Churchill, Jennie Jerome (1854–1921)

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Churchill, Jennie Jerome (1854–1921)

American-born public figure, wife of Lord Randolph Churchill, and mother of Sir Winston S. Churchill, who was influential in Britain's royal and political affairs for an entire generation. Name variations: Jennie Jerome; Lady Jennie Jerome Spencer Churchill; Lady Randolph Churchill; Mrs. George Cornwallis-West. Born Jeanette Jerome on January 9, 1854, in Brooklyn, New York; died on June 29, 1921, in London, England; daughter of Leonard Walter Jerome and Clara (Hall) Jerome; married Lord Randolph Churchill, in 1874; married George Cornwallis-West, in 1900; married Montague Porch, 1918; children: (first marriage) Winston Spencer Churchill (1874–1965); John Strange Churchill (b. 1880).

Mother moved family to Paris (1868); married Lord Randolph Churchill (1874); Lord Randolph died (1895); served as chair and nurse on hospital ship Maine during Anglo-Boer War (1899–1900); founded and edited the Anglo-Saxon Review (1899); published her reminiscences (1908); had two plays produced (1914); served on several hospital boards (1915–19).

Selected publications:

Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill (Century, 1908); Small Talks on Big Subjects (Pearson, 1916).

Jennie Jerome Churchill was destined to play a prominent and influential part in English court and political life for an entire generation. Born in America, she married Randolph Churchill, an English politician of first-rate political talent, and she was the mother of Sir Winston S. Churchill, a parliamentarian who proved to be a greater public figure than his father. Her part in public affairs can be found in the two careers with which she was so intimately associated.

Jeanette Jerome was born on January 9, 1854, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father Leonard Jerome was a self-made Wall Street millionaire and her mother Clara Hall Jerome was an attractive, fashion-conscious woman said to be one-quarter Iroquois Indian. Leonard dabbled in journalism, telegraphs, railroads, and horses. In an attempt to bring respectability to horse-racing, he was the founder of the New York Jockey Club and built the Jerome Park Racecourse. He also once owned The New York Times. Following the birth of their first child in 1851, Leonard served as American Consul in Trieste and later lived with his family in Paris before returning to America in 1860. He had a passion for music and was the patron of many aspiring young singers. Because of his fondness for the singer Jennie Lind , he named his second daughter Jennie. But Leonard was a philanderer and Clara, exasperated by her husband's lifestyle, moved to Paris in 1868 to educate her three daughters, Clara , Jennie, and Leonie . The Jeromes' wealth was a passport to Parisian society and the court of French Emperor Napoleon III. When the German army advanced on Paris during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the Jerome women were among the last foreigners to flee to London, England. English society was quite cold and lacked the elegance for the debut of young Jennie, but the Jeromes gravitated to the most exclusive events. One of these was the Cowes Regatta on the Isle of Wight in August of each year.

My mother always seemed to be a fairy princess; a radiant being possessed of limitless riches and power.

—Winston S. Churchill

On August 12, 1873, 19-year-old Jennie Jerome attended a Cowes Regatta ball given by the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future Edward VII and Alexandra of Denmark ) on H.M.S. Ariadne in honor of the heir to the Russian throne. It was a splendid evening for Jennie because she met and enchanted 24-year-old Lord Randolph Churchill, the younger son of John Spencer Churchill, the seventh duke of Marlborough. Randolph was short and slender with a walrus mustache, popping eyes and a refined, almost foppish demeanor. His personality, which reflected the superiority of class, matched that of the pampered Jennie. Theirs was a love match from the start. Two nights later, when Randolph proposed under starlight, in a garden overlooking the harbor and yachts, Jennie accepted without hesitation.

When Jennie conveyed to her mother her intentions to wed the younger son of an English duke, Clara opposed the idea as precipitate and hasty. Randolph's mother Fanny Churchill , duchess of Marlborough, was also deeply disappointed at the news. The duke of Marlborough, hoping his son would marry into the upper nobility, tried to discourage Randolph and expressed his dissatisfaction with Leonard Jerome's speculating and sporting background. At first, Jennie's father was happy for her, but he withdrew his consent after hearing of the duke's opposition. The young couple went through a cooling-off period, but separation did not dampen their ardor.

In time, the young lovers' obdurate endurance finally wore down parental objections. Randolph won over his parents by agreeing to seek a seat in Parliament. But Jennie's father had suffered some financial reversals, and there were some ungentlemanly negotiations over the dowry. When Leonard Jerome and the duke finally reached a satisfactory agreement, the amount of £50,000 ($250,000) went to Randolph with the Leonard-generated stipulation that Randolph give Jennie £1,000 a year. The duke also paid off Randolph's debts and increased his allowance to £1,100 a year. The marriage was briefly delayed while Randolph contested the seat for Woodstock in the General Election on February 3, 1874. Woodstock, virtually a Churchill "family borough," included Blenheim Palace. Randolph, running as a conservative, outpolled his Liberal opponent by 165 votes.

On April 15, 1874, Jennie, in a dress of white satin and a long train lavishly trimmed with Alençon lace, wed Randolph in a simple ceremony in the British Embassy in Paris before a handful of people. With her dark hair, striking eyebrows, flashing dark eyes and fair features, Jennie possessed a natural beauty. While her family attended the wedding, the Marlboroughs sent their warmest greetings and patiently awaited the couple's arrival at Blenheim Palace, following their French honeymoon. In early May, the duke and duchess were waiting on the palace steps to greet them as they arrived amidst the cheering servants. During the visit, Jennie became more comfortable with her new family and the overwhelming splendor and size of Blenheim. Later in the month, the couple moved into their London home on Curzon Street.

Jennie quickly learned that London was dominated by social rituals. Arriving in London in the family coach, the duchess escorted her daughter-in-law on initial visits to the city's social leaders. The Churchills' early days of marriage were dominated by a constant gala of regattas, operas, hunts, balls and visits to the theater. Their attendance at fashionable functions were only interrupted briefly by the birth of a son on November 30, 1874. Jennie was out on a shooting party at Blenheim, became ill, and was rushed back to the palace where she prematurely delivered a son at one-thirty in the morning. He was named Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, after his English and American grandfathers. The Churchill's second child, John (Jack) Strange Churchill, was also born prematurely in Dublin, Ireland, on February 4, 1880. The children were relegated to the nursery, while Jennie and Randolph resumed their active public lives.

Randolph's father was appointed viceroy of Ireland by Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in 1876. Jennie and Randolph accompanied the Marlboroughs to Dublin, where Randolph served as his father's private secretary. For the next four years, Randolph's attendance in Parliament was irregular, but he gained a close understanding of Irish problems during a critical era. When Disraeli's government fell in 1880, Jennie and Randolph returned to the intensity of domestic politics and the feverish social life of London.

Randolph was a captivating speaker, and he could often dominate debates in the House of Commons. He soon became the leader of a new clique of independent conservatives, known as the "Fourth Party," who favored social welfare, education reforms, and fairness towards Ireland. As his influence increased, Jennie's role also grew. She helped him prepare speeches, salved his sagging confidence, and campaigned beside him. She was an excellent host, and in their electrically lighted new home in Connaught Place they and their friends formed the Primrose League in 1883 to discuss the contemporary issues of the nation. Dismissed by critics at first, the League membership grew into the millions, and the duchess of Marlborough became president of the Ladies Council while Jennie served as a dame. It was the first serious involvement of women in English politics, and Jennie was an indefatigable recruiter, organizer and speaker.

Randolph rose rapidly in the Conservative Party. In 1885, he joined Lord Salisbury's Cabinet as secretary of state for India, and, in 1886, he became chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons. Virtually assured of the prime ministership by virtue of his position, Randolph had little time for political campaigns. Jennie was a natural at electioneering and relished the responsibility with enthusiasm. She delivered fiery speeches, canvassed households from door-to-door, and chaired public meetings. Her beauty and spirit drew crowds wherever she went. She was a major asset to Randolph's political career.

But there were dark shadows, bad decisions and personal problems that threatened the Churchills' meteoric rise to power. Jennie was courted and won by many of the upper-class men of her day. Among her paramours were the prince of Wales (later Edward VII), the marques of Breteuil, and even the son of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck, Herbert. She truly loved Count Charles Kinsky but lost his love to another woman. Her own marriage was a romantic tragedy. Randolph, who had contracted syphilis as a young man, gradually became more unpredictable, petulant, and eventually went insane. In December 1886, he threatened to resign as chancellor of the exchequer in a Cabinet disagreement over military expenditures. To nearly everyone's surprise, Lord Salisbury accepted Randolph's resignation and his political career was virtually over. Though Randolph lingered in Parliament, he never held a Cabinet position again. His health declined into a tragic insanity and after a prolonged illness he died on January 24, 1895, at the age of 45.

Churchill, Fanny (d. 1899)

Seventh duchess of Marlborough. Name variations: Lady Frances Emily Vane. Born Frances Anne Emily Vane; died on April 16, 1899; eldest daughter of Charles William Stewart (b. 1778), 3rd marquis of Londonderry, and Frances Anne Emily Vane-Tempest (d. 1865); married John Winston Spencer Churchill (1822–1883), 7th duke of Marlborough (r. 1857–1883), on July 12, 1843; children: George Charles Spencer Churchill (1844–1892), 8th duke of Marlborough (r. 1883–1892); Frederick (1846–1850); Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill (1849–1895); Charles (1856–1858); Augustus (1858–1859); Cornelia Spencer Churchill (d. 1927, who married Ivor Bertie Guest, 1st baron Wimborne); Rosamond Spencer Churchill (d. 1920, who married William Henry Fellowes, 2nd baron de Ramsey); Fanny Spencer Churchill (d. 1904); Anne Emily Spencer Churchill (d. 1923, who married James Henry Robert, 7th duke of Roxburghe); Georgiana Spencer Churchill (d. 1906); Sarah Isabella Spencer Churchill (d. 1929).

An awesome presence, Fanny, the seventh duchess of Marlborough, was described in The Complete Peerage as "a woman of remarkable character and capacity." She was also domineering. "She ruled Blenheim and nearly all those in it with a firm hand," wrote Jennie Churchill , "At the rustle of her silk dress, the household trembled." During the Irish potato famine in 1877, the duchess started a Famine Fund for Ireland's aged and infirm.

Jennie, after a proper period of mourning, launched herself back into English society. She maintained her social position but widened the scope of her activities and took more interest in her sons. While Winston was serving as an officer in India, she often assisted him by utilizing her numerous contacts in government. She was concerned about her lack of money and often reflected on the need to remarry. In 1899, she founded and edited The Anglo-Saxon Review. One of the best designed and beautiful journals of the day, it contained articles from such prominent writers as Algernon Swinburne, Henry James, Cecil Rhodes, and Lord Rosebury. Unfortunately her efforts failed financially in 1901 after ten issues.

When the Anglo-Boer War broke out in South Africa in 1899, Jennie was personally concerned, since both of her sons and a handsome young officer named George Cornwallis-West were on military duty there. She originated and promoted a plan to provide a hospital ship to assist the wounded in the war and formed a committee of wealthy American women living in Britain to raise the necessary funds for outfitting a ship. She convinced financier Bernard N. Baker, owner of the Baltimore Atlantic Transport Company who was captivated by her charm, to donate a ship. Baker also provided an entire crew at considerable personal expense. Jennie christened the vessel The Maine, secured American nurses, and convinced the British Admiralty to designate the ship as a British military hospital ship and to escort it to South Africa. Wearing a white nurse's uniform, she served as representative of the executive committee governing the vessel and accompanied The Maine to South Africa. One of her first patients was her son, Jack, who was slightly wounded in battle. King Edward VII, pleased with the personal sacrifice of one of his friends, gave Jennie Royal Orders. In 1901, he made her Lady of Grace of St. John of Jerusalem; the following year, he invested her with the Order of the Royal Red Cross.

Despite the doubts and concerns of their families, 46-year-old Jennie married 26-year-old George Cornwallis-West in London on July 28, 1900. George, who was just 16 days older than her son Winston, had no money and resigned his commission to seek more lucrative employment. Though they were happy for a time, arguments over money and his propensity for other women weakened the marriage. After the failure of The Anglo-Saxon Review, Jennie tried her hand at writing plays. In 1909, her first play, Borrowed Plumes, which ran briefly at the Haymarket Theater, received poor reviews and lost money. She also lost her husband to the play's leading actress, the legendary Mrs. Patrick Campbell . In July 1914, their divorce was finalized, and he married Campbell the following day. Jennie chose to return to her more famous name, Lady Randolph Churchill.

Jennie was at one of the low points in her life. She had loved her second husband, but he had not returned her affections. She had also put every effort into Winston's military career, using her influence to gain him opportunities, but Winston had resigned his commission to seek a career in journalism and politics. Jennie had campaigned as energetically for Winston as she had earlier for Randolph, and he had won a parliamentary seat in Oldham on the second try in September 1900. Like his father, Winston rose rapidly to Cabinet status as president of the Board of Trade, undersecretary for colonies, home secretary, and first lord of the admiralty. During World War I, he received the full blame for the disastrous Dardanelles Campaign and was forced to resign from the Cabinet. His political future appeared to have been cut short just as abruptly as his father's career had ended. Jennie was crushed by his fall from power. She had served as one of his political mentors, hosted necessary dinners, and provided him with political connections to the power-brokers of government. She had lived a second political career only to see Winston suffer the same hurt and disappointment that his father had suffered earlier.

Her spirit, which she had always relied on to overcome disappointment, was unable to bring her the inner peace and happiness she sought. She had been pleased with the reception of her memoirs, The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill, which were published in 1908. But a second play, The Bill, had not been well-received in 1913. Though Jennie gained some satisfaction when several articles she had written were published in Pearson's Magazine in 1915, and later edited into a book entitled Small Talks on Big Subjects (1916), she continued, with somewhat less enjoyment, to attend parties, balls, and the theater. But she was spending her time with another generation. The splendor and excitement of the Edwardian age had given way to a less formal and less sophisticated society. Many of her old friends, including King Edward VII, had passed away and were replaced by acquaintances like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald , James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and Igor Stravinsky.

In 1914, Jennie attended her nephew Hugh Frewen's wedding in Rome and was introduced to Hugh's friend, Montague Phippen Porch, a young man serving in the colonial service in Nigeria. Porch, a graduate of Oxford and member of the landed gentry who had served in the Boer War, was a darkly handsome and intelligent man, slightly built with a glorious moustache and premature white hair. He was also 37, three years younger than Winston. They casually spent some time together sightseeing in Rome before Jennie returned to London.

During World War I, Jennie took part in many volunteer activities. She translated a French book, My Return to Paris, into English for the French Parliamentary Committee. She also edited and wrote the preface for Women's War Work, wrote several political articles for the London Daily Chronicle on the impact of the war on Ireland, organized luncheons for French diplomats, and, in 1917, helped recruit singers for Margaret Lloyd George 's Welsh Memorial Matinee.

Since their initial meeting in Rome, Jennie had corresponded with Porch. In 1918, he came home on leave to England, and the couple set out to visit Jennie's sister Leonie at her castle in Ireland. By the time they arrived in Ireland, Jennie and Montague had an "understanding." They were married on June 1, 1918, in a simple, unheralded ceremony at the Registry Office on Harrow Road. Winston was the first to sign the register and assured Porch that he would never regret marrying Jennie. Porch later wrote that, indeed, he never did.

After spending some time visiting her new husband's family in Bath, Jennie continued her volunteer war service by working at Lancaster Gate Hospital while Porch returned to Nigeria. At war's end, Porch resigned his Nigerian position, returned to London, and the couple traveled in France. It seemed that life had improved considerably for Jennie. Winston had overcome his political setback and was back in the British Cabinet. His wife Clementine had taken over Jennie's old role of campaigning and hosting political dinners. Jack had his own business interests and was doing well.

In early 1921, Porch, unable to make money in London, returned to Nigeria where he hoped to use his knowledge of the country for profitable investment opportunities. Jennie remained in London and volunteered time to the Young Women's Christian Association, the Shakespeare Union, and other organizations. She continued to amaze everyone by acting in a movie, taking an airplane ride, and learning the newest dances.

In June 1921, Jennie visited her friend Lady Frances Horner at Mells Manor in Somerset. As she hurried down a staircase in new high-heeled shoes, she slipped and fell down the stairs, breaking an ankle. After nearly two weeks, gangrene set in, and her leg had to be amputated. Jennie calmly instructed the doctor to make certain he amputated high enough to contain the infection, and her leg was removed just above the knee. Though she seemed to be making progress,

on the morning of June 29 the main artery in the thigh of the amputated leg began to hemorrhage. She went into a coma before Winston and Jack arrived at the hospital and died shortly thereafter at age 67. A memorial service was held at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, before the funeral train left Paddington Station on the morning of July 2. That afternoon, Jennie was buried beside Randolph Churchill in the small cemetery at Bladon Church near Blenheim Palace. Montague Porch, still unaware of her death, was on his way to London from Nigeria.


Churchill, Peregrine, and Julian Mitchell. Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill, a Portrait with Letters. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1974.

Cornwallis-West, Mrs. George (Churchill, Jennie). The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill. NY: Century, 1908.

Kraus, René. Young Lady Churchill. NY: Putnam, 1943.

Leslie, Anita. Lady Randolph Churchill: The Story of Jennie Jerome. NY: Scribner, 1969.

Martin, Ralph G. Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill. 2 vols. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1969–71.

suggested reading:

Churchill, Lady Randolph. Small Talks on Big Subjects. London: Pearson, 1916.

Churchill, Winston S. Lord Randolph Churchill. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1906.

Foster, R.F. Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.

Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. NY: Henry Holt, 1991.

James, Robert Rhodes. Lord Randolph Churchill. NY: A.S. Barnes, 1960.

Leslie, Anita. The Remarkable Mr. Jerome. NY: Henry Holt, 1954.


Lady Churchill's letters and papers are located in several collections but most are in the Churchill Papers, Blenheim Palace, England.

Phillip E. Koerper , Professor of History, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama

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Churchill, Jennie Jerome (1854–1921)

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