Sunday, December 9, 2018

DAY 44: Presentation at Court

Worth Court presentation gown, probably late 1890s
Not long after her marriage to Lord Randolph Churchill in April, 1874, Jennie Jerome was presented at Court. Queen Victoria's formal public acknowledgment of a young woman was a necessary prerequisite to her acceptance in Society, and Randolph's mother, Fanny, Duchess of Marlborough, would have planned her assault on Buckingham Palace as grimly as any field marshal. Queen Victoria disliked Trans-Atlantic marriages. She was not particularly fond of American women--lacking rank, birth, and precedence, they were so difficult to place on seating charts. In her memoirs, Jennie writes that she was "dreadfully frightened" to meet the Queen; but I suspect that's bunk. Jennie was rarely frightened of anything. But she hated to look like a fool. And when an unschooled American attempts to master British Court etiquette, she invites embarrassment.

Victoria's Court was rigid with ritual. The Court Drawing Rooms, as presentation ceremonies were known, occurred only four times each year--twice before Easter, and twice after. When the dates were published, Buckingham Palace was flooded with requests for ladies' presentation. Approval--and an invitation to attend the Queen's Drawing Room--was granted on three conditions: The lady must be of good moral character; she must be sponsored by a lady already presented at Court; and she must have status
Kissing Victoria's hand. To the Queen's right, the Royal Princesses, Princess Alix, and Bertie. 

Status, of course, was determined by the Palace.

Daughters or spouses of the nobility naturally had status--their titles, even if only courtesy titles like Jennie's, proved it. A titled lady would kiss the Queen's hand, then be raised and kissed by the Queen on her cheek. Untitled women who were accorded the privilege of Presentation were required to kiss the Sovereign's hand, but were not kissed in return.


Edwardian Court Presenation Gown. Note the position
of the three plumes.

Court dress was also fiercely pre-determined, and ladies were informed of the dress code on their invitations to the Drawing Room. A low-cut bodice, short sleeves, a train at least three yards long draped from the shoulders and exactly 54 inches at its furthest end, the gown white if the lady was unmarried, and preferably white even if she was. 

A headdress of white plumes was also required--two plumes if the girl was single, three if she was married, arranged like the plumes on the Prince of Wales's crest, and set on the left side of the head. (Why left? Because the Queen might kiss the lady's right cheek, and might sneeze if grazed by a waving feather.) 





Emily Warren Robling's presentation gown, 1896

If a lady was past her first blush, she was no longer required to bare her arms or decolletage, and her gown could be colored rather than white. The Presentation gown shown here, for example, was worn by Emily Warren Robling--the American who oversaw the successful completion of the Brooklyn Bridge after her engineer husband died. Emily was fifty-six years old when she was presented to Victoria in 1896, and her gold and purple gown reflects her personal sense of status. But Mrs. Robling was a rarity. 

Victoria held her Drawing Rooms at 3 p.m., but a few seconds of individual glory could demand a woman's entire day. In order to arrive in time, ladies lined up in a series of carriages the length of Pall Mall, snarling London traffic abominably. Once admitted to the Palace, they shifted their trains over their left arms, followed a footman through a series of rooms and queues of other girls, ending eventually at the threshold of the Throne Room--at which point the train was dropped, arranged carefully in the lady's wake, and she was announced to the Queen.
Jennie may have attended this particular Drawing Room in 1874

Jennie describes herself approaching Victoria and performing the required deep curtsey, so deep it approximated kneeling. She would already have removed her right glove, and while still in her curtsey, placed her bare hand beneath Victoria's, bending to kiss the back of the sovereign's palm. To Jennie's surprise, however, Victoria then lifted her and kissed her cheek. Jennie claims she was so flustered she kissed Victoria back. 

Apparently Duchess Fanny failed to think of everything. These raw Americans!



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Saturday, December 8, 2018

DAY 45: Steadfast Tin Soldiers


Visitors to Blenheim Palace are at times ambivalent about the place. But the one thing most unequivocally seem to love are the cases full of toy soldiers.

