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Thursday my local library offered a lecture on the background of Downton Abbey, the popular period piece from across the pond. The speaker was Barbara Geiger, a landscape historian. I didn’t know there was such a job. She teaches for ITT and specializes in late 19th and early 20th century history.

I’ll share the detailed explanation of British property law for later. Now I’ll briefly introduce three women who, like Cora on Downton Abbey, were American brides imported to infuse cash into the coffers of British aristocracy. These women had dramatic lives and I can see adding their biographies to my reading list.

Consuelo Vanderbilt (of “the” Vandrbilt’s)  must have had envied royalty or she wouldn’t dress like this. Obviously, she couldn’t marry a royal so the aristocracy would have to do. Her parents schemed to find a duke or lord for their daughter. Despite her protests, Consuela’s domineering mother manipulated her into marrying Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough. After producing “an heir and a spare,” Consuela and “Sunny” (Spencer-Churchill’s nickname) lived rather separate lives and eventually annulled their marriage.  Later Consuela married a French aviator who worked with the Wright Brothers at one point. A biography on Consuelo is Glitter and Gold.

Jennie Jerome

Born in New York, Jeanette (“Jennie”) Jerome married Lord Randolph Churchill. They were engaged within three days of meeting. Lord Randolph was known to be rather unruly and wild, quite a philanderer, drinker and gambler, hence the need to marry for money.

Rumors of the day suggest Jeanette subscribed to a “what’s good for the gander is good for the goose” and she had many affairs.

Her son was Winston Churchill and though he was primarily raised by nannies, he did have a close relationship with his mother. One controversy that’s alive and well in the Talk section of Wikipedia is whether Winston Churchill was born premature or whether he was conceived before his parents married. While the couple got engaged quickly, there was a long hold up as the families disagreed about the dowry. Thus the pair may have been impatient. That’s my guess.

I just put her biography, American Jennie: The Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill on hold at the library.

Also fond of tieras, Lady Almina

Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell married the heir to Highclere CastleHenry George Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon. (Highclere is the castle where they film Downton Abbey.) She has a rather mysterious background as her mother was married to Captain Wombwell, but many believe her father was Alfred de Rothschild since he sent her to school and left her a fortune. Her biography is Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.

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