Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Randolf and Jennie - 1

He was a skinny man, a bit short, 23 years old on that August night of 1873, with a walrus mustache, and bulging eyes. He was a dandy and these kind of men easily bored Jennie Jerome.

Lord Randolf Churchill was taken and really taken with this dark looking American. So, his immediate problem was how could keep her with him at this party with all of these virile naval officers around. Fellows were already approaching to ask her to dance and she already had a full dance card.

In desperation, he asked her himself. They walked along the deck of the ship. The Royal Marine Band played in the background. The lanterns bobbed in the twilight breeze. They stepped into the quadrille. In a few minutes the truth was clear. Randolf was a terrible dancer. Time for Plan B.

“Dancing makes me dizzy,” he admitted. He took her along the deck to a seat. He got her some champagne to sip and they talked. Randolf could talk. He spoke with great intensity. There was more to this man and Jennie was intrigued.

Clara broke in. There is such a thing as spending too much time at such a ball as this with just one man. Oh, mother, couldn’t we invite him to dinner tomorrow? Who is he? And more importantly, does he come from a good family?

Randolf Spencer Churchill was born on February 13, 1849. Under the rules of nobility, his older brother would inherit the dukedom of Marlborough; Randolf got to be an honorary “Lord” as a consolation prize.

As a boy and as a young man he was primarily interested in play and in the social pleasures due to the aristocracy. At 23 his biggest accomplishment to date had been putting together the Blenheim Harriers, a pack of hounds for fox hunting.

But there was also this. He had read Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and then became a fan of the book. This is a very lengthy book; it is impossible to publish it in one volume or even two. He memorized lengthy passages and carefully studied the rest. It was probably the only book he ever read on his own.

Mostly though, he was a playboy. His social status gave him entry to the Marlborough Set. This was a different Marlborough than the Duchy. Marlborough House was a mansion in London that was the center of the Prince of Wales’ activities. These were primarily fun, games, and sex.

In short, Lord Randolf S. Churchill in 1873 was a dandy with something extra lying just under the surface. This something was what intrigued Jennie.

The dinner next night was a mixed bag. The lights of the boats in the harbor contrasted with the bright stars and the gentle breeze. After dinner, Jennie and her sister played duets on the piano. Her sister’s postmortem: he tries too much to be clever and she didn’t like the mustache. His postmortem: “I admire them both tremendously. And, if I can, I mean to make the dark one my wife.”

The next day Jennie walked alone on one of the many trails around the resort at Cowes. There was Randolf! This was the first time that they were completely alone. He told her he was leaving for Blenheim Palace the next day but tonight could he see her for dinner?

What else was said and what else was done, history does not record. Hugs, kisses, that special moment when feelings are expressed and one learns that they are shared, Jenny kept to herself and out of her memoirs. She ran home to her mother and asked her to ask Randolf over again. “Are we not inviting that young gentleman rather often?” she responded. But she did.

After dinner the two of them went out into the garden. He asked her to marry him. She said yes.
She told Clara. Jennie: “She thought we were both quite mad and naturally would not hear of anything so precipitous.”

Randolf departed for the Palace. We got to go to the Churchill sources to get what we can of the Duchess’ reaction to the news. They all bring down a curtain upon the scene describing her “imperious qualities”, and etc. From Winston’s own account: “She was a woman of exceptional capacity, energy and decision.” My translation: the air must have turned blue and ice formed over the statuary as she raged at Randolf!

From the Duke to his son

August 31, 1873
Dear Randolf,
It is not likely that at present, you can look at anything but from your own point of view but persons from the outside cannot but be struck with the unwisdom of your proceedings, and the uncontrolled state of your feelings, which completely paralyzes your judgment. Never was there such an illustration of the adage, “love is blind” for you seem blind to all consequences, in order that you may pursue your passion; blind to the relative consequences as regards your family and blind to trouble you are heaping on Mamma and me by the anxieties this act of yours has produced….
Now as regards your letter I can’t say that what you have told me is reassuring. I shall know more before long but from what you tell me and what I have heard, this Mr. J. seems to be a sporting, and I should think a vulgar kind of man. I hear he drives about six and eight horses in New York (one may take this as a kind of indication of what the man is).
Everything that you say about the mother and daughter is perfectly compatible with all that I am apprehensive of about the father and his belongings. And however great the attractions of the former, they can be no set off against a connection, should it so appear, which no man in his senses could think respectable….
May God bless and keep you straight is my earnest prayer. Ever your affectionate father,
Thus the battle was joined. The Duke and Duchess lit out for the epicenter of the storm, Cowes and wrote Randolf, “You must imagine to yourself what must be our feelings at the prospect of this marriage of yours. You cannot regard yourself alone in the matter and disassociate yourself from the rest of your family…. Under any circumstances, an American connection is not one that we would like… you must allow it is a slight coming down in pride for us to contemplate the connection….”

While Randolf faced these letters from the Churchill side, from New York Leonard Jerome dispatched a few of his own. He was proud that he was a self-made man. He made and lost his own fortunes. Those European aristocrats inherited theirs. In his opinion they had too much inbreeding and over breeding.

Extract from a letter from Leonard Jerome to his daughter

You quite startle me…
I shall feel very anxious about you till I hear more. If it has come to that – that he only “waits to consult his family” you are pretty far gone. You must like him well enough to accept for yourself, which for you is a great deal. I fear if anything goes wrong you will make a dreadful shipwreck of your affections. I always thought if you ever did fall in love it would be a very dangerous affair. You were never born to love lightly. It must be way down or nothing…. Such natures if they happen to secure the right one are very happy but if disappointed they suffer untold misery….
He hadn’t liked Randolf’s kind in Triest; he hadn’t liked it in Paris; and he didn’t like it now.

Randolf and Jennie were in the battle of their lives.

Excerpt from a book in progress. Churchill Stories. (from Chapter 1.)