish territories in Italy and in the Spanish navy for the next century, and in 1683 consolidated their position even further in the Kingdom of Naples through marriage to the heiress of the Moncada family, and the acquisition of the Sicilian dukedoms of Bivona and Montalto. A nephew married the triple heiress of the dukes of El Infantado (Mendoza), also dukes of Lerma (Sandoval) and Pastrana (Silva), forming another sub-branch until its extinction in 1841 (see Infantado). The main line soon (1713) married another significant heiress (though not until 1779) of the House of Guzmán, dukes of Medina Sidonia, which became the main title of the Álvarez de Toledo family and lasted into the 20th century. From 1955, however, these titles were inherited by another fantastic heiress, the famous ‘Red Duchess’ (see Medina Sidonia), and the senior male became the Marques de Miraflores, who succeeded as Duke of Zaragoza in 1975. The present head of the house is Manuel Álvarez de Toledo, 5th Duke of Zaragoza (b. 1944).

This now senior branch (Villafranca del Bierzo) has several junior branches, all formed in the 19th and 20th centuries, each with their own titles (mostly marquisates and counties). Two of these are prominent in Spain today as producers of quality olive oil (the Marques of Valdueza) and wine, one of the specialties of the El Bierzo region in northwest León. There were three other main sub-branches of the Álvarez de Toledo family, founded back in the 15th and 16th centuries. The counts of Oropesa, already mentioned, included a prominent Viceroy of Peru, 1569-81, then became extinct in the male line in 1621. The brothers of the 2nd Duke of Alba created two sub-lineages which included prominent courtiers and colonial governors. The line of Mancera, elevated to marquisate in 1623 for Pedro de Toledo, Viceroy of Peru (1639-48), was continued in his son, Antonio, Viceroy of New Spain (1664-73), then extinct in 1715. The line of Ayala, created a county in 1622, also included a Viceroy of Sicily (1660-64) before it too became extinct, in 1676.

Antonio, Marques de Mancera, Viceroy of New Spain

Returning to the story of the dukes of Alba themselves, we first look at the House of Silva, before turning to the curious British-French-Spanish hybrid dynasty of FitzJames-Stuart. The Silva family has its origins in Portugal in the 13th century (though claiming much more ancient ancestry through the kings of León to the Visigoths). In the 16th century, Rui Gomes da Silva, relocated to Castile and became a favourite of Philip II, who created him Duke of Pastrana (in Guadalajara, east of Madrid) and Prince of Eboli (in Campania, in the Kingdom of Naples). That story will be told in the entry on the dukes of Pastrana, while another branch is represented in the line of dukes of Hijar. As we’ve seen, the younger son of the 5th Duke of Pastrana married the Álvarez de Toledo heiress, and their son Fernando (1714-1778) adopted the surnames de Silva Mendoza y Toledo and the titles 12th Duke of Alba de Tormes, 9th Duke of Huéscar, 5th Duke of Montoro, 7th Count-Duke of Olivares, and so on.

Not succeeding his mother as Duke of Alba until 1755, he was better known as the Duke of Huéscar, using the traditional title for the heir, while he made his name in diplomatic and governmental circles. He was ambassador to France, 1746-49, where he befriended leading lights of the Enlightenment like Rousseau, and earned a reputation as a thinker which earned him the post of Director of the Royal Academy which he led for two decades from 1753. At court he obtained the post of Mayordomo mayor in 1753, and briefly served Ferdinand VI as Prime Minister of Spain (April-May 1754).

Ferdando de Silva, 12th Duke of Alba

The 12th Duke of Alba built a new palace for the family, known as the Palacio de los duques de Alba, on top of a ruined medieval fortress of Piedrahíta in Ávila province (west of Madrid) that had been in the Álvarez de Toledo family for centuries. The new palace was built in the late 1750s in granite, in Neo-Classical style by the French architect Jacques Marquet, at extravagant cost. The Duke had seen elaborate French gardens during his time as ambassador, and emulated them in his gardens here. It became the family’s chief summer residence, a place to escape the heat of the city of Madrid. Sold to the local community in 1931, it now houses a school.

