Kathleen Kennedy: The American Marchioness
Kathleen Kennedy: Her Lord and her Yorkshireman
Kathleen Cavendish was the Marchioness of Hartington, but she was better known for being the sister of JFK.
Nevertheless, she was a British marchioness and as such, part of one of the wealthiest aristocratic families in the United Kingdom.
Her husband was the heir to a fortune, lands and the magnificent Chatsworth House in northern England. And yet sadly, this young couple were never able to enjoy their inheritance.
Kathleen first went to England at the age of eighteen when her father was given the post of American ambassador in London. When she met William Cavendish, she knew that he was the man for her.
Billy, as he was known, was one of the most eligible bachelors of the time and it's said that certain members of the British Royal Family saw him as a suitable husband for Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen.
Known by the family nickname Kick, she soon bowled over the tall and handsome young lord.
She was immensely popular and charming, even as a teenager. But their initial love was thwarted by the outbreak of the Second World War.
Joe Kennedy remained in London as the US ambassador until he resigned in late 1940, but because of the hostilities, he sent his family back to the States.
Kick had come to love England and of course, Billy, so she arranged to return to British soil as soon as possible. She achieved this by working for the Red Cross.Her family were aghast. Billy was staunchly a member of the Church of England and the Kennedys were devout Catholics. Nevertheless, the couple married in 1943.
As you can see from the photograph above, Kathleen's brother Joe was the only member of the family who attended the wedding.
But Billy and Kick were so much in love that they were prepared to upset their families in order to be together.
As it transpired, they were together for only a few short weeks before Billy went to fight in Belgium.
Joe was Kathleen's eldest brother and a pilot taking full part in the war. Sadly, he was killed in action just a few months after the photograph above was taken at the civil marriage ceremony.It was less than a month later that Kathleen heard that her new husband had also been killed in action.
He was only twenty six and Kick was now a widow.
Almost every book about the family concentrates, understandably, on the late president. However, this is a compilation of photographs, letters and documents relating to the entire family.It is made up of photographs from the personal album of Rose Kennedy.
Many of these photographs have never been seen before. This is a wonderful collector's item.
A new romance
The Cavendish family were fond of Kathleen.
Her sister-in-law, Deborah Mitford, has written at length about Kick's charm and personality.
With their gentle urging, she remained in England after the loss of her husband.She
was living in one of their properties in Ireland when her brother, the future president, visited her. By now she had been a widow for four years and confessed to her brother that finally she was in love again - with a married man. Once again, she had chosen a man who was thoroughly disapproved of by her family.
There must be few people who don't have a natural curiosity about the Kennedy family but Kathleen's new lover gives the story an extra dimension for me.
The opulent house you see on the left is Wentworth Woodhouse, the place where Peter Fitzwilliam-Wentworth was born and this aristocratic family's ancestral home.
Peter had inherited this, the earldom and vast holding of land just a few years prior to meeting Kathleen.
I have been to this house many times as it is near to where I was born and brought up. My visits weren't because I mix with the gentry through. For several years the property was leased to a teacher-training college and my Uncle George was a professor there. It is truly magnificent.
A married man
Historically, the Wentworth family were popular in the local area.
Peter, the 8th earl, was no different. Much of their land was rich with coal - the local industry and the family were known for being good employers and attracted a great deal of loyalty from those who worked in their mines.
He was about ten years older than Kathleen and, by the time the two met, he had been married for over thirteen years. There had only been one child born to the couple and it was strongly rumoured, before he met Kathleen, that they were already considering divorce.
Was Kathleen going to find happiness at last?She was sure that her family wouldn't accept a divorced man as her husband but she was in love. In 1948, when her father was in Paris, she decided to go to meet him to discuss the matter.
Peter was planning to go to Cannes in southern France.
This was an idea opportunity for Kick to see her father.
On May 13th, 1948, a light aircraft operated by a London air charter company called Skyways, left England with ten passengers, amongst them Kathleen and Peter.
The plane stopped over at Paris where six passengers disembarked. Although it is said that Kathleen's intention was to see her father in Paris, she and Peter remained on the plane as it headed toward Cannes.
The official report says that the plane crashed into a mountain and that all four on board (Kathleen, Peter, the pilot and the radio operator) were killed immediately.
It's said that...
- Her father, Joe Kennedy, identified the body and took possession of her personal effects that had been recovered from the crash site. It's said that amongst these were, um, certain items of a feminine nature that proved that her relationship with Peter was physical
- Joe, who was fond of rewriting history, ensured that when the accident was reported in the American press, it said that it was a chance meeting between Kick and Peter that led to him offering her a lift to France, implying no relationship between the two.
- Her mother Rose, in her own memoirs, said that the accident had occurred when Kick was returning from the South of France after a visit with some friends.
- Rose arranged to be taken into hospital for tests - to provide an excuse for not attending the funeral.
- When Robert Kennedy named his daughter Kathleen after his sister, it was under explicit instructions from his parents that she would never have the nickname Kick.
Resting in England
With what seemed to be a lack of attention by the Kennedy family, the Cavendishes - her late husband's family took over.
They had never objected to Kick and Billy's marriage - indeed they had held the wedding reception in their own home with no expense spared.
The Duchess of Devonshire arranged Kick's burial. She lies in the family plot in Derbyshire in the north of England (pictured here).The plot is on the lands belonging to Chatsworth House, the huge ancestral home that Kathleen would have inhabited had Billy lived to inherit his father's property.
In June 1963, President John Kennedy visited the grave, just a few months before his assassination.
This is a fabulous book about Kick and I highly recommend it. Most of the information above came from this book. It's available online from Amazon.
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