Friday, January 18, 2019

DAY 4: Bar Harbor in the Gilded Age

Snow Point, Maine

In the summer of 1894, en route from London to Tokyo, Jennie and Randolph Churchill found themselves in Bar Harbor, Maine. They spent several weeks in a hotel, renewing old acquaintances among the summer residents. Jennie played the piano and danced the Boston--a modified American waltz--at the Kebo Valley Club. At the time, this was a hub of Bar Harbor's summer social life, offering dining, theater, tennis, a racetrack for surrey driving, and six holes of golf.

Kebo Valley Club, 1910

Jennie later described her time in Maine with a faint tinge of disappointment. She found it too similar to Newport, with endless paying of calls among women, social obligations, and multiple daily changes of dress. It's possible she was hoping for something closer to the wildness of her 1860s Newport childhood--a place of solitude and unspoiled beauty, defined by massive granite slabs and crashing surf.

But in the thirty years between nine-year-old Jennie's morning dashes in her donkey cart up and down Newport's Belleview Ave, and thirty-nine-year-old Jennie's determined hikes along the trails of Mount Desert Island, the Gilded Age had succeeded the Civil War Era. Old New York Society and the Titans of Industry had moved their summer lives and cottage habits further north.

Pussy Jones--who comes down to us now as Edith Wharton--suffered her first failed romances in Bar Harbor during the 1880s, including her flirtation with Walter Berry, who would remain in her life forever, and her brief engagement to Harry Stevens, the brother of Jennie's lifelong friend, Minnie Stevens Paget. Edith's brother Freddie Jones owned Reef Point in Bar Harbor, where his daughter, the landscape architect Beatrix Farrand, would design and innovate until her death.

Edith's niece Beatrix Farrand
Reef Point, Bar Harbor, as it looked in Edith Wharton's day

And the Vanderbilts had discovered Maine. Alva Vanderbilt's father-in-law assembled three generations at Devilstone, a house now long since demolished, in the 1880s. But it was Alva's daughter, Consuelo, who fixes the place indelibly in our minds in 1894, the summer she was eighteen. Consuelo fell in love with a Bar Harbor polo player, Winthrop Rutherfurd, that year. She recalls bicycling ahead of Alva on a wooded trail to snatch a few moments of privacy with Winthrop, during which he hurriedly proposed marriage--and she accepted. Once Alva learned of the secret engagement, she practically imprisoned 
Consuelo Vanderbilt by John Singer Sargent
her daughter--according to Consuelo's memoir,
The Glitter and the Gold.  The following November, Consuelo married Jennie's nephew, Sunny, the Ninth Duke of Marlborough.

In her memoirs, Jennie recalls a dinner engagement at Pointe d'Acadie during that summer of 1894. This was the Bar Harbor estate of Alva's younger brother-in-law, George Vanderbilt, who loved Bar Harbor so much that for the outrageous price of $200,000, he purchased an existing estate on a point of land with phenomenal views. He doubled the size of the house, and hired Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds. Pointe d'Acadie had Bar Harbor's first private swimming pool, ocean-fed and lined with granite--something Jennie wrote about later. She was both amused and shocked that men and women swam together in George's saltwater pool--such a promiscuous and unflattering display of flesh, as Jennie put it!

Pointe d'Acadie, George Vanderbilt home in Bar Harbor, 1890s
George would later go on to build Biltmore House, with its grounds also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, outside Ashville, North Carolina.

For more images of people, places and fashion from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

DAY 5: Dog Collars, Part II

Rene Lalique, "Roses" collar plaque, 1900

Princess Alix set the fashion for dog collars in the late Victorian period, but by the end of the Edwardian era, revolutions in jewelry design transformed the style. Rene Lalique, the brilliant French artist who worked in crystal, enamel, glass, and precious metals who dominated the Art Noveau period--took the dog collar concept and created works of heartstopping beauty.

Lalique apprenticed with a well-known Parisian jeweler while attending classes at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. After two years of study in England, he established his reputation as an independent designer for Boucheron and Cartier--then opened his own Paris house in 1885. By 1890, at his third atelier location, he began to experiment with jewelry that incorporated enamel and glass alongside gold, platinum, and precious stones.

Those golden pearls at left are gorgeous, of course, and play off the gold of the roses quite well--but the plaque itself is akin to wearing a stained-glass window. Imagine the suppleness of a woman's throat glimpsed through the enamel and metal.

Lalique's dog collar plaques became The Rage.