A caveat, however: The collection on display, manufactured by French firm Lucotte, is not Winston Churchill's, but those of his friend Paul Maze, meant to convey what Winston's collection might have looked like. Churchill's toy soldiers are lost to time. Perhaps they were manhandled by his son and grandson to the point where they had to be tossed. Perhaps an evil Jack-in-the-Box cursed them to fall down a drain or melt to only a lead heart in the nursery fire. In any case, just 44 cavalry and 53 foot soldiers thought to be Churchill's remain. They're on display at the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms in London. 

Winston Churchill's German-made lead soldiers, Cabinet War Rooms

As Churchill students tend to know, he received his first set of soldiers when he was seven, and continued collecting and deploying them up to his departure for Sandhurst--Britain's Royal Military College--at the age of 19. The massive trestle table that filled the nursery attic at No. 2 Connaught Place was Churchill's drawing board and training ground for military strategy. His favorite historical battles to re-enact, and at times rewrite, were Waterloo and the Battle of Blenheim, won by his ancestor John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough. But over time his collection expanded to number some 1500 soldiers of every description. 




Churchill recalls in his memoir My Early Life that his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, paid a rare visit to the nursery when his son was 12, and stumbled on the trestle table full of embattled figures. From that point on, Randolph decided Winston was destined for the army. Winston noted wistfully that he assumed his father had detected some genius for strategy in his obsession with soldiers. But in fact, Winston later learned, Randolph simply thought he was too stupid for any other career. 


It was one of a long string of misjudgments Randolph Churchill made regarding his elder son. 
Paul Maze collection of toy soldiers displayed at Blenheim Palace


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Friday, December 7, 2018

DAY 46: Evening Cloaks

When a Gilded Age woman ventured outdoors in the evening, she was usually attired in a ball gown or an evening dress meant to be seen in public. In the cooler months, she would throw over it an evening cape or coat. This could be a cloud of silk, like the Worth evening coat at left, or something more substantial in velvet and fur.

These evening wraps were much more elegant than the sort of rag you'd toss over a carriage or afternoon dress to visit Parliament. They were embroidered, sequined, tasseled, and beaded. They were magnificent peacock garments glimpsed only as a lady stepped into and out of a carriage--unless one was fortunate enough to be traveling with her.










All those I'm throwing down here were designed and executed by the House of Worth, some by Charles Frederick and others by his son Jean Philippe. 













Silk-metallic embroidered velvet for winter; silk charmeuse and lace for spring. 




And then there's this swoon-worthy embroidered cloak below, called Tulipes Hollandaises--Holland Tulips.



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Thursday, December 6, 2018

DAY 47: Cairn Terriers. The Churchill Family Dog.

Cairn Terrier puppy
Any one who knows me understands that my dogs are family. I have been owned for much of my life by terriers--Airedales and Westies, in fact--and I'd be absolutely blissful if a rescue Scottie came my way. I'd have been open to gratuitously adding a dog as a character in That Churchill Woman without a second thought. But happily, Jennie was also smitten with terriers. And thus we have an opportunity to discuss what happens when Research and Fiction collide.

Jennie shared her time with Cairns. These are smallish terriers, around fifteen pounds of fighting weight, that are happy-go-lucky rodent hunters bred in the rocky landscape of Scotland. Here's a close-up of Jennie holding hers in the mid-1880s.

searched valiantly for some clue as to this pup's name, origins, age--anything that might inform his (or her) existence in the novel. I found nothing. No reference to canines appears in her letters. Had Jennie lived before the historical turning-point of photographic archives, we might never have known she owned dogs at all. 

But then I stumbled over these two pictures of her teenaged sons in childhood, posing on an immense bit of statuary at Blenheim. And being kids, they're taking turns posing with their dog.
Winston, left and Jack Churchill, with terrier


Jack, left, and Winston Churchill, with terrier
That doesn't look like a Cairn, you say. That looks like some aberrant Yorkie. True, but most terriers were mixed in breeding up to the turn of nineteenth century. Scotties, Westies, Skye Terriers and Cairns were ambiguously known as the catch-all Scotch Terriers. It was only in 1913 that the Cairn was standardized; and as any terrier owner knows, a dog in need of a grooming can look like any sort of clown. The dog pictured above is crying out for grooming.

