I’m going to assume you received at least the bare minimum that an education offers, so you’re aware of whom Winston Churchill is. What you might not know is that his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, née Jeanette Jerome, led a far more interesting life, complete with piles of money! Scandalous affairs! Social climbing, aristocracy, royalty, and politics! Hollywood, you need to get on this. Here’s why.
She Was American
Frankly, I’m shocked Hollywood hasn’t been all over Jennie’s life story for this reason alone. We already take 90 percent of the credit for handing Germany their asses in WWII. Here’s a chance to take even more: Winston Churchill was half American.
Jennie’s father was an all-around New York City bad boy himself. He managed to make, and lose, fortunes worth millions of dollars in the stock market, repeatedly. He was also something of a ladies man. In fact, not only did he have the balls to step out on his wife, but when she gave birth to their second daughter, he named her after his mistress at the time, an opera singer named Jeanette. Eventually, Jennie’s mother got tired of living under the same roof as the lothario and moved with her three daughters to Europe.
She’s Got the Love Story
When Jennie was 19 years old she “came out” into society, so she got to attend all the fancy balls and parties England had to offer. During her first “season” she scored a sweet invitation to party on a yacht with the Prince and Princess of Wales. While there someone introduced her to Lord Randolph Churchill, second son of the Duke of Marlborough. It was basically love at first sight for both of them, and three days later he proposed and she said yes.
That’s when the shit hit the fan. No one else involved was at all happy with these crazy kids and their intentions. First of all, neither of them had bothered to talk to their parents first or ask for permission, which was just not done. Randolph’s family in particular was worried about the match, and for good reason. This was at a time when Americans were looked on in Europe, as one journalist put it, as “half horse, half alligator, with a dash of earthquake.” The idea of the son of one of the most important aristocrats in England marrying a colonial nobody was almost unthinkable. There reaction from Jennie’s friends and family back in the States wasn’t much better; after all, the English were those horrible oppressors that America had last been at war with less than 60 years before.
In classic Romeo and Juliet fashion Randolph’s parents refused to let him see Jennie again. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed, probably because Jennie was loaded and the Churchills were in need of cash. They must have managed to see each other at some point, though; historians have raised their eyebrows about the fact that Winston was born less than eight months after the two were quickly and quietly married.
Her Adult Life was “Downton Abbey” on Crack
The popular costume drama has nothing on the life Jennie lived once she got married. For one thing, her new, mustachioed husband was the son (then brother, then uncle) of the most prestigious non-royal Duke in the country. Their country house was Blenheim Palace, now a World Heritage site, which covers seven acres. That’s not the land, that’s just the house, and it’s the equivalent of 304,920 square feet.
Jennie and her husband spent money like it was water, always living beyond their (quite considerable) means. Jennie bought what in today’s money was millions of dollars worth of clothes a year. They left raising their two sons to the nannies and spent their time traveling with the Prince of Wales and throwing huge parties.
At the time no good aristocrat was faithful to their spouse, and Jennie embarked on a number of affairs. She had an on-off dalliance with the Prince himself for many years. Her second son was assumed by many people at the time not to be the product of her husband. When Randolph finally died of complications relating to syphilis, Jennie continued to have relationships with increasingly younger men. On July 28, 1900, the 45 year old Jennie married the 25 year old George Cornwallis-West. Society was scandalized. They divorced 14 years later and four years after that the then 64-year-old Jennie married a man three years younger than her son Winston, the 31 year old Montagu Phippen Porch.
She Was an All-Around Badass
When Jennie and her mother and sisters first moved to Europe they stayed in Paris, only to be forced to flee the Prussian army during the Franco-Prussian war. That taste of international conflict didn’t faze her though, and when the Boer War started in South Africa, Jennie threw on a nurse’s uniform and went down there to help out.
It may have been Winston who ended up being Prime Minister, but in a different time it could have been Jennie who got there first. Her husband was in Parliament most of his adult life, and Jennie was so involved in his work that she drafted most of his speeches for him. Winston himself saw his mother as his political mentor, not his father.
To keep herself busy in between wars and parties and husbands, Jennie edited a popular periodical called The Anglo-Saxon Review. She also tried her had at plays, at least one of which was performed at the Globe.
And two other awesome things that probably aren’t true, but since when has that stopped Hollywood? Legend has it that the Manhattan cocktail was invented for Jennie in 1874. Since she was giving birth to her son at basically the same time, it is unlikely she was at the Manhattan Club in New York the first time the drink was served, though. There are also unsubstantiated rumors that at some point Jennie got a tattoo of a snake on her wrist.
She Was Hot
Seriously, look at this chick. A contemporary said she had “more of the panther than of the woman in her look.” And just like we love looking at beautiful celebrities today, back then shops sold, and people clamored to purchase, photos of Jennie looking gorgeous.