Rene Lalique, Two Flute Players, 1898-1900
The pieces were intended to serve as the center of a tight-fitting necklace.  A century on, the strings of jewels to either side that formed the necklace itself are far less valuable than the plaques Lalique designed.

Lalique, "Eagles on a Pine Branch," gold, enamel, opal, 1902

Rene Lalique, "Narcisse," enamel and glass, 1898-1900

"Thistles," courtesy Alsace Lalique Museum

Lalique, "Umbels," 1902

This final image gives a sense of how light--candle light, gas light, moonlight--played off the glass, enamel, gold, and diamond art displayed on a woman's neck.

For more images of people, places and fashion from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

DAY 6: A Passage to Burma

Courtesy, Daily Mail, 2016, from a private photo album dated 1895, Rangoon under British Rule
In an effort to avoid spoilers, I've refrained from discussing the end of Randolph Churchill's life. Suffice it to say that he was dying for much of 1894, and that in the spring of that year he and Jennie decided to take a final journey together, along with her maid Gentry, his valet Walden, and a doctor, George Keith.

Randolph's bucket list had one main goal: To see Burma before he died. 

Lord Randolph Churchill at the end of his life, aged 45
As Secretary for India, his first Cabinet post in 1885, Randolph had almost unilaterally launched the Third Burmese War. It lasted roughly three weeks in November--at which point British forces had deposed the Burmese king of Upper Burma and exiled him to India, ending the Konbaung dynasty and placing the Upper Kingdom under control of the British Raj. Great Britain had already annexed the Lower Kingdom thirty years earlier, during the Second Burmese War, but Lord Randolph regarded finishing the task as his signal accomplishment in government. 

The usual route to Burma would have been to travel east. The Churchills, instead, decided to travel west--beginning their journey in June, 1894 on the docks of Liverpool, bound for New York. From there, the Churchills intended to visit Bar Harbor, Maine; travel across Canada by train, stopping at various towns en route; descend to San Francisco, and from there, set sail for the Far East, their first port of call being Tokyo. They expected the journey to last at least a year.

To finance it, Randolph sold some shares in the Rand gold mine he had helped discover in South Africa; sold No. 2 Connaught Place; and finally, sold his share in the swift and beautiful black racehorse, L'Abbesse de Jouare.

Many of those close to the Churchills, including Fanny, Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, urged Jennie to remain in England and allow Randolph to travel solely with his doctor. Fanny was convinced that Randolph's "nervous condition" would improve if only his annoying wife left him alone. Jennie refused. She understood the facts of Randy's death sentence. It was her duty, she believed, to stand by her husband in his final months.

On June 27th, 1894, Jennie and Randolph embarked on the four-year-old S.S. Majestic, owned by the White Star Line. 

White Star Line's S.S. Majestic, 1890

For more images of people, places and fashion from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

DAY 7: The Dog Collar, Part I

Bertha Palmer's diamond dog collar, Chicago History Museum, ca 1910
Alix in her "Dagmar" pearl and diamond
Coronation collar, 1901
In posts about Alix, Princess of Wales, I've mentioned that she set a fashion in Victorian England for a particular type of necklace--the choker, or dog collar, that fitted closely around the neck. It's believed Alix bore a scar of some kind that no one except her personal maid and Bertie ever saw, because she was never in public without a high-fitting collar that hid most of her neck from view. Sometimes this was cloth--part of her gown--but usually, for evening occasions, it took the form of jewels. Of course, with a neck as long and slim as Alix's, the fashion was also exceedingly attractive. Not to say sexy. 

It was adopted by every woman who could afford the style, and for those who couldn't--even a velvet ribbon tied around the neck was provocative.
Particularly if the velvet ribbon served as a slide for diamonds. The central piece above could be removed, and worn as a brooch, which made it versatile.

Jennie owned very little jewelry of value; her father gave her a slim string of pearls on her engagement, and she was known for the seven-pointed diamond star her mother lent her--and then took back, to give to Jennie's little sister Leonie instead. But even Jennie took to wearing her pearls high on her neck, like a collar.

Here's Consuelo Vanderbilt Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough and Jennie's niece by marriage--the daughter of her childhood friend, Alva. She's dressed for Bertie and Alix's coronation in 1901, when Alix asked her to be one of her ladies-in-waiting, and being famed for her swanlike neck, Consuelo is of course wearing a diamond and pearl dog collar--one her father supposedly gave her as a wedding gift, along with her tiara. The Marlborough family jewels were greatly enhanced by Consuelo's contributions. (Jennie's nephew Sunny, the 9th Duke, married Consuelo for her fortune--reputed to be $100 million in 1895.)

