Birthday: January 9, 1854
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Jennie Spencer-Churchill
Born Country: United States
Born in: Cobble Hill, New York, United States
Famous as: Socialite, Mother of Winston Churchill
Spouse/Ex-: George Cornwallis-West, Lord Randolph Churchill, Montagu Porch (m. 1918), George Cornwallis-West (m. 1900 - div. 1914)
father: Leonard Jerome
mother: Clarissa Hall
siblings: Clarita Jerome, Leonie Jerome
children: John Strange Spencer-Churchill, Winston Churchill
Died on: June 29, 1921
place of death: Paddington, London, United Kingdom
Who was Lady Randolph Churchill?
Jennie Spencer-Churchill CI RRC DStJ (née Jerome), better known as Lady Randolph Churchill, was a British socialite born in America. The wife and later widow of Lord Randolph Churchill, she garnered widespread attention due to her son, Sir Winston Churchill, who served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom between 1940 and 1945. Originally from New York, Jennie spent the early years of her life in US. At one point, she got a job as a magazine editor. In 1914, she was made the chair of the hospital committee for the American Women's War Relief Fund. Jennie married three times in her life. Lord Churchill was her first husband, to whom she was married from 1874 until his death in 1895. She then married British Officer George Cornwallis-West in 1900 and divorced him in 1914. Her third and final husband was the British Civil Servant Montagu Porch, with whom she exchanged wedding vows in 1918. Lady Churchill passed away three years later. She was 67 years old at the time.
Childhood & Early Life
Jennie was the daughter of Leonard Jerome and Clarissa (always referred to as Clara). She had three sisters, including one that died in childhood. Her father was a renowned financier, sportsman, and speculator.
Some contradictions have surfaced regarding the place and date of her birth. According to a plaque at 426 Henry Street, she was born in 1850. However, according to other reports, she was born on January 9, 1854, when the Jeromes were residing not far away, at number 8 Amity Street (since changed to 197). In that building, the owner of which was Leonard's brother Addison, Jennie was born during a snowstorm.
Her mother was a daughter of Ambrose Hall, a landowner. According to the family legends, the Halls were of Iroquois ancestry, but no evidence has been provided to support this claim.
Jennie’s paternal grandfather, Leonard's father, was part of Huguenot extraction. His ancestors came to America from the Isle of Wight in 1710.
A renowned beauty of her time, Jennie Jerome had her share of admirers, including Lord d'Abernon, who once famously stated there was "more of the panther than of the woman in her look". For a period, she was employed as an editor at a magazine.
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Artistic & Other Pursuits
A gifted amateur pianist, Lady Randolph was taught by Stephen Heller when she was young. Her tutor thought that she was talented enough to reach “concert standard” with hard work. However, if author Mary S Lovell is to be believed, Heller was not sure if his young pupil was capable of such hard work.
She is often mistaken as the inventor of the Manhattan cocktail. She supposedly requested the bartender at the Manhattan Club to concoct a special drink for her to celebrate the election of Samuel J. Tilden to the New York governorship in 1874.
It is likely that the club itself, an association of New York Democrats, came up with the drink on that occasion. She could not have been part of this, as she was in Europe during this period, heavily pregnant with her first child, Winston.
Jennie received the Royal Red Cross (RRC) military decoration in 1902 for her service as a nurse aboard the hospital ship RFA Maine during the Second Boer War.
Jennie wrote a play, ‘His Borrowed Plumes’, which was first produced in 1909 at The Globe Theatre. After the play flopped, its lead actress and producer, Mrs Patrick Campbell, started an affair with Jennie’s second husband, George Cornwallis-West.
In 1908, Jennie published her memoirs, ‘The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill’.
In 1914, the same year the First World War started, she became the chair of the hospital committee for the American Women's War Relief Fund, an organization that helped hospitals acquire funds and staff during the war.
The first meeting between Jennie and Lord Randolph Churchill took place at a sailing regatta on the Isle of Wight in August 1873. They were introduced by the Prince of Wales, who eventually became King Edward VII.
The couple became engaged within three days of their first encounter, but their wedding was postponed for several months as their parents quarrelled over the settlement.
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They tied the knot on April 15, 1874, at the British Embassy in Paris. Afterwards, she began using the name Lady Randolph Churchill. In conversation, she was referred to as Lady Randolph.
The couple’s oldest son, Winston, was born on November 30, 1874, eight months after the wedding. This has led to speculations among scholars on whether he was conceived before the wedding. It is most likely that he was born prematurely.
According to Lady Randolph’s sisters, the real father of her second son Jack (John Strange Spencer-Churchill), born on February 4, 1880, was Evelyn Boscawen, 7th Viscount Falmouth. Most scholars do not believe this to be true due to the boys’ strong resemblance to each other and to Lord Randolph.
It is generally agreed that Lady Randolph had multiple affairs during her first marriage. Her lovers included the Prince of Wales, Prince Karl Kinsky, and Herbert von Bismarck. In accordance with the custom of her age in her social class, her involvement in the upbringing of her sons was limited. She depended heavily on nannies like Elizabeth Everest.
She had garnered considerable respect and influence in the highest British social and political circles and was viewed as a very intelligent and witty individual who was quick to laugh. Her connections helped both Lord Randolph and Winston in their respective careers. In fact, Winston considered her a political mentor.
Lord Randolph passed away on January 24, 1895. His death allowed her to liberally move in her social circles, despite the fact that her family was nearly destitute.
On July 28, 1900, she exchanged wedding vows with George Cornwallis-West, who was only 26 days senior of Winston. They divorced in April 1914, and Jennie went back to using, by a deed poll, the name Lady Randolph Churchill.
She wedded Montagu Porch, a member of the British Civil Service in Nigeria, on June 1, 1918. The couple remained married until her death in 1921.
Death & Legacy
In May 1921, Jennie, wearing new high-heeled shoes, was climbing down a friend’s staircase when she slipped and fell, splintering her left ankle. This happened while Porch was travelling in Africa. Not long after, doctors discovered evidences of gangrene and surgically cut off her leg above the knee on 10 June. However, her health continued to worsen.
Due to the amputation, she suffered a haemorrhage of an artery in her thigh. Jennie passed away on June 29, 1921, at her home at 8 Westbourne Street.
In her later years, Jennie had incurred large debts, especially due to the lavish lifestyle she maintained which cost more than the £60 checks that Porch was regularly mailing her from Africa.
Following her death, her niece Leonie Leslie remarked that "It is Winston who weeps copiously, but it is Jack, his brother, and poor Porchy who are paying off her debts."
Jennie is interred in the Churchill family plot at St Martin's Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, beside her first husband. She had eight grandchildren, five through Winston and his wife Clementine Hozier (Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold, and Mary), and three through Jack and his wife Lady Gwendoline Theresa Mary Bertie (John, Henry, and Anne).
In the 1972 film ‘Young Winston’, Anne Bancroft was cast as Jennie Churchill. She was played by Lee Remick in the British television series ‘Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill’ (1974).