Born Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph Churchill ‘had all the dash and her full share of the various talent for which American young womanhood is remarkable. She flung herself ardently into many occupations and amuseents: Literature, hunting, drama, politics, marriage’ said The Times obituary.
The daughter of a Brooklyn speculator and ‘father of the American turf’ Leonard Jerome, Jennie went to France when her mother needed medical treatment. She moved in Court circles and in 1873 met Lord Randolph Churchill, third son of the Duke of Marlborough.
Jennie gave enormous support to Randolph’s political career and was a keen organiser of the Primrose League. Randolph and Jennie joined the Duke of Marlborough when he was made Viceroy in Dublin. In Ireland ‘hunting became our passion’, she wrote in her memoirs. It was how she met Empress Elisabeth. They had two sons including future wartime leader Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.
Lady Randolph became one of the leading hostesses of her day. A poet wrote of the beauties of the day,
‘Then Lady Randolph Churchill, whose sweet tones
Make her the Saint Cecilia of the day;
And next those fay-like girls, the Livingstones,
Lord Randolph caught syphilis and Jennie sought love elsewhere. She had a lengthy affair with Sisi’s riding companion Karl (Charles) Kinsky. By the time Randolph died in 1895, Kinsky had been pressured into marriage by his family.
In 1900 she married a young guards officer George Frederick Myddelton Cornwallis-West. Jennie took to writing plays but George fell for leading actress Mrs Patrick Campbell and they divorced in 1913. She again re-married but her new husband spent most of the time in Africa. Lady Randolph died in 1921 and The Times concluded
‘She had been beautiful; she had been brilliant; she filled her life with work and play.’