29 September 2018

The Duchess of Alba's Pearl Tiara

Eugenia Martínez de Irujo, 12th Duchess of Montoro wears her mother's diamond and pearl tiara on her wedding day in 1998 (screencapture)

There are royals, there are nobles, and then there was Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, the 18th Duchess of Alba. During her lifetime, she may have been mostly 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.

The Palafox y Portocarrero sisters: Paca (who married the 15th Duke of Alba) and Eugénie (who married Emperor Napoleon III of France) [Wikimedia Commons]

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 (known as "Paca") 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 wears the tiara in New York, 1959

Jacobo and Paca were the great-grandparents of the late duchess. The tiara was inherited by Eugénie's Alba relatives, traveled down through the family line to Cayetana.

Cayetana and her first husband, Luis Martínez de Irujo y Artázcoz, on their wedding day in October 1947

For her first wedding in 1947, 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 in 1972, but the tiara, of course, remained with Cayetana.

Cayetana arrives at the Imperial Ball in New York, December 1959

Cayetana was a regular part of the international social scene, so she had plenty of opportunities to wear the diamond and pearl tiara in public. In December 1959, she brought the tiara with her to New York to wear at the Imperial Ball.

Cayetana dances at the Imperial Ball, 1959

The occasion allowed us to see the tiara in motion as she danced the night away.

Eugenia wears the tiara on her wedding day, October 1998

Two decades ago, Cayetana’s daughter, Eugenia, also used her namesake's tiara as a bridal diadem. She wore the tiara as she married bullfighter Francisco Rivera Ordóñez in a grand televised ceremony at Seville Cathedral in October 1998. (The marriage produced a daughter named Cayetana, but the couple ultimately divorced. Eugenia is now married to music executive Narcís Rebollo Melció.)

Cayetana wears the tiara on her wedding day, October 1947

Cayetana died in 2014, and her son Carlos became the 19th Duke of Alba. The tiara reportedly remains with the family today. Hopefully we'll see the piece sparkling on another family bride sometime in the future.

Note: This is an updated version of an earlier post, with new text and images.