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Kathleen Kennedy: The American Marchioness

Updated on October 21, 2015
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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.

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Young love

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.

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Joe Kennedy

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.

Recommended

Rose Kennedy's Family Album: From the Fitzgerald Kennedy Private Collection, 1878-1946
Rose Kennedy's Family Album: From the Fitzgerald Kennedy Private Collection, 1878-1946

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.

 
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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.

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Peter Fitzwilliam-Wentworth

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.

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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.

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Tragedy

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.

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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.

That Kennedy Girl
That Kennedy Girl

Another intriguing Kennedy book.

 
Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times
Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times

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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    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Merrci: Yes, they seem to have been very good people. I've seen the Dowager Duchess being interviewed (Kick was her sister-in-law) and she still speaks very highly of her.

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Brite-Ideas: Thank you Barbara - it's so interesting, isn't it? And sad that her family weren't more sympathetic. I shall have to find out more about Rose Kennedy because I get the feeling that the animosity was caused largely by her.

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      Great article Jackie. I bet you could do another whole series on the Kennedys. So many tragedies in their family. Sad story. Good for the Cavendishes.

    • Brite-Ideas profile image

      Barbara Tremblay Cipak 3 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      This is fascinating! I was riveted from beginning to end - I had no idea about the history of 'Kick Kennedy' - so said how her family treated her (except JFK, it appears he was a gracious brother) and the Cavendish family really stepped up, obviously very decent people - Plus, I had no idea that she's buried in Derbyshire - enjoyed this page very much Jackie

    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @DANCING COWGIRL: Don't they? This story is definitely one of so many.

    • BritFlorida profile image
      Author

      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Nancy Hardin: Unfortunately I don't think it was that they didn't like him, I don't think they even gave him a chance once they knew he wasn't Catholic. Yes, I'm pleased that the president visited her grave - and just a few months before he was killed. So sad in so many ways.

    • DANCING COWGIRL profile image

      Dancing Cowgirl Design 3 years ago from Texas

      The Kennedy's have some amazing history.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Amazing! How could her family turn from her like it did? Just because she married someone they didn't care for, meant they had to give up any relationship with their daughter? Ridiculous! Obviously President Kennedy never forgot her, because of his one visit to her grave. Such a sad story...wish for her it had had a better ending.

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Amazing! How could her family turn from her like it did? Just because she married someone they didn't care for, meant they had to give up any relationship with their daughter? Ridiculous! Obviously President Kennedy never forgot her, because of his one visit to her grave. Such a sad story...wish for her it had had a better ending.

    • BritFlorida profile image
      Author

      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Zola Mars: Fascinating, isn't it?

    • Zola Mars profile image

      Lydia Workman 3 years ago from Canada

      Very interesting read!

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