Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Charles Frederick Worth, velvet and fur mantle, 1890s the polar vortex, the way Jennie Churchill would. Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019


Jennie Churchill is finally ready to ride out into the world! That Churchill Woman lands on bookstore shelves, and on digital screens, today.

If, as you read the novel, you're inspired to host a Book Group discussion, be sure to click on the Reader's Guide

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

Happy Reading!

Monday, January 21, 2019

DAY 1: The Ironies of History

Blenheim Palace
When Consuelo Vanderbilt arrived at Blenheim Palace in November, 1895, as a bride and the newest Duchess of Marlborough, Lord Randolph Churchill had been dead nearly a year. His mother, the Dowager Duchess Fanny, first met Consuelo when the twenty-year-old paid a bridal call on Fanny at her home in Grosvenor Square, where Randolph had died. The dowager still wore deepest mourning for her favorite son, and she lost no time in outlining Consuelo's chief value and purpose. As Consuelo recalls in her memoir, The Glitter and the Gold, Fanny declared:

"Your first duty is to have a child and it must be a son, because it would be intolerable to have that little upstart Winston become Duke."

Cousins-by-marriage Consuelo and Winston at Blenheim
That little upstart--Fanny's twenty-one-year-old grandson and next in the Marlborough line of succession until Consuelo produced an heir--was somehow unworthy in the dowager's mind. This was primarily because of his mother. Fanny deplored Randolph's marriage to Jennie Jerome, and the passage of time only deepened her bitterness. The fact that Consuelo, too, was an American was apparently immaterial. Consuelo would never challenge Fanny's primacy in the history of Blenheim. She did, indeed, produce a firstborn son and then a second--coining the phrase "the heir and the spare" for all time--and the upstart was thwarted.

And yet...

When one visits Blenheim, or even pulls up its website online (which I recommend for the sweeping drone video footage that introduces the estate), it is impossible to escape the fact that a huge part of its attraction today is as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Fanny, Randolph, his rakish brother George, and George's various wives and mistresses; Sunny the 9th Duke, Consuelo who eventually annulled her marriage and became Madame Jacques Balsan; their descendants in turn--all give way before the profound, unchallenged, singular and irreplaceable role that the upstart played in world history. Winston remains the most famous Churchill since the original John and his redoubtable duchess, Sarah.

That is due in major part to his mother.

As Winston wrote simply to Jennie upon first taking his seat in the House of Commons in 1899: "In a sense it belongs to you; for I could never have earned it had you not transmitted to me the wit and energy which are necessary."

Among its many events and offerings this winter, Blenheim is hosting an exhibition of family portraits from three centuries and some of Winston's landscape paintings. I imagine somewhere Jennie--and the upstart--are laughing.
Winston Churchill painting en plein air, Blenheim

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

Sunday, January 20, 2019

DAY 2: Death in the Cruelest Season

Parliament under Snow
While Jennie made her way from Rangoon to Madras, then to Cairo and a swift boat across the Mediterranean with a dying Randolph, the approaching winter in London was dire.

Weather historians and climatologists believe these few months near the end of the nineteenth century were in fact the close of the Little Ice Age, and the peak of a decade of harsh winters that buffeted Great Britain. No month as cold as January and February, 1895, occurred again in the British Isles until 1940.
Boats Frozen in the Thames, Greenwich, 1895, courtesy

The River Thames froze for the last time on record. This caused profound shipping and trade disruptions, which in turn led to mass unemployment. Lacking any sort of social safety net, England's laborers suffered profoundly. Coal supplies began to dwindle as the barges that normally shipped the fuel were stymied on frozen rivers and canals. Soup kitchens were set up in major cities throughout the kingdom. The homeless froze to death on the streets.

Skating on the Serpentine, 1895, Historic England

There were also mass skating parties, however, with some fifty thousand people taking to the ice on Hyde Park's Serpentine. There were fires burning in barrels and speed-skating races, and some of the unemployed earned a few coins vending hot tea or tidying the park.
Jennie and Randolph disembarked at Liverpool on Christmas Eve, 1894, Randolph being conveyed to the docks on a stretcher. One month later, in the early hours of January 24th, 1895, Winston remembers racing on foot through snowdrifts covering Grosvenor Square. He had been staying with friends, as there was no room in Duchess Fanny's house. And he'd been summoned in the darkness to his father's deathbed. 

Seventy years later, Winston, too, would die on January 24th.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2019

DAY 3: Jennie and Japan

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.