22 November 2014

Saturday Sparkler: The Duchess of Alba's Pearl Tiara

Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, 18th Duchess of Alba (GIF source)

There are royals, there are nobles, and then there was Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, the 18th Duchess of Alba. The duchess died this week at the grand old age of 88. During her lifetime, she might have been more famous for her appearance and her marriages, but she also had more legitimately recognized noble titles than anyone else on earth and a diamond and pearl tiara with a serious pedigree. So there!

Empress Eugénie, previous owner of the pearl tiara

Cayetana’s pearl tiara had an illustrious previous owner: Eugénie, the last Empress of France. Eugénie was born in Spain, the daughter of an aristocratic Spanish family. Her sister María Francisca married Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart, the Duke of Alba. (Can you tell that Jacobo had a significant royal connection? That surname means that he was descended from the 1st Duke of Berwick, who was the illegitimate son of James II of England and Arabella Churchill.)

Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, 18th Duchess of Alba (GIF source)

Jacobo and Maria Francisca were the great-grandparents of the late duchess, which means that the French empress was her great-grand-aunt. The tiara traveled through the Alba family tree from Eugénie to Cayetana, whose family still owns it today.

For her first wedding in 1947 (pictured above), Cayetana chose to wear Eugénie’s tiara, which features laurel wreath motifs and alternating upright pearls and square-cut diamonds. The marriage ended with her husband’s death, but the tiara stayed with the family. In 1998, Cayetana’s daughter, Eugenia, wore her namesake’s tiara at her own wedding. That marriage ultimately failed, but I’m loath to declare such a lovely piece to be bad luck! Hopefully, the next Alba bride to sport this sparkler will prove that the third time really is a charm.