Palacio de los duques de Alba, Piedrahíta

Duke Fernando (de Silva) married an Álvarez de Toledo, of the Oropesa line, and had only one son, who predeceased him, and only one daughter, who succeeded him. In 1775, Maria del Pilar Cayetana de Silva y Álvarez de Toledo, the 13th Duchess of Alba, nine times a Grandee of Spain, the richest heiress in Europe, married one of the richest heirs, the head of the House of Álvarez de Toledo, 15th Duke of Medina Sidonia. Together they dominated aristocratic society and patronised the greatest artists and thinkers of the day. The Duchess is most famously known from two full-length portrait paintings by Goya (the ‘White Duchess’ and the ‘Black Duchess’), and was thought by some to be the model for the scandalous nude ‘la Maja’ portrait.

‘White Duchess’
‘Black Duchess’

But when the 13th Duchess died in 1802, Alba was once again without a direct heir. Her great-aunt Maria Teresa had married in 1738 the 3rd Duke of Berwick, Liria and Xerica, who went by the interesting name Jacobo Francisco Eduardo FitzJames-Stuart (he had added the additional surname Stuart, to remind people where he really came from). This couple employed the Spanish architect Ventura Rodríguez to build an urban palace for them in Madrid. The Liria Palace, built around 1770, and today in the very heart of Madrid, remains the seat of the Dukes of Alba today, and is a repository of some of the treasures of the art world, including the Goya ‘White Duchess’ noted above.

Palacio de Liria

The grandfather of the Duke of Berwick and Liria was James FitzJames, illegitimate son of King James II of England (VII of Scotland) and Arabella Churchill, sister of the future Duke of Marlborough. His father created him Duke of Berwick in 1687 (a British peerage his descendants would still like to reclaim) and he led troops to try to save his father’s throne in Ireland in 1690, then went on to become a leading French general and helped Philip V claim his throne in the War of Spanish Succession. As a reward, he was created Duke of Liria and Xérica (or Llíria and Jérica, both in Valencia) in 1707, and Duke of Fitz-James in France, 1710. The succession was then split between his sons, the elder taking the Spanish titles (and the British titles, Earl of Tynmouth, Baron of Bosworth, though formally attainted), and the younger (half-brothers) continuing the line in France (see Dukes of FitzJames).

The 2nd Duke of Berwick, James Francis, was given Liria and Xérica and other Spanish dominions, including the curious title Grand-Alcalde and First Regent of the City of San Felipe, as the city of Xàtiva in Valencia had been (temporarily) renamed to honour the new Bourbon king. He served as a Gentleman of the Chamber of Philip V, general of his armies, and was sent abroad as his ambassador to Russia, 1726-30, Vienna, 1731-33, and later Naples where he died in 1738. In 1716, he had married another one of these colossal heiresses, Catalina Ventura Colón de Portugal, 9th Duchess of Veragua, 8th Duchess of la Vega, plus 4 marquisates (including Jamaica), 4 counties, and the hereditary office of Admiral of the Indies—the rank granted to Christopher Columbus (Colón in Spanish) by Ferdinand and Isabella after his discoveries in 1492. Veragua took its title from territory on the isthmus of Panama, while La Vega referred to the island of Santo Domingo.

The 3rd Duke of Berwick, Liria and Xérica, who married the Alba heiress above, was therefore also the Duke of Veragua and La Vega and Admiral of the Indies. His brother Pedro was First Equerry to King Ferdinand VI, and stayed true to the family’s Jacobite heritage through a marriage to Maria Benita de Rozas y Drummond, daughter of the Jacobite ‘Duke of Saint Andrews’ and Lady Frances Drummond. In a similar manner, the 4th Duke of Berwick married the sister of the Jacobite ‘Queen of England’, Louise von Stolberg, wife of the Young Pretender, Charles Edward Stuart (’Bonnie Prince Charlie’). The 4th Duke, while anticipating the windfall of the huge Alba succession, in 1787 lost the Colón titles, offices and estates after a lengthy lawsuit. His son and grandson, the 5th and 6th dukes of Berwick, also died before they could succeed to the Silva-Álvarez de Toledo titles. The 5th, Jacopo Felipe, was only 21 when he died, and his eldest son, Jacopo José, lived only from 1792-95. His younger son, Carlos Miguel, was only a year old when he became 7th Duke of Berwick, Liria and Xérica, and twelve when he became the 14th Duke of Alba, Duke of Huéscar, Montoro, Olivares, and all the rest.

