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 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!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

DAY 54: The Spoils of War

Prussian Invasion, by Meissonier
August, 1870: Sixteen year-old Jennie Jerome was stuck in Paris, her mother Clara nursing a sprained ankle and unable to stand, when the Prussian army invaded France.

Emperor Napoleon III fled as his troops surrendered at Sedan, but was captured and imprisoned in Prussia. The Empress Eugenie, Clara Jerome's intimate friend, escaped to England with the help of two American expatriates, who smuggled her to a private British yacht waiting on the Channel. The Jerome women caught the last train out of Paris for Calais and eventual safety in England--with pretty much just the clothes on their backs. 

Damaged Paris after Prussian siege
A provisional government in Paris refused to surrender the city to Bismarck, and by January, with Paris under siege and its inhabitants starving, the United States government decided to intervene. Leonard Jerome--Jennie's father--was dispatched along with Generals Sheridan and Burnside, of Civil War fame, to negotiate a peace with Bismarck, but before the men succeeded, Paris surrendered to the Prussians.

Leonard Jerome found Parisians eating rats and dogs to survive. All the trees in the Bois de Boulogne had been cut down and burned for firewood. A crust of bread was the price paid for the services of a prostitute. Sixty-five thousand Parisians died during the siege. Remarkably, when Leonard Jerome and Clara returned in the spring of 1871, after the Peace had been signed and the Prussian army had left France, they found Clara's home and belongings intact.  Leonard's valuable collection of Italian paintings, clothing, and some furniture were packed in crates and shipped just as the people of Paris began to riot.

Mobs set fire to the Palais de Justice and the Hotel de Ville. When the rioters moved on to the Tuileries Palace, former home of the Emperor and Empress, they auctioned the contents and burned the palace to the ground. 

The next morning, Clara Jerome ventured to the Tuileries to see the violence for herself. She found the mob auctioning Napoleon III's gilded Sevres porcelain dinner service, on which she had so often dined at the Imperial Court, and bought the lot, carting it back to a surprised Leonard in a hired wheelbarrow. 

Winston Churchill would eventually inherit the Sevres dinner service, pictured here, and use it for entertaining at his home, Chartwell--where the pieces can be viewed today under the auspices of the National Trust.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

DAY 55: A Shooting Party

In the final weeks of autumn, country house parties assembled at places like Blenheim Palace and Sandringham House to enjoy the the shooting season, which began on the Glorious Twelfth--August 12th, for red grouse--and ran until early December. Pheasant shooting began later, usually in October, and could run through February. When one adds duck, partridge, dove, and ptarmigan shooting, the possibilities for marksmen were endless. As the nineteenth century waned, women joined the shoots as participants; in earlier years, they merely spectated.
1880s hunting costume: The lady's Norfolk Jacket

Rough shoots--where the "guns," as those doing the shooting were known--walked through open fields with dogs flushing the birds from hedgerows and undergrowth, were one form of engaging in the sport; but on large country estates with gamekeepers, the preferred method of bird-hunting was the Driven Shoot.

In this approach, a group of beaters--men deployed by gamekeepers--flushed and drove the birds toward a range of Guns positioned in a line behind "butts," or what we might call blinds, that disguised their presence. Each shooter employed a pair of guns, so that an attendant might reload the first while the second was being fired. The flushed birds rose out of the undergrowth and took wing, at which point a Gun would bring it down mid-flight. A retriever--commonly known as a gun dog--would then fetch the downed bird. Shooting party etiquette required that you shoot only the birds driven toward your butt, and not those intended for your neighbor. When not firing, you might settle your chilled behind on a shooting stick--a collapsible seat carried to the butt by your attendant.

Bamboo and rattan shooting stick

Often those who chose to spectate behind the range of  Guns would arrive with the luncheon carts, which brought whiskey and food for the shooters, and signaled another opportunity to socialize over a picnic.

Shotguns for sport such as these crafted by James Purdey & Sons Ltd, a bespoke gunsmithing firm founded in 1814, were extremely expensive and cherished works of art. (A pair of Purdeys today costs well over $100,000.) They were meticulously maintained in an estate's gun room, where the game book was also kept as a record of the shooting bag. A boy's first pair of important guns was usually a gift from his father at perhaps the age of sixteen; they were also handed down as bequests. 

