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Duchess of Medina Sidonia

Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo, the 21st Duchess of Medina Sidonia, died at her residence in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cádiz province, on 7th March 2008, at the age of 71. She passed away in her 15th century Ducal Palace, the ducal residence since the 16th century, and her ancestors’ residence since the late 13th century.

Born in Escoril, Portugal, in August 1936, where her family was living in exile, the Duchess came from one of the oldest noble families in Spain. The Duchy of Medina Sidonia is the oldest hereditary title in existence, and was awarded by Juan II to Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, the Count of Niebla, in 1445 for services to the crown of Castilla.

Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo - Photo abcblogs.abc.es

The Duchess also held the title of Marquesa de los Vélez and Marquesa de Villafranca del Bierzo, was a three times Grandee of Spain, and held 12 titles recognised by the Italian nobility. Her father was Joaquín Álvarez de Toledo y Caro, the XX Duque de Medina Sidonia, and her mother, Carmen Maura Herrera, the daughter of the I Duque de Maura, who was in turn the son of Antonio Maura, five times President of the Spanish government in the early 20th century under Alfonso XIII.

Luisa Isabel was 10 years old when her mother died and her care passed to her maternal grandmother, the Condesa de la Mortera, until her marriage in 1955. She was presented in society in Estoril with the Infanta Pilar de Borbón, sister of the current King of Spain, at the age of 18, and married José Leoncio González de Gregorio the month before her 19th birthday, with whom she had three children before the marriage broke up. She inherited the title of Duquesa de Medina Sidonia at the age of 19, five months after her marriage.

The Duchess was a member of the Socialist Party and was known for her opposition to the Franco regime. She spent seven months in prison in 1969 for taking part in a protest to defend the rights of farmers whose land was contaminated by the nuclear bomb accident in Palomares, Almería province, in 1966, and from then on became known as the ‘Red Duchess.’

The publication of her first novel, ‘La Huelga’ – ‘The Strike,’ the previous year led to action against the Duchess from a military court and she decided to leave Spain. She lived in Hasparren, in the French Pyrenées-Atlantique, for seven years before returning to her home in Mortera, Cantabria, in 1976. There, she was arrested again on the charge of assaulting an officer. She received six months, but did not enter prison.

Luisa Isabel Álvarez de Toledo was not only a novelist but also a historian, and lived in her palace in Sanlúcar with the most important private archive in Europe, said to be more than one million historical documents. She spent the latter years of her life cataloguing this legacy, in the residence where he ancestors have lived since 1297. The Duchess said in an interview in 2004 that the oldest document in the archive dates from 1128, and published a book ‘Africa versus America’ at the beginning of this decade, the result of years of exhaustive research of her own archive and others in Spain. In it, she challenged the official history that the Americas were discovered by Christopher Columbus, claiming that trade had been taking place across the Atlantic for centuries before the official ‘Discovery.’

Luis Isabel Álvarez de Toledo, XXI Duquesa de Medina Sidonia, died just two weeks after her former husband, Leoncio González de Gregorio, also passed away on 23rd February 2008.

She leaves three children: her youngest child, Gabriel Ernesto González de Gregorio y Álvarez y Toledo; her daughter, María del Pilar Leticia González de Gregorio y Álvarez de Toledo, now the XVI Duquesa de Fernandina; and her eldest son, Leoncio Alonso González de Gregorio y Álvarez y Toledo, the Count of Niebla, and now the XXII Duque de Medina Sidonia, the Marqués de Villafranca del Bierzo, Marqués de los Vélez, and a three times Grandee of Spain.