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SPAIN: Nobility - The Duque de Alba

When I lived in Spain in the 30s, the Duque de Alba was an august figure whom Don Alberto Jimémez Frau, the president of the Residencia de Estudiantes, mentioned with deep respect as some kind of trustee of the Residencia: I never met him, but I visited his impressive Palacio de Liria, which had a great art collection. During the Civil War, the mob tried to ransack the place, but the collection was saved.

I forgot about him and his family, which had ties to the British nobility. He was Jacobo Stuart Fitzjames y Falcó, 17th Duque de Alba. Then last week Spanish news made a great fuss about the death of the Duque de Alba, greatly lamented by the literary and intellectual community. I asked for clarification. Jorge Planas enlightened me:

"You obviously haven't read the gossip magazines of the last thirty years. The Duke of Alba --in fact the Duque Consorte, as she is the real Duchess (at one point known as the "Duquesa Roja" for her left-leaning political views)-- and his family are very well known; for instance, their only daughter married a famous bullfighter in the best Spanish tradition.

Nobility is officially recognized, and the hereditary system is alive and kicking. The difference with Alfonso XIII's reign is that the King does not have a "camarilla" of nobles. He is surrounded by "common folk", nd being a Duke or Count will not give you more access to him.

Over the last few years I've been reading your frequent comments to the list and have the feeling that the Spain you knew and remember has little to do --thank God!-- with the Spain today. I would advise reading the newspapers online (El Pais and El Mundo, to see two different perspectives --and Hola! too for the gossip) to keep abreast of what is happening."

My reply: As usual, I am confused. Although the Duque de Alba was a liberal, he served as Franco's ambassador in London. Born in 1878, he died in 1953. Did he return to Madrid and live in the Palacio de Liria? Was the "Red Duchess" his daughter? I can find nothing about her. Was the Duque who died her husband? Why was he lamented by intellectuals and literary folk? Is there now a Duque de Alba? I thought Alba was Alba de Tormes, near Salamanca, but I can find no trace of the place. The only Alba listed is in Italy. Why is the family vault of the Alba family in the province of Avila?

As for nobility, I have consulted several references to the present Spanish constitution, and I find no reference to nobility. Then how is "nobility officially recognized"? Since I do not read the gossip magazines, I musk ask Jorge Planas or some one equally well informed to shed light on my darkness. I will start reading the gossip magazines.

Ronald Hilton - 5/21/01