Pretty In The Past: Jennie Jerome (aka Winston Churchill’s Mum)

Jennie Jerome was the first of the American heiresses who married into the English aristocracy (like Lady Grantham in Downton) and one of the most celebrated beauties of the Victorian/Edwardian era.

Often when you look at photos of ‘beauties’ from another age, you can’t really see what the fuss was all about – their hair and clothes looks so dated, or the standards of beauty were different then so it’s difficult to understand – but in Jennie’s case she was and still is a clear and undisputed megababe.

I love the strength in her face – the bold brows, direct gaze and strong jaw – and most of Victorian London agreed with me. Jennie married three times and each time she was crazy in love. She also had plenty of love affairs and devoted admirers and was known for her sparkling wit, energy and enthusiasm for big projects. Back in the day, young ladies like Jennie were expected to look decorative and marry well – that was the deal.

Jennie and her two sisters were all attractive, intelligent, excellent horsewomen, talented musicians and great company and they cheerfully ignored their parents’ wishes and married for love. The marriages were challenging to say the least, but the sisters made the best of things and poured their considerable energies into raising their children and furthering their ambitions.

She was part of the Prince of Wales’ set (Queen Victoria’s son) and a close confidante of the man who would become King Edward VII (and who was rumoured to have been one of her lovers). Their crew had a fondness for fast living and tattoos – Jennie had a snake design curling around her wrist.

Throughout her life she wore the finest fashions of the age, setting trends in striking creations by Worth and maintained her luxurious standard of living even when running desperately short of funds. She was lavish in the way she lived – her clothes, her affairs, the energy she poured into furthering Winston’s career – and unapologetic, even when society scorned her for marrying men young enough to be her sons (her second husband, George Cornwallis-West was twenty years her junior and her third, Montagu Phippen Porch, was even younger.)

I admire her indomitable spirit and fearlessness and I think you can see that in her firm, clear gaze in these photographs. Jennie Jerome, Lady Randolph, whatever you want to call her, was a beauty who transcended her looks to earn her place in history and lived by her own rules.