MADRID — It's the stuff of a soap opera starring European nobles: at age 85, one of Spain's richest and most title-laden women wants to wed a civil servant young enough to be her son. To placate her six wary children, she's signed over to them palatial chunks of her wealth.
She's a distant relative of Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill and you have to take a deep breath just to pronounce her name: Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva.
The twice-married matriarch's supreme title is Duchess of Alba, but she has more than 40 others. Her 60-year-old beau is a man named Alfonso Diez, who works for the Spanish social security administration.
They first met decades ago because her then husband — No. 2 — was friends with Diez's brother, an antiques dealer, and after running into each at a movie theater about three years ago the duchess and Diez eventually started dating.
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The Duchess of Alba said in a rare radio interview early this year that she wanted to marry Diez but her children — five men and a woman — were against it. She denied any suggestion Diez was a gold-digger.
"Alfonso does not want anything. He has renounced everything," she told COPE radio. "All he wants is me."
Last month the duchess and her children went to a notary in Madrid and she registered them to be owners of palaces, castles and other property around Spain upon her death, according to widespread Spanish press reports. For now, though, she will retain control of the fortune of the more than 500-year-old House of Alba.
A representative for the duchess, Lola Morali, declined to comment, saying in an email Wednesday that she and the duchess were on vacation until September.
The early divvying up of most of the vast family pie appears to have appeased her children at least somewhat.
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Her youngest son, Cayetano Martinez de Irujo, age 48, said last week of his mother's desire to marry Diez: "We have found the solution for her to be able to do it."
He said he and his siblings remained unenthused, however, about the idea of nuptials.
"I absolutely accept their relationship, if it is what they say it is," Martinez de Irujo said, but insisted they should not wed.
"If in the end my mother decides to get married, we will attend even though we still do not agree," Martinez de Irujo told the newspaper El Mundo.
Another newspaper, El Pais, said estimates of the duchess' wealth — it includes paintings by Goya and Velazquez and a first edition copy of Cervantes' "Don Quixote" — range widely from $856 million to $5 billion.
But her fortune is hard to calculate. Partly it's because some of it is in stocks — by nature volatile, especially these days. And the art masterpieces, classified as Spanish national heritage by the government, cannot be removed from the country and thus would be less pricey if auctioned, according to Jose Luis Sampredro, a historian who has written a book on the House of Alba.
What's more, the duchess possesses things like historical documents that are simply priceless, Sampredro said in an interview.
"Who can say how much a letter from Christopher Columbus is worth, and she has several," he said.
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