I was reasonably confident as a result of these images that I could insert a few Cairns into Jennie's life. The first, acquired in Newport after the death of her sister Camille, is Nero; a later descendant is named for Napoleon Bonaparte. Cairns, like all terriers, are small of stature but great of heart. They deserve the names of the Mighty.


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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

DAY 48: Margot and The Souls

Margot Tennant, by John Singer Sargent
It was inevitable that Margot Tennant would end up in Jennie Churchill's dining room at No. 2 Connaught Place one night in the mid-1880s. They were two of the most intelligent and fascinating women in London, although Margot was a decade younger. 

As Margot explains in her memoirs, she was an artless ingenue in a white muslin dress, who stumbled into Jennie's evening party--almost a ball--for Prince Albert Edward of Wales and Princess Alix. Margot's father, who was a Liberal MP, had brought her along as his plus-one on the spur of the moment, and Margot was woefully underdressed. But this ingenuous tale ignores the fact that Margot always gave as good as she got: When Daisy Warwick, Bertie's mistress at the time, tittered over "the girl who came out in her nightdress," it was Margot who sat between Randolph Churchill and the Prince at dinner.

Bertie referred to her--approvingly?--as an Original. 
Margot remembered Jennie's brilliant eyes, as everyone did, and the warmth and sincerity of her welcome.

By the night of that encounter between the two women in Connaught Place, Margot was already a Fashionable Sensation. Raised by a Scottish industrialist, Charles Tennant, who was knighted for his wealth and influence, Margot was the sixth daughter and eleventh child to grow up fairly wild on the family's considerable Peeblesshire estate. She and her sister Laura were renowned beauties when they "came out" in London in 1881 (Margot was only 17); and being as intelligent and witty as they were attractive, they collected around them some of the most interesting men in Britain. The group met in the evenings in the  Tennant girls' Night Nursery on Grosvenor Square to discuss Art and Ideas and the Modern, without the dissension of politics. 

They called themselves The Souls. 
Arthur Balfour, George Curzon, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Lord and Lady Elcho, George and Percy Wyndham and their sisters, who married other Souls, including Margot's brother George Tennant; Harry Cust, Violet Manners (the Duchess of Rutland) and her daughter by Harry Cust, Diana Manners. Alfred Lyttleton, who would marry Laura Tennant, and the Grenfells--Baron and Lady Desborough.



The Wyndham Sisters: Lady Elcho, Mrs. Adeane, and Mrs. Tennant, by Sargent, 1899.
MetMuseum.org


John Singer Sargent painted the three Wyndham girls, of course. He was practically a Soul himself.

There was a great deal of overlap between this younger generation and Jennie's Marlborough House Set; but the Souls represented something different--a seeking after the Intellectual, which was rarely tolerated among Bertie's more frivolous and materialistic friends. Jennie was admitted to the Souls, however, and managed to bridge both age groups and both kinds of Society. She and Margot, although at times rivals for attention and public interest, were fundamentally friends.

And what of Margot?
She went on, after her sister Laura's early death in childbed, to marry Herbert Henry Asquith in 1894. H.H. was an Oxford-trained barrister and Liberal MP, a self-made man, an older widower with five children to raise. Margot became a stepmother to strong-willed and brilliant people not always ready to embrace her equally vibrant personality--chief among them eldest son Raymond Asquith, who died in the trenches of the Great War, and Violet, the youngest Asquith child, who fell violently in love with Winston Churchill in the years before his marriage to Clementine Hozier. 

H. H. Asquith became Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1908, was roundly criticized for his Government's unpreparedness for war by 1915, was voted out of office in 1916 and presided over the demise of the Liberal Party by 1918. Margot's pacificism was a public flashpoint during the war that probably helped end his political career. She and H.H. had five more children, but only two survived infancy. After her husband's death in 1928, Margot--by then Countess of Oxford and Asquith, due to the title bestowed on her late husband--struggled to maintain her place in Society on meagre financial means. 



Here she is, however, photographed by Cecil Beaton in 1927.

The Original.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

DAY 49: It's December. Which Means: Skating.

Victorian women exercised more than we think, as I've previously discussed in posts about riding, archery, fencing, and tennis, not to mention shooting. But in the winter months, they loved to skate. Jennie Churchill was no exception.