Technical developments around 1900 in the jewelry industry--the refinement of platinum as a metal suitable for settings--revolutionized jewelry design. Platinum is light, flexible, yet strong, making it ideal for ethereal designs that characterized the transition from the Victorian to the Edwardian eras. Some examples, below.

For more images of people, places and fashion from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.   

Monday, January 14, 2019

DAY 8: Polo--A Very Good Death to Die

 Courtesy, Newport Polo Club/Rodrigo Fernandez Photo

Don’t give your son money. As far as you can afford it give him horses. No one ever came to grief— except honourable grief—through riding horses. No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle. Young men have often been ruined through owning horses, or through backing horses, but never through riding them; unless of course they break their necks, which, taken at a gallop, is a very good death to die. 
-- Winston Churchill, My Early Life, 1930
Winston Churchill entered Sandhurst in 1893 as a cavalry officer--his entrance exam marks too low for the more prestigious infantry--and his father, Lord Randolph, was furious. He wrote and sent to Winston the most scathing, contemptible and bitter letter I have ever read from a father to a son, and had Winston committed suicide on receipt of it, history would not have condemned him.

But Winston, used to his father's invective after a lifetime of disappointing him, rallied. He pursued his dream. He had no intention of joining the infantry, even when his marks at Sandhurst improved so dramatically that he qualified for the higher level of assignment.

Why was Randolph furious?

Cavalry meant horses. And horses meant huge expense. Not only the cost of buying them, but of maintaining them. Cavalry officers required a string of mounts, all eating their heads off and requiring stabling, because horses were shot or bayoneted under cavalry officers in the field of battle and had to be replaced on the spur of the moment. And a string of horses meant an additional servant--a competent military groom. All British officers had something called a "batman" beneath them, an enlisted man who served as domestic servant-cum-valet. Managing the horses on top of the officer's camp luggage, wine stores, book trunk and wardrobe was the outside of enough.

Winston adored horses and the cavalry, which allowed him to use his champion fencing skills to paramount advantage. But the cavalry boys at Sandhurst admitted him to another of his lifelong passions: Polo.
Winston Churchill, left, on the polo field

The cadets were officially forbidden to play polo at Sandhurst for reasons of inequality: the game required men to pay for their mounts, and cadets less financially endowed would be barred from the game. This proved irrelevant in Winston's day. The cadets simply hired horses in the neighboring town and played unsanctioned matches on a field outside the academy's walls.

By the time Winston graduated second in his class in horsemanship and eighth in his class of 150 overall, he was already writing excitedly to Jennie of his polo prospects. His words fell on delighted ears. Jennie's father, Leonard Jerome, was one of the people responsible for introducing polo to the United States--Jerome Park was the site of the first polo match in America in 1876, and Leonard also supported polo in Newport. Both lawn tennis and polo grew in popularity in Newport during the Gilded Age, direct imports from Britain. Winston clearly sprang from Leonard and Jennie's horse-loving genes. He adored steeplechasing, flat racing, and hunting, competing in all three sports. At Sandhurst he intended--despite his father's wishes and direct orders--to join the 4th Hussars, one of the most ancient and prestigious cavalry regiments in Britain. And he was determined to earn a spot on their polo team.
Winston, standing right.  Meerut, India, February 1898: The Fourth Hussars team triumphed over the 5th Dragoon Guards, but were beaten by the Durham Light Infantry. L-R: Albert Savory, Reggie Barnes (who had accompanied WSC to Cuba in 1895), Churchill and Reginald Hoare. (Winston S. Churchill, MP)

Which meant, naturally, he needed polo ponies.

In 1895 when Winston began training for the 4th Hussars' team in earnest, polo ponies were not yet being distinctly bred for their sport. Rather, a mount capable of the nimble action necessary in the field had to be selected and trained by a good judge of horseflesh. The most common way of acquiring a good polo pony was when a seasoned military player was forced to sell his string--either because he'd been posted to a place where polo was unknown, or because he'd broken his neck in the field.

Winston appealed to Jennie, who sent him what funds she could--Lord Randolph was dead by this time, his estate had been consumed by his debts, and all the Churchills were living under straitened circumstances. By the time Winston was deployed with the 4th Hussars in India, however, he had a string of five polo ponies and an additional string of cavalry mounts for the field, all of which deployed with him.
Winston Churchill with one of his poly ponies, Hyderabad, 1896

I know nothing about polo. I've read that a game usually lasts an hour, and is divided in periods of seven minutes each--called a chukka. (Why seven minutes?! Because a horse is blown in eight?) Apparently Winston was avid enough he tried to play in ten or twelve chukkas per game. 

