Jennie Jerome Churchill

2. Cowes and the Yachting Season

Jennie Jerome Churchill met her husband Lord Randolph during the yachting season at Cowes on The Isle of Wight.

This island is located directly south of England’s mainland.

The Cowes Week festival originates from the Prince Regent’s interest in yachting (which continued after he became King George IV in 1820). Characterized by elite dinners and social events both on and off the water, this resort was prime hunting grounds for that most prized of all quarries – a titled husband!

From Brannon’s “Picture of The Isle of Wight” – which you can read in its verbose Victorian completeness at :

Brannon on Gutenberg

“The decided advantages of Cowes are … its excellent shore for bathing—and its safe and commodious harbour—which recommend it strongly as a fashionable watering-place, and the resort of gentlemen fond of aquatic amusements.”

As Jennie may have seen it.

“The Parade affords a delightful promenade, being on the water’s edge. Here are several first-rate houses, standing at the foot of the steepest part of the hill, which is luxuriantly clothed with hanging shrubberies and several groups of majestic trees, presenting a perfectly unique picture of sylvan and marine beauty. The Royal Yacht-Club House, with its ample awning, and the very elegant Gothic villa of Sir John Hippesley, will be particularly noticed.”

Most events on yachts were not so casual.

Most events abourd the ships were not the casual, barefoot affairs one would think of today . Formality was the norm, and invitations to lunch or dine aboard were taken seriously as markers of one’s social success.

Until the advent of WWI, most racers were gentlemen amateurs who hired and maintained their own crews for the event. Later years saw the advent of racing clubs and fully professional teams.

In 1851 members of the New York Yacht Club raced the schooner America against British competitors around the island. The NYYC won, and the race’s trophy became known as the America‘s Cup, giving its name to the oldest and most prestigious event in international sailboat racing.

The famous schooner “America”

Cowes week still happens each August -if you happen to be in the area, you can plan your trip (or simply read all about it) here:

1. The Angry Prince, or, Why You Shouldn’t Blackmail Your Future Sovereign

While traveling with his friend the Prince of Wales in India, the 7th Earl of Aylesford received a letter from his wife indicating that she wished to leave him for Lord Blandford, eldest son of the Duke of Marlborough. Blandford and Lady Edith had been lovers for a time, and the prolonged absence of her husband to foreign lands proved to be an irresistable temptataion.


Lord Blandford, George Charles Spencer-Churchill.

Lady Edith Aylesford….the temptress in question.

The couple had been separated for some time, but an affair was one thing… a public cuckolding quite another.  The Earl telegraphed to his mother to get hold of his children and keep them until his return.  “A great misfortune has happened.” If only he knew that greater misfortunes were to follow.

Aylesford returned to London, bent on divorce and revenge, and spreading word of the Prince’s vicious condemnation of Blandford as “the greatest blackguard alive.”


Heneage Finch, 7th earl of Aylesford

The Prince of Wales was no angel in the matrimonial fidelity department himself, and Jennie Jerome’s husband Randolph was enraged at what he saw as the Prince’s hypocrisy in dealing with his brother. With undue haste, Randolph threw himself into the fray, taking to Princess Alexandra a bundle of compromising letters that the  Prince himself had once written to Lady Aylesford.


Little pieces of paper often change the world.

Randolph threatened to release these letters to the press,  suggesting that the resultant scandal would make certain that  “the Prince will never sit on the throne of England.” (if those aren’t fighting words, then what are?)

The infuriated and horribly embarrassed Prince,  now on his way back to England, sent word that he would meet Randolph Churchill on the dueling field… to which Randolph blithely answered that he would meet anyone but his future sovereign. (Insert rude gesture here…)

Thus the Prince’s declaration that he would no longer meet ANY Churchills, anywhere, and would not go to any house in which they were recived. This maneuver, since the prince was the big social prize, effectively cut them neatly out of society. (Except for the holdout Consuelo Yznaga, who received them anyway, making us  like her very much indeed).

Prime Minister Disraeli arranged for the letters to be retrieved and burned, and cleverly arranged for Randolph’s father to receive the plum Viceroy appointment in Ireland… with the condition that he take his irritating second son with him out of England. Buh-bye.

And how did it all end?

  • Lord Aylesford – Died at his ranch in Texas, reportedly of complications of alcoholism. Residents reported a pile of empty bottles at his house “taller than a haystack.”
  • Lady Aylesford – Her son (later known as Guy Bertrand) was not allowed to succeed to the title at Lord A’s death… as everyone “knew” he was Blandford’s child… and a child of a separated couple was not automatically  assumed to be legally the progeny of the marriage. The House of Lords voted against his inheritance.
  • The Prince of Wales – Went on to have many open liaisons with (married) mistresses, among them Daisy Warwick, Lillie Langtry, and Mrs. George Keppel. Hmmmm.
  • Lord Randolph- Used his three years’ time rusticating in Ireland to his advantage, bursting back onto the political scene upon his return to England.
  • Blandford – Finalized his own divorce shortly before he became the 8th Duke of Marlborogh. Married American heiress Lily Hammersley, whose fortune was responsible for the central heating at Blenheim. (One less thing for Consuelo Vanderbilt to deal with later, when she married his son!)