Spaniards enthralled as rich duchess marries younger man

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Spain's fabulously wealthy 85-year-old Duchess of Alba marries a civil servant 25 years her junior Wednesday in a story of love and riches that has gripped the nation.

The twice-widowed aristocrat, renowned for her frizzy hair, glamourous social life and colourful dress sense, is tying the knot in the chapel of her 15th century Palacio de las Duenas in Seville.

Guests of the duchess, who as head of the house of Alba is said to have the right to enter Seville cathedral on horseback, will be restricted mostly to family -- reportedly 30-60 people.

It is a dramatic change from Maria del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James-Stuart's first marriage in October 1947 when the 21-year-old bride had 1,000 guests and wore gems reportedly worth 1.5 million dollars even then.

A report in the New York Times at the time described those nuptuals as "Spain's most elaborate social event since the end of the monarchy".

On the eve of the duchess' third marriage, two designers of the wedding dress, which remains a secret, were seen leaving the palace where a crowd of journalists waited for details.

"Everything is fine, the duchess is happy. She is the only one to have seen it," one of them confided.

In a Seville shop, De Triana, owner Juan Carlos Ramos Picchi said souvenirs including T-shirts, badges, masks, wigs and dolls of the duchess and her fiancee were selling fast.

"Clients include people who admire the duchess and just as many youngsters who take it as a joke," he said.

Spain's media, particularly the lively gossip shows and press, are devouring every detail.

Gossip web site Divinity said the couple would offer guests a wedding meal with Spanish and British-inspired dishes including gazpacho soup, rice with spicy lobster, beef Wellington and rice pudding.

But it is the story of the love match and the suspicions of the duchess' children that her beloved may be a gold digger that has really fascinated Spaniards.

The noblewoman has said she had to work hard to overcome her offspring's objections.

She showered her five sons and one daughter several months ago with much of her estate -- palaces, mansions and treasures including masterpieces by artists from Goya to Velazquez, Murillo, Rembrandt and Rubens.

But she kept control over the assets, ranging from the palaces to lavish estates reputedly worth between 600 million and 3.5 billion euros ($850 million and $5.0 billion), until her death.

As a strict Roman Catholic, the duchess said in an interview on the eve of the wedding that she had no choice but to marry.

"I am anti-divorce, anti-abortion, anti all those atrocities," she said in an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE.

"I am a Catholic and I practise it. That is why I am marrying for a third time," said the duchess.

"Unfortunately my previous two husbands died."

The duchess, who has more titles than any other noble on Earth according to Guinness World Records, said there had been opposition to the marriage from her children and friends "until they realized the calibre of the man he was, he is".

Many people in Seville support the aristocrat's decision to tie the knot again.

"Age has nothing to do with it. As long as there is love, that's the most important thing. They want to get married, that's all. She is happy and she is doing what she really wants," Seville resident Concepcion Arrincon said when asked about the marriage.

According to the Spanish press, the duchess has already introduced her betrothed to King Juan Carlos, who gave his blessing.

Adding to the scandal over the family intrigue, Spain's racy magazine Interview this week published a 30-year-old photograph of the duchess as she sunbathed topless in Ibiza.

"We are considering suing for interfering with her rights to privacy," her friend and lawyer Javier Saavedra was quoted as telling show business news site Vanitatis.

© 2011 AFP

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