Duchess of Alba: Spain's richest aristocrat dies aged 88

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Media captionThe Duchess of Alba married Alfonso Diez in 2011

The Duchess of Alba, Spain's richest woman and one of its most eccentric figures, has died aged 88 in Seville.

Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart had more titles than any other aristocrat and owned palaces and an extensive property portfolio as well as paintings by Goya and Velazquez.

She died at home on Thursday after a short illness.

The duchess is survived by her husband of three years, Alfonso Diez, who is 25 years her junior.

The Duchess of Alba was the head of one of Spain's oldest noble families.

Her coffin was taken to the city council building in Seville, where relatives, dignitaries and members of the public paid their respects.

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Image caption The duchess - known for her sense of fun - surprised guests by performing the flamenco at her final wedding in 2011
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Image caption Brooches of the duchess, accentuating the unusual looks she had acquired as a result of plastic surgery, were handed out at her wedding as part of the celebrations
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Image caption Last year the duchess attended the launch of her book What Life Has Taught Me with her husband in Madrid
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Image caption A statue of the duchess already stands in Seville

Spain's 'rebel noble', by Fiona Govan, Madrid

The frizzy-haired eccentric aristocrat was one of Spain's most-loved figures whose antics filled the nation's gossip magazines and gripped the audiences of TV chat shows even during the final months of her long life.

Described as the "rebel noble", she spurned convention to forge her own path in life, following her passion for flamenco and, as a patron of the arts, amassing a private collection of masterpieces said to rival any in Europe.

Her exuberant character, complete with squeaky voice and flamboyant dress-sense, enraptured Spaniards who followed the vicissitudes of her 88 years.

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Image caption The Duchess of Alba, seen here in 1947, was one of Spain's most popular and gossiped-about figures

Once a famed beauty who turned down a request to be Picasso's muse, she shocked the establishment when she married her confessor, a defrocked Jesuit priest, in 1978, six years after the death of her first husband with whom she had six children.

But it was her third marriage to a civil servant 25 years her junior in 2011 that provoked an even bigger scandal, a union that was opposed by her children as well as King Juan Carlos of Spain, but that was welcomed by Spaniards as a colourful drama.

The duchess was the world's most titled person, according to Guinness World Records. She was five times a duchess, 18 times a marchioness, 18 times a countess, 14 times a Spanish grandee and once a viscountess.

She was a regular in Spanish gossip magazines and was famous for hosting Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy on their visits to Spain.

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Image caption The hearse carrying her coffin set off from one of her palaces
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Image caption It was driven to the city council building in Seville
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Image caption Visitors paid their respects as the body lay in state

In 1959, she turned her palace in Madrid over to French designer Yves Saint Laurent for a Dior fashion show.

One of the more memorable images from her latter years came when she flung off her shoes to perform an impromptu flamenco dance before a crowd of photographers and guests at her third wedding in 2011.

"Together we have a wonderful time," her husband Alfonso Diez said in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine.

"It often seems that I'm the older of the two," he said.

Her wealth, estimated at anywhere between €600m (£380m; $753m) and €3.5bn, is expected to be shared among her six children.

In her autobiography, published last year, the Duchess wrote that all she wanted was "health" and to "keep on living".

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