Trial begins over rights to legacy of Spain’s ‘Red Duchess’

Children of anti-Francoist aristocrat claim part of funds she used to set up historical archive

Sanlúcar de Barrameda / Madrid -
The ‘Red Duchess’ (r) with girlfriend Liliane Dahlmann in Gibraltar in 2008.
The ‘Red Duchess’ (r) with girlfriend Liliane Dahlmann in Gibraltar in 2008.

The legal battle over the legacy of Luisa Isabel Alvárez de Toledo y Maura, popularly known as “The Red Duchess,” has begun.

Her three children are claiming inheritance rights to the funds that the aristocrat, who died in 2008, used to create the House of Medina Sidonia Foundation, which contains one of Europe’s most important privately held historical archives.

A court in Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz) will hear a case that is set to last until October 30.

The Red Duchess earned her nickname because of her republican, anti-Franco sentiments

But a group of concerned citizens is moving against the possibility that this legacy, which the government has categorized as a Cultural Asset, might end up in pieces.

This group has collected over 3,000 signatures supporting the preservation of the archive. Supporters of the petition include the writers José Manuel Caballero Bonald, Luis García Montero, Almudena Grandes and Eduardo Mendicutti, as well as the Andalusian regional government, the provincial authority of Cádiz and the local government of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where the archive is housed.

When the 21st Duchess of Medina Sidonia and Grandee of Spain signed her last will in the year 2000, the foundation had been operating for a decade, and she felt that those donated assets were no longer part of her personal property. As such, she did not include them in her inheritance.

Liliane Dahlmann is president of the foundation.
Liliane Dahlmann is president of the foundation.Román Rios

Following her death in March 2008 at the age of 71, her offspring did not officially oppose the contents of the will. Then, three years ago, each one of them filed separate claims on the same day, demanding that the assets of the House of Medina Sidonia Foundation be considered part of their own rightful inheritance.

Just hours before her death, the duchess married Liliane Dahlmann, her longtime lover, who now serves as president of the foundation. She had divorced her husband Leoncio González de Gregorio in 2007.

The descendants of the Red Duchess – who earned her nickname because of her republican, anti-Franco sentiments – now hold that they have the right to two thirds of these assets and that, under Spanish inheritance laws, their mother was only free to dispose of one third of them as she wished.

Experts have appraised the legacy at €60 million, although José Gómez Villegas, spokesman for the board of trustees at the foundation, called the figure “purely theoretical” given the impossibility of putting a monetary value on an archive that dates back to the Middle Ages and has become a reference center for historians.

English version by Susana Urra.

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