The 19th-century history of the triple dynasty of FitzJames, Silva and Álvarez de Toledo, continued the pattern of grand marriages on an international, cosmopolitan scale. The 14th Duke married a Sicilian princess, Rosalia di Ventimiglia di Grammonte, and his son a Spanish-Scottish-Belgian countess whose sister Empress Eugénie was the wife of Napoleon III. The 14th Duke died at only 41, but is considered one of the great collectors and art patrons of the family, filling the Liria Palace with artworks he purchased in his Italian travels, and supporting young sculptors and painters. The 15th Duke and Duchess were close to the court of Queen Isabel II, he as Gentleman of the Chamber and she as a Lady-in-Waiting. The Duchess, Maria Francisca de Sales, like so many other Spanish noblewomen in this story, was an heiress, of the Portocarrero-Palafox family, and held in her own right the titles 14th Duchess of Peñaranda de Duero, 9th Countess of Montijo, 17th Countess of Miranda del Castañar, and about 10 others.

Jacopo Luis FitzJames-Stuart, 15th Duke of Alba, Duke of Berwick, Duke of Veragua etc

In the later 19th century, the Spanish aristocracy began the practice of granting some of their multitudes of titles and grandezas to younger children, both male and female, so the daughters of the 15th Duke and Duchess were created Duchess of Galisteo and Duchess of Montoro. Their son, Carlos Maria, succeeded first to his mother’s titles, in 1860, as 14th Duke of Peñaranda and Count of Montijo, then his father’s titles in 1881. The 16th Duke of Alba was 13 times a Grandee of Spain, Knight of the Golden Fleece and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Carlos III. He served at court as Chamberlain to the Queen Regent María Cristina of Austria, in the government as a Senator of the Kingdom, and in international affairs as ambassador to Belgium, 1872-78, and to Russia, 1878-85, and as a diplomat in Istanbul and New York, where he died in 1901.

the 16th Duke of Alba

The early part of the 20th century saw the Casa de Alba as extreme loyalists to the royal family: both sons of the 16th Duke served as Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King Alfonso XIII, and their sister a Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria Eugenia. As was now tradition, the younger children were given titles: the counties of Baños and Teba to the daughter, Eugenia Sol; the Portocarraro-Palafox titles to the second son, Hernando Carlos, who therefore became 15th Duke of Peñaranda del Duero and 11th Count of Montijo; and the senior titles to the first son, Jacobo (who apparently went by the name ‘Jimmy Alba’). Both brothers were on the Spanish polo team that won silver at the 1920 Olympics, and both strongly supported the rise of the far right in the 1930s, with the younger of the two being a victim of the controversial Paracuellos massacres of November 1936. The 17th Duke of Alba would serve as Foreign Minister of Spain in the regime of Prime Minister Berenguer, 1930-31; later under General Franco, he was sent as Ambassador to the United Kingdom, in 1936, but his post was not formally recognised by the British government until 1939. In 1920, he had married yet another well-titled heiress, Maria del Rosario de Silva y Guturbay, 15th Duquesa de Aliaga, who would ultimately bring one more Duchy into the family, one of the oldest in Spain, that of Híjar.

the 17th Duke of Alba

Shortly after succeeding his father as 17th Duke of Alba, Jacobo FitzJames-Stuart decided that a family of practically royal status should themselves have a fittingly princely pantheon. One of the many families whose legacy they now represented, the Guzmáns of Olivares, had founded a monastery to the east of Madrid in the village of Loeches. The family crypt in the monastery of La Inmaculada Concepción was now rebranded as the Alba pantheon, and modelled on the royal pantheon built by Philip II at the palace-monastery of El Escorial. When the Duke died in 1953, his funeral was held here in great pomp and splendour.

