Escándalo! Spain’s Duchess of Alba, 85, Marries a Much Younger Commoner

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REUTERS/Javier Diaz

Spain's Duchess of Alba Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva (L) and her husband Alfonso Diez wave at the entrance of Las Duenas Palace after their wedding in Seville October 5, 2011.

The Duchess of Alba—one of Spain’s wealthiest women—has defied her children’s wishes and married a civil servant 24 years her junior.

On Oct. 5 the 85-year old exchanged vows with Alfonso Diez, 61, at a small ceremony held at Palacio de las Duenas, her 15th-century residence in Seville’s old quarter. The eccentric duchess, who has never tried to tame her frizzy white hair, wore a salmon-pink knee-length dress with moss-green sash. She performed the flamenco on the street after tossing her bouquet into the crowd of well-wishers.

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The duchess, whose full name is Maria del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva, simply goes by Cayetana. Her family’s protests reportedly stem from their suspicions about Diez’s motives for marrying the twice-widowed octogenarian. Cayetana sits on a fortune estimated at up to €3.5 billion ($4.7 billion). In addition to owning countless castles, palaces, and other historic homes, her estate includes letters written by Christopher Columbus, an original edition of Cervantes’ “El Quixote,” and paintings by Goya and Velazquez. Her husband, on the other hand, earns $2,000 a month as an employee of the social security administration, and he now has plans to take a leave of absence from his job.

The newlyweds took a number of steps to allay suspicions ahead of their nuptials. Diez renounced any claim to the family fortune, and in August the duchess spelled out her inheritance plans. Besides letting each of her children know precisely what is coming down the pipeline after her death, she made it clear that she and she alone rules over her love life.

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“I have a young personality and I don’t pay attention to numbers,” she said on Spanish radio recently. “Alfonso has known me for 30 years, and he fell in love with me at first sight. But I married [someone else] and he had other relationships. Until one day three years ago, when we spontaneously fell into each others’ arms…But my children are making it hard on me. [Alfonso] doesn’t want anything except me.” According to the Daily Telegraph she also questioned whether her children had any moral ground to stand on ahead of her big day: “They don’t want me to marry, but they change partners more often than I do.”

More than 1,000 guests attended Cayetana’s first wedding in 1947 when she was a blushing 21-year old bride. The New York Times described it as “Spain’s most elaborate social event since the end of the monarchy,” and the duchess reportedly wore gems worth more than $1.5 million.

Wednesday’s wedding was an altogether more muted affair, with just 40 close family and friends in attendance. The menu consisted of gazpacho, beef Wellington and rice with spicy lobster—her favorite dish.

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William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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