Gamekeepers. They maintained prey populations by eradicating predators and poachers,
as well as by cultivating suitable terrain.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

DAY 56: Mourning

Victorian women were obliged to go into mourning when a close family member died--and as life expectancy in the nineteenth century was dubious at best, grief and its trappings were a constant. Children died. Parents and spouses died. Mourning was expected for monarchs, as well--as though the Royals were members of one's extended family. 

Queen Victoria is the most famous of mourners, of course, having adopted black at Prince Albert's death and refusing to remove it for the remaining forty years of her life. But when Victoria passed in 1901, the entire nation went into mourning. Her daughter-in-law Princess Alix, about to become Queen Alexandra, was thus in something of a bind. She had to wear exclusively black for at least six months. But as the consort of King Edward VII, she also had to look absolutely stunning. 

Alix's sister, Minnie--the Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia--had faced a similar problem when her father-in-law, the Czar, had died. As the new Czarina she was required to wear black--and look every inch the Royal. Here is one of Minnie's dinner dresses from that period, at right.

ne of Alix's mourning gowns for evening wear was recently discovered in an attic in Britain--dating from 1908-1910, and constructed by one of her favorite milliners, Barolet of Knightsbridge. It is an utterly magnificent Edwardian creation of silk, velvet, spangles and beads, currently on display at the Fashion Museum of Bath, through April 2019.

But what if you weren't a Royal? What if--like Jennie Churchill in the winter of 1895--you were merely a member of the Marlborough House Set whose husband had recently died?

Day Dress
Afternoon Dress

There were black dresses for every imaginable eventuality. In addition to the Dinner Dress (such as Minnie's, shown above) a lady in grief required Day Dresses, Afternoon Dresses, and Tea Gowns of unremitted black. 

mourning ball gown by House of Worth, 1888-90

And, although those in mourning did not technically dance at balls, evening gowns were appropriate for appearances at the theater and receptions. And a ball gown might be worn when chaperoning a young lady making her debut at a ball....

Ladies were required to wear black from head to toe. Thus, the black mourning hat. And the black hat pin. The black umbrella or parasol, and the black mourning jewelry.

Day Dress
Dinner Dress
Thankfully, however, after six months of wearing deepest mourning, a lady was permitted to adopt half-mourning. Sometimes this meant wearing purple. Or purple and black. But as the nineteenth century wore on, black and white was permissible. Which considerably relieved the burden of grief for ladies of Jennie Churchill's era. 

House of Worth half-mourning ball gown
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Monday, November 26, 2018

DAY 57: The Wise, The Good, and The Beautiful

Left to right: Clara, Clarita, Leonie, and Jennie Jerome

 Jennie Jerome was a middle child, the second of her parents' four girls. Although Jennie was the first to marry and leave home at nineteen, she remained close to both her surviving sisters--Clarita, who was three years older, and Leonie, five years younger. The three often combined their households and children in the summer months and holidays, taking houses in the countryside or Paris together.

Clarita Jerome Frewen

Clarita, the eldest Jerome, was blonde and angelic in appearance, and seems to have taken after her mother in temperament--placid, emotional, devoted to her family. She married a flamboyant Englishman, Moreton Frewen, whose nickname was Mortal Ruin due to his propensity to bankrupt everyone who invested in his hairbrained get-rich-quick schemes. He frequently left Clarita and their children without a dime, forcing her to survive on credit and the kindness of her family.

Clare Sheridan in the 1920s

Clarita's children--Hugh, Oswald, and Clare Consuelo--were closely entangled in Jennie's life. Hugh's often caustic description of his mother's attendance on Jennie's final injury and death is invaluable (she was the first of the Jerome sisters to die), while his sister, who after her marriage was known as Clare Sheridan, blazed a trail through the world of Arts and Letters. As a journalist, writer and sculptor she made a name for herself denied to women a generation earlier.

Clare Sheridan in later life, sculpting a bust of  her cousin, Winston
But Clare's passion for life and people was learned at her mother and aunts' feet. She dallied in Bolshevism, and supported the 1917 October Revolution--causing a rift with her cousin Winston. Among her intimates were Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Vivien Leigh, and Vita Sackville-West. While traveling in the United States in the 1920s, she had an affair with Charlie Chaplin.

