Call them whatever you want; Gilded Age Heiresses, Dollar Princesses, Buccaneers– they all point to the same type of woman. Spanning about a twenty year time period wealthy American ladies of marrying age headed across the pond to snag the ultimate in opulent accessories: a noble title.
In this episode, the third part of our Gilded Age series, we sit down to a chat about several of these women. If you have yet to listen to the Mrs Astor podcast, you might want to take some time to do that now. We do reference several people discussed in that episode.
During the last part of the 1800s the British economy was drifting from agriculturally-based to more industrial. The funds nobility required to maintain not only their magnificent homes, but their lifestyle, was diminishing.
On the other side of the Atlantic, a group of American Mamas and Daughters have stalled socially. They could not enter the next tier of society and felt the best option to propel them into that social level was to have a title in the family. Not short of cash, and having well educated and adventurous daughters, they headed to England. Awaiting them was Edward VII, Prince of Wales who had a very soft spot in his heart for these charming young women.
One of the first women to become titled was Brooklyn-born Jennie Jerome Churchill.
In 1873, a 19 yr old Jennie meets Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill, Second son (and therefore NOT the title-inheritor!) of the 7th Duke of Marlborough.
Quick, scandalous proposal. Slower engagement. Some hoops had to be jumped through by the couple, and finally the Prince of Wales got involved. Jennie married at the British Embassy in Paris the following spring and became Lady Churchill… and seven months later she gave birth to a full term son…and named him Winston.
Next up in our discussion is Consuelo Yznaga.
She landed her title as Duchess of Manchester when she married Viscount Mandeville in 1876. This union really got things hopping in NYC after Consuelo’s childhood friend Alva Vanderbilt threw a ball in her honor. (Seriously, if you don’t know who Alva is or what happened at that ball, you simply MUST listen to the Mrs Astor podcast!) Alva was also inspired to get a title for her one and only daughter whom she had named after her childhood friend…Consuelo. (Yes, same one. How many Consuelos can there be in this story?)
Consuelo Vanderbilt was raised to become royalty. Alva saw to all her education, as well as overseeing the suitors who came sniffing around. Alva, wishing to draw attention away from the fact that she and Willliam K were divorcing, got things moving as only Alva could. Consuelo had, for a brief moment, developed a backbone and told Mommy Dearest that she was engaged to be married to someone Mom did not approve of. Alva manipulated that thought right out of her daughter’s head and in 1895 a tearful 18 year old Consuelo married of Charles Spencer- Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, becoming a Duchess.
She gave him not only a hefty dowry, but also two boys in rapid succession. She gave us the clever phrase,” an heir and a spare”.
She also, eventually, left him, spent a good deal of her life in philanthropic work, and had the marriage annulled. She went on to have a great life when she married the dashing Jacques Balsan.
Some of the stories of these ladies just need to be heard. Like that of Jennie Chamberlain, of Ohio who became Lady Naylor-Leyland.
One of the heiresses who really caught our attention was Mary Leiter who fell deeply in love with George Curzon, a young and politically ambitious member of Parliament. Eventually they wed, and after many years he fell in love with her at last. They moved to India and she became Vicereine of India. They lived a rather extraordinary life.
Time Travel With The History Chicks
The only place we are going to send you with this topic is your favorite bookstore or library.
We only touched on the lives of a few women in this podcast, there are a couple hundred and some change to explore and the book that does it best? To Marry An English Lord, by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace. We LOOOOOOVE this book. This is Beckett’s copy. You really should get your own.
Another book we both enjoyed was Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and Mother in the Gilded Age, by Amanda MacKenzie Stuart.
Since you are on a Consuelo bender, check out her book, The Glitter and the Gold.
Finally, after you get good and educated on all of these women of the Gilded Age, get your hands on Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers. Wharton died before the book was finished, but 50 years later, a Wharton scholar named Marion Mainwaring finished the tale of three American women who marry British Nobility. ( Or you could watch the 1995 BBC miniseries,which is available on dvd).
As always, music for our podcast comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at music.mevio.com.