While he was in India, Winston's polo performance won the interest of the Aga Khan, who wrote: "It was at Poona in the late summer of 1896 that our paths first crossed...A group of officers of the Fourth Hussars, then stationed at Bangalore, called on me. I was ill at the time, but my cousin showed them my horses. He later told me that among them none had a keener, more discriminating eye, none was a better judge of a horse, than a young subaltern by the name of Winston Spencer Churchill. He was a little over twenty, eager, irresponsible, and already an enthusiastic, courageous, and promising polo player." (The Aga Khan, “A Promising Polo Player,” quoted in Henry Anatole Grunwald, ed. Churchill: The Life Triumphant (New York: American Heritage Press, 1965), 130.) That description could be a summary of Winston's entire life.

Winston would continue to play polo for decades after his deployment in India. When he dislocated his left shoulder, and the joint proved weak enough to challenge his performance, he took to playing polo with a tight black brace that bound his left arm immovably to his left side. 

Leonard, and Jennie, would have been thrilled.
Winston on the polo field

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.   

Sunday, January 13, 2019

DAY 9: You Know You Wondered...Dance Cards

Carnet de bal, ca. Charles X

Those of us who love historical fiction--the kind that always includes at least one spectacular ball--know that there was a protocol to choosing partners. Ladies had a dance card, and gentlemen asked to have their names penciled in for each dance. Sometimes, a woman's card was entirely filled before she even arrived at the event, which must have dampened the sense of spontaneity a bit.

But what did a dance card look like? Did a woman stuff a scrap of paper and pencil stub into her bodice, as she was undoubtedly wearing a ball gown without pockets?

She carried a carnet de bal. Which, translated from the French, is roughly: A dance notebook.

Royal Collection, enamel, gold, jasperware
These were classic gifts to a young woman making her debut, crafted by jewlers and refillable with fresh paper. They were meant to be treasured and collected, rather like the cigarette cases I tossed out here yesterday.

Unlike the cases, however, these were small enough to hide in the palm of a lady's hand--roughly 2" x 4". Some were shaped like fans, and collapsed accordingly to hide partners' names. Others looked like card cases--another accessory ladies carried when paying calls--and had internal slots for diminutive pencils. Most had chains for attaching to a lady's belt or wrist.

Here's a spectacular French carnet, carved rock crystal with gold mounts, date uncertain. 

And this Art Nouveau one is silver, with its chatelaine chain still attached.

One of my personal favorites, however, is this tortoiseshell carnet de bal from the period of Emperor Napoleon III, when Jennie Jerome Churchill was a sixteen-year-old living in Paris. I like to think she glimpsed it while hunting with the Court at Compiegne.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.   

Saturday, January 12, 2019

DAY 10: A Duel Over a Cigarette Case

Faberge enamel cigarette case, St.Petersburg 1890

Finally, a post about men's fashions.

Yes, women smoked cigarettes in the Gilded Age, and Consuelo Mandeville liked to flaunt her Cuban heritage by smoking cigars, but few women actually carried their own cigarettes--they relied on gentleman to proffer the vice, with a deft hand drawn from an inner coat pocket.

Women loved to give cigarette cases to the favorite men in their lives, because the precious objects were carried next to a man's heart. A gentleman could never own too many--different cases suited different moods, different times of day, different attire, even different love affairs. One reason the great Russian Court jeweler, Faberge, opened a shop in Bond Street during the Gilded Age is due to the fad for exchanging exquisite jeweled and enameled accessories, popularized by the royal sisters, Queen Alexandra and Czarina Minnie.

Which brings me to this extraordinary story of one case in particular. Diamonds and enamel the color of lapis lazuli, created by Faberge, it belonged to Bertie--Prince of Wales, and King Edward VII.

The case was a 1908 gift from Alice Keppel, Bertie's last mistress. (That's a potential book title, by the way--The Last Mistress.) 

According to notes from the Royal Collection, where the cigarette case is held, it's a consummate example of Faberge's Art Nouveau style. Of course. But what I notice is the ubiquitous symbol of the Gilded Age and in particular the Marlborough House Set--the ouroboros, or snake devouring its own tale. Recall the tattoo of the same symbol on Jennie's left wrist, and the constant serpent theme in the era's jewelry. The ouroboros was a symbol of eternity, spiritual renewal, or eternal love--something a mistress would want to express.

After Bertie's death in 1910, Queen Alexandra returned the cigarette case to Alice Keppel as a memento. Alice passed it back to Queen Mary in 1936, ensuring it remained in the Royal Collection.

I have to wonder...did the duel over this case--Alix banishing it from Buckingham Palace and Alice returning it--represent a tug-of-war over the importance of each woman in Bertie's life? 

Here, some other notable examples of that classic male accessory, the cigarette case.
Silver and enamel pictorial case,
4th Artel, Moscow, 1908

Silver, gold and sapphire gem case, 1901
Zodiac symbol of Sagittarius, by
Paulding Farnham, Tiffany & Co.

And a few more:
Faberge, 1905, Moscow
enamel, mother-of-pearl, gold, diamonds, rubies
enamel case, possibly Russian, 1905, courtesy Sotheby's

Faberge, parcel-gilt silver and champleve enamel,
St. Petersburg, 1895

John T. Curran, Tiffany & CO., 1893,
from the Chicago Columbian Exposition.
Sterling silver, enamel and nephrite

Friday, January 11, 2019

DAY 11: The Embroider's Art

Embroidered gown, House of Worth, 1870s
One of the side benefits of writing historical fiction is all the information you absorb without intending to do so. Researching and writing That Churchill Woman over the past four years has been an education on so many levels--but certainly in my knowledge and awareness of needlework.

Yes, needlework.

I'm an avid needlepointer. It's my go-to hobby when I'm drowning in procrastination. I've got the canvas stretched and set up on a frame, my special work light, my glasses, my tiny gold scissors in the shape of a crane, various needles and silks....but the world of embroidery was new to me. Until I discovered how vital it is to the fashion and clothing of Jennie Jerome's life--and the art of dressmaking in Europe.

Which brings me to Jennifer Robson's new novel The Gown. If you love historical fiction, are impatient for Jennie to hit the bookstores, or simply near an immersive read while the snow falls outside your windows, pick up this book. It's a marvel of research, and the entertwined lives of the women who embroidered the wedding gown of Princess Elizabeth--now Queen Elizabeth--in 1948 will draw you in completely. You will never look at the image of a Worth gown and its extraordinary tracery of metal, silk, beads, sequins, and gemstones in the same way again.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

DAY 12: The Woman Charles Married

Jennie's romance with Count Charles Kinsky ended 123 years ago this week, in 1895, after Jennie's return from a six-month final voyage around the world with her dying husband, Lord Randolph Churchill. Why did an affair that had endured twelve years end just as Jennie was about to be widowed--and finally free?

Because Charles was a member of the highest ranks of nobility in the Austrian Empire. In line to become the 8th Prince Kinsky at his father's death, Charles could certainly have chosen to marry Jennie; he had been urging her for years to divorce Randolph and chose a future with him. But the sacrifice he would be forced to make was immense: The marriage would be morganatic--and no child he might have with Jennie would be of noble rank, or allowed to inherit Charles's titles, estates, or wealth. 

The most famous example of this arrangement in Charles's world was the morganatic marriage between Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian Emperor, and Countess Sophie Chotek--who, although a minor noble and distantly related to Empress Sisi, was not of a high enough caste to win approval as a future emperess. She was denied the title of Archduchess, shunned by the Imperial family, accorded no precedence at Court beyond that of a mistress, and her children with Franz Ferdinand were commoners. Sophie died next to Franz Ferdinand when he was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in 1914.

While Jennie was absent that summer and autumn of 1894, Charles's family pleaded with him to make a suitable marriage to a lady of his rank and world, for the sake of the Kinsky dynasty. He finally relented and was affianced to Countess Elisabeth Wolff-Metternicht zur Gracht, a relative of both the powerful Metternicht and Von Furstenburg families. She was the same age as Winston Churchill, twenty years old. Charles was thirty-five.

Austrian Court presentation gown of Princess Elisabeth Kinsky, 1905

The marriage was never happy. There were no children. Princess Elizabeth Kinsky died in Luxor, Egypt, in 1909--reportedly of cancer. I imagine she was on a voyage for her "health" when she passed at the age of thirty-one.

Ironically, Charles's titles and estates were vastly changed by the end of the Austrian empire in 1918, and without an heir what remained passed to his brother at his death in 1919. 

He kept a framed portrait of Jennie in his study to the end of his days.