Leonie with six year-old Winston

Leonie, the youngest Jerome sister, was dark like Jennie and considered the most intellectual of the three women (notably, her nickname was The Wise, while Jennie's was The Beautiful, and Clarita's The Good.) She was also Jennie's equal as a classical pianist of near-professional caliber. Leonie met and fell in love with Jack Leslie, son and heir of the first baronet Leslie--his father, an Anglo-Irishman who'd been a member of Parliament for Glaslough, in County Monaghan. The Leslies had long been a powerful family of soldiers and politicians, and they deplored Jack's choice of an American as his bride. They refused to attend the wedding ceremony at Grace Church in Lower Manhattan, and resisted meeting or acknowledging Leonie until after the birth of her first child--also named John, called Jack. Jack eventually changed his name to Shane after a bout with conversion to Catholicism; he became in time the third baronet.  

Leonie as Brunhild at the 1897 Devonshire House Ball

Leonie was Jennie's favorite correspondent and frequent companion, as she divided her time between a house in London and Glaslough; her children were among Jennie's favorite nieces and nephews. 

The Jerome sisters sustained each other through the Great War, when Winston and Jack Churchill were fighting in France along with Clarita's Hugh and Oswald, Leonie's sons, Shane and Norman, and Clare Sheridan's husband Wilfrid. Norman was killed early, by a sniper at Armentieres in 1914, and hastily buried behind the lines; Shane found the grave, exhumed Norman's body, and had it recoffined for burial in an established British cemetery--a process about which he wrote every detail to his mother. After the Armistice, Leonie and her husband traveled to Armentieres to lay flowers on Norman's grave.

Wilfrid Sheridan, Clare's husband, was killed in 1915 at the Battle of Loos, while leading his men of the Rifle Brigade. The rest of the extended Jerome cousins survived the Great War.

Although the Leslie family still owns and lives on the thousand acre-estate surrounding Castle Leslie, the house itself is now a hotel. You can virtually visit Leonie's home by clicking here.

Castle Leslie, Glaslough, County Monaghan, Ireland

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

DAY 58: Those Painterly Churchills

A painting by Winston Churchill of  Long Library at Blenheim. What I love about this painting
 is that it depicts two dark-haired women at their easels, and thus is a painting of...other painters,
painting. My personal belief is that the woman in the purple smock is Jennie, and this is
Winston's portrait of her.
Jennie Jerome Churchill was known in American and London Society for her extraordinary talent on the piano, about which more later. But she was roughly thirty when she learned to paint--under the tutelage of a Mrs. E.M. Ward, who was painting instructor to Alexandra, Princess of Wales, among others. Mrs. Ward was one of those women, quasi-visible in Victorian society, who might have been a great artist--but for her gender. She was, instead, married to a Great Artist. This was the fate of many women in the Gilded Age who possessed artistic talent; prohibited as "ladies" from achieving professional respect, they consigned their art to the realm of "female accomplishment," and donated it to charity. In their remaining hours, they supported their Artistic Men.

When I get to Heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting. --Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill, Self-Portrait
Mrs. Ward remembered Jennie bringing Leonard Jerome to see her studio, as well as Winston, a little boy in short trousers at the time--he might have been eight or ten. Winston made a point of writing to his mother from school about his progress in art--that he was learning perspective and shading, for example, in drawing class. Jennie confessed in her memoirs that she was "violently" devoted to learning to paint, and martyred everyone she knew to sit for her as models. But as far as I can discover, her paintings have not survived.

And yet...Perhaps they have. Through her son, Winston.

When Winston resigned from Asquith's cabinet following the debacle of Gallipoli, Jennie urged him to pick up a paint box. She was acutely aware that he was under enormous stress and struggling with depression, and she was certain that painting would help.

The very next day, as Winston remembers it, he dabbled with his children's watercolors. And the day after that, he went out and bought a complete set of oils, along with an easel.

That is why we have paintings of Winston's from the period of World War I, such as my favorite--his depiction of soldiers embarking for Dover. But he went on to paint for the rest of his life, and even published an article on the subject: "Painting as Pastime," that can be bought today as a slim little volume. Ex-president George W. Bush has said that it inspired him to learn to paint--and that the pursuit of it in his retirement has been remarkably fulfilling.

