Jane Ridley

Jennie, Clemmie and Goosie too

‘There never was a Churchill, from John of Marlborough down,’ wrote Gladstone, ‘that had either principles or morals.’ With the shining exception of Winston and his brother Jack, Churchill men have tended to be bad hats, but this makes them all the more interesting to read about.

‘There never was a Churchill, from John of Marlborough down,’ wrote Gladstone, ‘that had either principles or morals.’ With the shining exception of Winston and his brother Jack, Churchill men have tended to be bad hats, but this makes them all the more interesting to read about.

‘There never was a Churchill, from John of Marlborough down,’ wrote Gladstone, ‘that had either principles or morals.’ With the shining exception of Winston and his brother Jack, Churchill men have tended to be bad hats, but this makes them all the more interesting to read about. Mary Lovell’s new book tells the story of the Churchills as a family over four generations, and it never ceases to amaze and entertain.

John Duke of Marlborough and his wife Sarah founded a dynasty of melancholic dukes who survived by selling off the family assets. What saved the Churchills from sinking into obscurity on their dwindling estates were lucky marriages. Mary Lovell’s story really starts with Duchess Fanny, Winston’s formidable grandmother. She was a Londonderry — her mother ran the family coal business — and she brought energy and perhaps a touch of insanity. Fanny had two clever sons: the rakehell Blandford, who succeeded as duke, and Randolph, who was a brilliant but mercurial Tory boy.

One of the strongest characters in the book is Randolph’s wife, the American Jennie Jerome. With panther-like good looks and a Native American bone structure, she had little money but many lovers and much style. After her husband’s meteoric career apparently ended in syphilis, she married two much younger men, but she was a good mother to Winston and Jack. Blandford, meanwhile, married an English aristocrat known as Goosie, who was not as stupid as her name suggests. When her cheating husband came down to breakfast one morning, he lifted the silver salver to find that Goosie had placed a small, pink, celluloid doll on toast instead of the usual poached egg.

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