Jennie learned to skate at her father's Bathgate estate outside Manhattan, Jerome Park. Leonard Jerome built a winter weekend escape for his girls on the property, which was the site of Thoroughbred racing in spring and summer--but in winter, the public came to skate on Bathgate's ice. In THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, I suggest Jennie learned to figure-skate from Fanny Ronalds, whose relationship with Leonard Jerome was ending by the winter of 1867 when Jennie was thirteen. By the time the ice melted, the Jerome women would be neck-deep in plans to move to France, along with Fanny. But that winter, she and Jennie twirled on the Bathgate ice.

What would they have worn?
Worth Skating Coat with mink trim


Shorter-than-usual skirts were permitted, for safety reasons on the ice, and they offered a glimpse of a neat ankle encased in leather boots with silver blades. Sometimes the blades were simpler--and strapped straight onto the wearer's shoes. Such models were less stable, obviously, than integrated ones--but they were also much cheaper.
1880s Skating jacket

Lamb cape


With the skirts, a winter skating jacket or cape was usual. A warm hat for the head. And a fur muff for the hands.

Whether one could breathe during such vigorous exercise, given the tight-lacing that was the norm, is of course debatable. But what we can state with certainty is that skating parties were opportunities for flirtation and courtship, as men and women gathered in the sparkling air, laughing and performing, while fires burned on the snowy banks of the pond.

Wooden strap-on skates
Velvet and chincilla ensemble...with tassels!

Happy Holidays!
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Monday, December 3, 2018

DAY 50: John Singer Sargent

Jennie by Sargent--the sketch was Winston's favorite,
and hangs still at Chartwell.
I'm a fan of the painter who captured the Gilded Age, who was almost as much of a celebrity as one of the Vanderbilts or Astors, and whose artistic talent was quite probably overshadowed and eventually discounted because however unwillingly, he seemed to be one of the glitterati. 

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)--whose sketch of Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill, is at left--is best remembered for his full-length oil paintings of people who could pay for them. They evoke the Gilded Age as surely as Cecil Beaton's photos mean the 1940s or Robert Mapplethorpe's the 1980s. All three men were preoccupied with the nature of human beauty. And they saw it where others might see only raw ugliness.

The entire world is familiar with Sargent's painting of Jennie's niece and nephew, Consuelo (Vanderbilt), Duchess of Marlborough and Sunny (Spencer-Churchill), Duke of Marlborough, with their children. The family's perfunctory misery is palpable despite the richness of the portrait, which hangs at Blenheim Palace.


The painting of Sargent's I love most is El Jaleo, which pierces the darkness of an alcove at the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston.
El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum



It's his sketches, however, that most reveal the artist's inner life.
Sargent sketched, as most artists do, to capture swift studies of gestures, faces, pure lines that might find their way later into a larger study. For example, his sketch of a child on the left that feels like it lives in oil and color in Boy on a Beach, at right. The artistic habit means we have many sketches of the male torso and groin; many of various profiles; of hands open and fisted; of arms flexed and slack. We have the studies of wounded soldiers from a dressing station near Arras in 1918 that would eventually find their way into Gassed, Sargent's monumental painting commissioned by the British Government.






From the National WWI Museum catalogue describing the resulting painting, displayed there this year:

"The final product, Gassed, measures more than nine feet tall and 21-feet long. Considered one of the most important war-related works of the past several centuries, Gassed was hailed as “monumental” by the New York Times, a “masterpiece” by the Daily Mail, “magnificent” by the Telegraph, “epic” by the Associated Press and “extraordinary” by The Guardian.
The panoramic scene not only shows the devastation to the young men in uniform, but in an ironic juxtaposition, a football (soccer) game is being played in the background seemingly unaware of the damaged and blinded parade of Tommies (the nickname of British soldiers)."
Gassed, by John Singer Sargent. Imperial War Museum, London.

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

DAY 51: The Scent of a Woman

1880s Moser enameled glass bottle
I would like to state at the outset that I know next to nothing about this subject--Victorian perfume bottles. They're gorgeous. They're highly collectible. Astoundingly--as many are GLASS--they've survived more than a century of use and potential catastrophe. 