Winston and Jennie used to consult about the nature of light, and how to paint it. It remained a preoccupation for Winston throughout his painting career. At right, a painting of his, of the light on water in southern France. And this painting I particularly love, done undoubtedly after Jennie's death--entitled Gardener's Cottage at Mme. Balsan's.  Madame Balsan was of course Consuelo Vanderbilt Spencer-Churchill Balsan, Winston's former cousin, who had by then divorced Winston's cousin Sunny, 9th Duke of Marlborough, to marry Jacques Balsan and live happily in France. Again, the preoccupation with light is evident in his manner of painting.
Gardener's Cottage at Mme Balsan's

The nature of light should always be a topic for debate between close relations. 
Or so I believe.

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

DAY 59: Masquerade Ball

The Duchess of Portland's Worth costume as Duchess of Savoia for the Devonshire Ball
Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee during the summer of 1897, which meant all of London found a reason to party. Jennie Churchill's friends, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, were no exception. On July 2, they threw a Fancy-dress ball at Devonshire House in Mayfair to celebrate the Queen's sixty years as monarch. The Devonshire House Ball went down in history.

Jennie had known the Devonshires as her intimate friends Lottie and Hart, long before they became duke and duchess. Lottie--who was Consuelo Yznaga's mother-in-law--was Louise Montagu, Duchess of Manchester, before she married Spencer Cavendish, the 8th Duke of Devonshire in 1892. By birth she was a German countess and a cousin of Count Charles Kinsky. Before he was Devonshire, Cavendish was the Marquis of Hartington--who served as Minister of War in Prime Minister Gladstone's cabinet. The two had been in love for years before Lottie's husband died and left her free to remarry. Hart had remained single for her sake until the age of 59. 

The guests commissioned their costumes from the House of Worth in Paris. I've already posted Minnie Paget's photograph as Cleopatra (see Day 79). Here is Lottie's gown, designed to represent Queen Zenobia of Palmyra. 

Jennie Churchill, seen here at right, went as the Empress Theodora from sixth-century Byzantium.

The male guests also commissioned elaborate costumes--here is Lord Randolph's lifelong friend, Archie Primrose, the 5th Earl of Rosebery and former prime minister, as "a gentleman of the 18th century." 

Daisy, Countess of Warwick (who was the longtime mistress of Bertie, Prince of Wales) graced the Devonshire House Ball as Marie Antoinette. She became a socialist later in life, which makes the choice somewhat amusing.

Harem costume, House of Worth, 1870.

What these black and white photographs fail to capture about fancy-dress, sadly, is the magnificance of the colors and details the usually circumspect British wearers allowed themselves to parade. So I'm tossing down these archived costumes to give a taste of the whirl of visual splendor the room must have held.
Matador dress, 1880
Georgian Revival costume channeling 1770s, Worth.

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

Friday, November 23, 2018

DAY 60: Hat Pins. Because You Can't Wear a Hat Without One.

I come from a highly creative family of women with very mild collecting habits. I had an aunt who collected orchids and vintage Chinese snuff bottles. My mother, for reasons I cannot fathom, collected porcelain demitasse cups. Personally, I hunt for Flow Black Staffordshire, Regency fashion plates from La Vie Parisienne,  and vintage Schiaparelli costume jewelry. But hat pins have completely turned my head. Hatpins are on my radar now. And no hat pin is safe.

Just look at these gorgeous things. This one at right, in the shape of a hot-air balloon, was fashioned by Rene Lalique. The Janus-faced one at left I would simply display like a piece of sculpture. 

And with the correct handling and practiced technique, they could double as murder weapons. Purely in self-defense.

As hats grew larger and perched higher on the head at the turn of the nineteenth century, hat pins became longer and heavier and more ornate. Upperclass women were offered them as gifts and they were generally made by jewelers. Hat pins were necessary for every Victorian woman, however, regardless of economic station, and were often mass-produced at practical prices. Although courting men were discouraged from giving jewelry to the object of their affections prior to an engagement, hat pins were acceptable. 

Here are a pair in the Art Nouveau Jugendstil style popular in Vienna just after the turn of the century; I offer them in tribute to Count Charles Kinsky's family--his sisters and wife may have sported something like these.

A woman kept her pins neatly ordered in holders that looked rather like small vases for flowers; a bouquet of hat pins. They could be entirely closed or open at the bottom with a cushion for the pins. 

Even dolls had their own hat-pin holder, in a little girl's nursery. This one measures only an inch and a half high.

If you're interested in more information about hat pins and collecting them, here's a link to a useful article.  
For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel.