Biography of Duchess of Alba

María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo (Madrid, Spain, June 10, 1762 – ibid., 1802).

Better known as the Thirteenth Duchess of Alba, she is a noblewoman of Spanish origin, who became the heiress of the Duchy of Alba, in 1776, after the death of her grandfather, from whom she received this noble title, among twenty others. Her heritage by paternal and maternal means, made her the noble woman who has received the most noble titles in history, as well as one of the richest women of her time.

Rebellious and extroverted in nature, she was the protagonist of major scandals, which astonished the Court. Among many of the legends that haunt the life of this Duchess is the one that points to her as the possible model of the work “La maja desnuda” by the Spanish painter Francisco de Goya, with whom it is said that she had a passionate loving relationship.

Early Life

María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva y Alvarez de Toledo was born on June 10, 1762, in Madrid, Spain, the daughter of the thirteenth Duke of Huescar, Francisco de Paula de Silva and his wife, María del Pilar Ana de Silva and Sarmiento de Sotomayor , who descended from the Count of Salvatierra and was also the eighth marquise of Santa Cruz.

Her early childhood took place between the walls of the palace of the Casa de Alba, located in the center of Madrid. However, Cayetana became accustomed to escape the Palace, to roam the streets of the city, with her nanny Maria Troyre, although sometimes she also ventured alone.

Her parents, upon discovering the fact, tried to take steps to prevent it, among which, as historians refer, even to have moved from the city, to move to buenavista Palace.

When Cayetana turned eight years old, she lost her father, thus becoming the only heir esprieur of her grandfather, who only five years later decided to marry her to the sixteenth Duke of Medina Sidonia, José María Alvarez de Toledo and Gonzaga and Pérez de Guzmán , who was both a cousin of this future Duchess. As some historians point out, this union was planned by Fernando de Silva in order to restore in the Duchy of Alba, the surname Alvarez de Toledo.


Once married, however, her new husband had to wait a while to sum up the union, because Cayetana was so young that she had not yet had her menarche. In this situation, Cayetana was apparently not satisfied either.

In search of new adventures, he resumed her habit of escaping the Palace, and getting lost in the crowd disguised as a maja, an identity she used to participate in the popular festivities.

Not content with that, the young noblewoman began to organize in the palace of the Duchy large parties to which she invited the people to participate, causing the stupor of the members of the Court.

In 1776, her grandfather Francisco de Silva died, at which time Cayetana became the thirteenth Duchess of Alba and the second woman to hold this noble title.

Along with duchess, her grandfather gave her an inheritance twenty more titles along with five Spanish greatnesses, which together with the heritage from the states of the House of Oropesa, of whom she was heiress also by paternal means, made her one of the richest women of the moment, as well as one of the most influential nobles of the Spanish court.

Intrigues in court

Likewise, the figure of the Duchess of Alba was related in deep enmities with other nobles such as the Princess of Asturias, Maria Luisa, with whom she entered into a relationship of rivalry for years, which had its origin in the figure of Juan Pignatelli, son of the Count Italian Joaquín Pignatelli, with whom Cayetana’s mother married in second nuptials.

Apparently, according to historians, the Duchess of Alba maintained a loving relationship with John Pignatelli, who also caught the attention of Princess Maria Luisa. The enmity between these two nobles even transcended the loss of interest in Pignatelli.

A despite the Princess’s enemy, the Duchess poured her hatred on Manuel Godoy, when this man, who did not hold any noble titles, became a lover of the now queen Maria Luisa. Based on courtly resentment about the figure of this man, regarded as a exploited, Cayetana made their lives impossible.

She also struck up a strong enmity relationship with the Duchess of Osuna, apparently also for sentimental reasons. However, some time later exhausted from this environment of intrigue, Cayetana left Madrid, settling between the Palacio de Piedradhita and Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

Goya and final years

During this time, historians point out that the Duchess of Alba maintained an impassioned relationship with the painter Francisco de Goya, who portrayed her on several occasions. There are even those who claim that Goya was inspired by the Duchess’s body to paint her work “The Naked Maja”.

Finally, in 1802, at the age of forty, he died in Madrid, María del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva and Alvarez de Toledo, the Duchess of Alba. The causes of her death remain a mystery, some historians handle various causes ranging from suicide or poisoning. With no direct offspring, Alba’s house named the Dukes of Berwick, the Fitz-James Stuart, as new heirs.

Biography of Duchess of Alba
Source: Education  
August 14, 2019

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