Monastery of La Inmaculada Concepción, Loeches

The 17th Duke’s only child, 27-year-old Maria del Rosario Cayetana, succeeded to her father’s numerous titles in 1953, and then those of her maternal grandfather in 1955. She was now the head of the Casa de Alba, but also receiver of the treasures, lands and titles of the dynasties of FitzJames, Silva, Álvarez de Toledo, Guzmán, Sandoval and López de Haro. As 18th Duchess of Alba, 11th Duchess of Berwick and 17th Duchess of Híjar, she represented over 40 other Spanish (and Italian) titles, plus the now purely ceremonial posts of Constable of Navarre, Constable of Aragon and Marshal of Castile, 20 times Grandee of Spain. She was a high flying socialite, with a flamboyant personality, who partied with movie stars as a young woman and danced the flamenco at her third wedding when she was 85. Her first marriage, in 1947—considered by some to be the most sumptuous wedding in the post-war world, perhaps outshining another famous wedding celebrated that year in Westminster Abbey—was within the norms of accepted aristocratic practice: Pedro Luis Martínez de Irujo was the younger son of the Duke of Sotomayor, and they remained married (unusually for the high aristocracy of the mid-20th century) until he died in 1972. Their children were all given titles, the Dukedom of Huéscar, as usual, for the heir, and other dukedoms, marquisates or counties for the others (4 sons and 1 daughter), usually on their wedding—for example, the daughter, Eugenia, was created Duchess of Montoro as an appropriate pun when she married the prize bullfighter Francisco Rivera Ordoñez in 1998.

the Duchess of Alba in 1947

It was the second and third marriages of the Duchess of Alba that caused controversy in the family. In 1978 she married a former Jesuit and theologian, Jesus Aguirre Ortiz de Zarate; and following his death in 2001, she announced that she wanted to marry a non-aristocrat, Alfonso Díez Carabantes, 24 years her junior, which she did in 2011, but not before her children ensured that he formally renounced any claims to her vast fortune. By this point she lived mostly at the Palacio de la Dueñas in Seville, leaving the Liria Palace in Madrid and the administration of the Alba estates and collections to her eldest son. When the Duchess died in 2014, her son Carlos (b. 1948), who now used the surname FitzJames-Stuart instead of Martínez, became the 19th Duke of Alba, and his son, Fernando (b. 1990), the 15th Duke of Huéscar. It is uncertain who inherited the title of Duke of Berwick: by normal British peerage rules, a dukedom would pass to the next male heir, Jacobo Hernando, 17th Duke of Peñaranda, but some consider that the dukedom had become a Spanish title when it was recognised by Philip V in 1707, and therefore should follow Spanish regulations. It is within the power of Queen Elizabeth II to step in and reverse the attainder of 1695, but this is pretty unlikely. I suspect the Duke of Alba is content with his numerous Spanish titles and his collections in the Liria Palace.

(Images from Wikimedia Commons)

Simplified Alba genealogy

Current full titles:

  • Ten with Grandeza: 19th Duke of Alba de Tormes, 12th Duke of Berwick, Liria and Jérica, 14th Duke of Huéscar (ceded to his son), 15th Count-Duke of Olivares, 17th Marquis of Carpio, and five countships: Lemos, Lerín, Miranda del Castañar, Monterrey and Osorno (also ceded, to his second son Carlos).
  • Titles without Grandeza: 15 marquisates, 11 counties, 1 viscounty, 1 lordship, and the office of Constable of Navarre.

Other ducal titles in the family:

  • 2nd son, Alfonso Martínez de Irujo, 16th Duke of Aliaga, 18th Duke of Híjar
  • 5th son, Cayetano, 4th Duke of Arjona
  • Daughter, Eugenia, 15th Duchess of Montoro
  • Cousin, Jacobo Hernando FitzJames-Stuart, 17th Duke of Peñaranda de Duero, 12th Duke of Berwick, 8th Duke of La Roca

Published by Jonathan Spangler

I am a historian of monarchy and the high aristocracy of Europe. I focus primarily as an academic on the early modern period and France, but my interests range from early medieval Ireland to 20th-century Russia. I teach history at Manchester Metropolitan University in Manchester, England, and am the senior editor of The Court Historian, the journal of the Society for Court Studies. I am also a musician and an avid traveler. I love heraldry and genealogy. My ancestors came from Germany to the American colonies in the 18th century and I am a proud Virginian.

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