But here's what I can tell you: In an era when nobody used more than talcum powder to mitigate sweat and bodily odors, scent was a part of genteel life. What did Jennie Jerome Spencer-Churchill prefer to wear? I have no idea--but I assume she patronized French perfumers from an early age. 

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, perfumers often created bespoke fragrances--meaning, each could be unique to the man or woman who purchased it. The scent would be carried home in a utilitarian bottle and funneled into the purchaser's perfume flacons, which might vary in size--from those standing on the dressing table to those carried in evening bags and pocket books. The most interesting of these were diminutive, and had a chain known as a chatelaine attached to them--with a ring at the apex for wearing on a lady's finger.
Baccarat, 1900

The bottles themselves were often fashioned by jewelers, particularly when they were made of silver. It was only in the twentieth century that glass artisans such as Rene Lalique began to collaborate with perfume houses to produce signature bottles for mass-marketed perfumes, and the personal bottles began to disappear.

Hence the real point of this post: A shameless opportunity to share pictures of these exquisite things. Enjoy.



chased silver purse flask with chatelaine



Pierced gilt over red glass, 1850


Silver purse flacon in the shape of a mandolin
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Saturday, December 1, 2018

DAY 52: Birth of a Lion

Winston Churchill as a Harrow schoolboy, 1887

The night of November 28, 1874, Blenheim Palace threw open its doors for the annual St. Andrew's Ball. Twenty year-old Jennie Churchill fully intended to dance a dozen reels down the length of the Long Library, which had been converted to a ballroom for the evening. She had been staying at Blenheim for the past month, but had never seen the palace so festive. Masses of hothouse flowers, glowing branches of candles, and roaring fires; the swirl of silk and velvet; the ladies' furs and wraps piled on the bed of a spare room off the Great Hall, turned ladies' cloak room for the evening. And, of course, music--which Jennie passionately loved.



Dean Jones's Room, Blenheim Palace



The spare bedroom was known as Dean Jones's Room, after the cleric who had served Blenheim in the First Duke's time. The Dean was one of the palace ghosts; he was reported to appear in a blaze of light to those who dared sleep in his bed--bending over their pillow as they screamed. 

In the midst of a dance that night, Jennie Churchill suddenly hurried out of the Long Library, wracked with contractions. She was in labor, seven and a half months after her April wedding. Premature labor, her mother-in-law Duchess Fanny believed, and being Duchess Fanny, she blamed Jennie for it. The girl had gone out in a pony carriage a few days before to watch the gentlemen at their Driven Shoot, and the rough jolting over rutted fields had undoubtedly brought on childbirth.

Or maybe it was the dancing. Or maybe, it was simply time for the baby to be born.
Winston at Blenheim, age 6

The ladies' wraps and furs and velvet cloaks were hurriedly removed from Dean Jones's bed, and Jennie was carried to it. Randolph's mother, aunt, and sister-in-law attended her as the ball went on. She was in labor all Saturday night and Sunday, and as trains rarely ran between London and Woodstock on the Sabbath, her fashionable obstetrician from Town failed to arrive. At 1:30 a.m. on Monday, November 30, 1874, the local Woodstock doctor, Frederic Taylor, delivered Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

"The boy is wonderfully pretty so everybody says dark eyes and hair and very healthy considering its prematureness," Randolph wrote to Clara Jerome. Winston was anything but premature. They named him after both his grandfathers.

That Monday, the change-ringers of Woodstock rang a peal to celebrate the birth of the Duke of Marlborough's grandson. Jennie would have heard the bells rippling through the cold autumn air for hours as she lay in Dean Jones's Room. Winston was baptized in Blenheim Chapel by the Duke's chaplain after Christmas. He would love the place for the rest of his life, returning to it for signal events--such as his proposal of marriage to Clementine Hozier.




Jack, Jennie and Winston Churchill, 1886
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Friday, November 30, 2018

DAY 53: It's Winston Churchill's Birthday...





...And our present to you is Jennie.

Winston Churchill would be 144 years old today...so to celebrate, Penguin Random House is giving away 5 ADVANCE COPIES of THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN. Click on this link and enter to win!


Jack, Jennie, and Winston Spencer-Churchill, 1886



Jennie and I have our fingers crossed for you!