An Edwardian Lady:
Lady Randolph and the Historians
BY JOHN H. MATHER, M. D.
Finest Hour 98
THE magazine Biography in its premiere issue, described Jennie as a vibrant beauty who, like her husband, believed in the right to indulge every whim-including countless love affairs.”1 As members of the Marlborough House Set, whose preeminent host was the Prince of Wales, Lord Randolph Churchill and his gorgeous wife are often inferred to have been a lusty pair.2
Jennie was betimes an eminent Victorian or Georgian lady, as her 67 years spanned monarchies from Queen Victoria to George V, each with their own style of societal relationships.3 But the social elite and significant events in her life are more closely associated with the Edwardian era.4
Her years with Lord Randolph Churchill were at first socially connected to the activities of the Prince of Wales. After their own marriage in 1874, they joined in the merry life of the Marlborough House Set. But just two years later, they were ostracized by the Prince over an argument involving what amounted to a threat by Randolph to blackmail the royal personage-developing out of the behavior of Randolph’s brother, the Marquess of Blandford. This resulted in the temporary exile of the Churchills to Ireland, and it was seven long years before the Prince came to Lord and lady Randolph’s house for dinner with a full and formal reconciliation.5
Three years later in 1886, Jennie complained to his mother, the Duchess of Marlborough, about his sudden coldness toward her.6 The correspondence between husband and wife rapidly returned to exchanges of “Dearest,” which indicates some sort of reconciliation. Some historians have seized upon this to suggest that it was the first indication from Randolph’s physicians that they suspected-however inappropriately-he had syphilis.7 This, they suggest, released Jennie for extramarital affairs, including a possible one with the Prince of Wales.
The Prince had three great extramarital loves: “Lily,” Mrs. Edward Langtree, “Daisy” the Countess of Warwick; and the famous Mrs. Keppell.8 Those who argue that Jennie was a fourth sometimes cite the Prince’s letter to her after Lord Randolph’s death:
“My dear lady Randolph, the sad news reached me this morning that all is over…and I felt that for his and your sakes it was best so….There was a cloud in our relationship but I am glad to think it is long been forgotten by both of us.”9
This, they suggest, was not a reference to the earlier quarrel, but to something of a more intimate nature. There is really very scant evidence of the latter.
True, Lady Randolph was a guest at Sandringham and reveled in dancing with the Prince.10 But many beautiful women did, and by no means all of them ended in his bed.11 A random tryst with no prospect of a permanent relationship seems not to have been Jennie’s wish, despite the strong hints of certain biographers.12 In fact she would marry again twice: George Cornwallis-West (sixteen days older than Winston, and 20 years younger than Jennie) in 1900, separating from him in 1912, and divorcing him in April 1914; and Montagu Porch (who was three years younger than Winston) in 1918, who survived her.
The closest to an intimate romantic relationship during her first marriage seems to have been with the Austrian Count Kinsky, who caused Jennie some pain when he became engaged, to a woman twenty years her junior, while she was accompanying the dying Randolph on a world tour in late 1894. She later wrote: “The bitterness, if there was any, has absolutely left me. He and I have parted the best of friends and in a truly fin de sieclè manner….He has not behaved particularly well and I can’t find much to admire in him but I care for him as some people like opium or drink although they would like not to…”13
The passions of lady Randolph’s life went far beyond the male of the species. She was a lover of literature, music, horses and the hunt-and of her two sons. The support she gave to the demands and budding political career of Winston, who was to achieve his greatest triumphs after her death, was manifest. She probably said it best in her memoirs: “Having been favored by Providence with delightful and absorbing experiences, why should I not record all that I can about them…But there may be some to whom these Reminiscences will be interesting chiefly in virtue of what is left unsaid.”14
1. Dorothy Rompaiske, “Winston Churchill: The Hated Hero,” Biography, January 1997, pp 72-77.
2. Herbert Tingsten, “Meteor and Mountebank: Lord Randolph Churchill,” in Victoria and the Victorians. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 1952, pp 334350.
3. Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians, London: Chatto and Windus 1918; A.N. Wilson, Eminent Victorians, London: Norton and Co. 1989; John Halperin,Eminent Georgians, New York St. Martin’s Press 1995.
4. Pamela Horn, High Society: The English Social Elite, 1880-1914, London: Alan Sutton 1992; Piers Brendon, Eminent Edwardians, Boston: Houghton Miffin 1980; Dudley Barker, Prominent Edwardians, New York Atheneurn 1969.
5. Peregrine Churchill and Julian Mitchell, Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, A Portrait With Letters, London: Arnold 1974, pp 133
6. Anita Leslie, Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, London: Hutchinson 1969, p 108.
7. John Mather, “Lord Randolph Churchill: Maladies et Mort” in Finest Hour 93, Winter 1996-97, pp 23-28.
8. Dulcie M. Ashdown, Royal Paramours, New York Dorset Press 1979, pp 165-176.
9. HRH The Prince of Wales to Lady Randolph, 26 January 1895, Lady Randolph Churchill Letters, Churchill Archives, Cambridge.
10. Rene Kraus, Young Lady Randolph, London: Jarrolds l944, pp 120-6.
11. Gail MacColl and Carol Wallace, To Marry An English Lord, New York Workman 1989.
12. Ralph Martin, Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, (two volumes), London: Prentice-Hall International, Inc. 1969, 1971.
13. Lady Randolph Churchill to Lady Leonie Leslie, 1894, Lady Randolph Churchill Letters, Churchill Archives, Cambridge.
14. Mrs. George Cornwallis-West, Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill, London: Edward Arnold, 1908, p vii.