Tuesday, February 28, 2017


If you watched Downton Abbey, then you know that many of the great British estates were saved from the auction block and the lords who owned them were saved from bankruptcy by fortuitous marriages to American heiresses. Not just any old American heiresses, but the cream of the crop. Daughter of William K. Vanderbilt, Consuelo Vanderbilt, married Charles Churchill to become the Duchess of Marlboro, and her friend, Jeanette (Jennie) Jerome, married Charles' younger brother Lord Randolph Churchill.

Lady Randolph Churchill née Jeanette Jerome (aka Jennie) was born in Brooklyn, more precisely, at 426 Henry Street. There's a plaque commemorating her birth there, although that was not her family's home. The mythology is that her uncle lived at Henry Street and the Jerome's were visiting when Clara Jerome went into labor. The Jerome's, at that time lived nearby in a brick row house at 8 Amity Street which has been renumbered as 197 Amity Street. It's bit confusing, and there is also some confusion as to the spelling of her name - Jenny or Jennie?

Jennie's father, Leonard Jerome, lost and made several fortunes in his career and must have been between fortunes at the time of Jennie was born. He became a speculator in railroads and whatnot with Cornelius Vanderbilt and became rich again so that a few years after Jennie's birth, Jerome moved his wife and daughters to a house in Manhattan at the corner of 26th St. and Madison Avenue. It was a very big house. The breakfast room could hold 70 people. My. That house was torn down in 1967, lasting over 100 years. [William K. Vanderbilt had a similarly-sized house at the corner of 5th Avenue and 51st Street]

Jerome loved horses and partnered with the Commodore's son, William K. Vanderbilt (Consuelo's father), to start the American Jockey Club, the Coney Island Jockey Club, and build a racetrack in Brooklyn. The Sheepshead Bay Race Track is now disappeared into real estateville although Jerome Street in still runs between 16th St. and 22nd St. Jerome and August Belmont also built a race track in the Bronx where they held the first Belmont Stakes in 1867 (Belmont Stakes is now held at Belmont Park on Long Island).

Jerome was lavishly generous with his wife and daughters and encouraged them to enjoy life, something Jennie would take to heart. Along with her mother and sisters, Jennie spent summers in France, which is where Jennie met Lord Randolph Churchill. The story is that they got engaged three days after they met, but the dowry settlement took months to a negotiate because Randolph's mother disliked Jennie and wasn't about to sell her son into marriage for a pittance. As soon as the dowry contract was signed, Randolph and Jennie married quietly, and their son Winston Churchill was born prematurely 7 months later.

After the Lord Randolph Churchill's had two children, Randolph became ill (it isn't proven, but claimed that he died of syphilis - could have been a brain tumor). Jennie began to take after her philandering father. She had affairs with the German Kaiser, the future king of England and other powerful men who woud later help further Winston's career.

After Randolph died, forty-one year old Jennie remained in England and married George Cornwallis-West, a man 20 years younger than she. They divorced and a few years later, she married Montagu Phippen Porch, a civil servant 23 years younger than she.

Her young husband was in Africa when Jennie had a fall that broke her anke. She was wearing high heeled shoes and slipped on the stairs at a friend's home. The break was tremendous and the ankle gangrened. Jennie's leg was amputated above the knee, apparently not in a skilled manner, because shortly after the surgery an artery in her thigh hemorrhaged and she died in 1821 at 67 years of age.

Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill was buried in the Churchill family plot in Oxforshire.

[Leonard Jerome, by the way, was interred at Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.]

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