Sir Winston Churchill’s paternal grandmother (the mother of Randolph) has been a background figure in many biographies but her own story has never been told until now. As the eldest daughter of 3rd Marchioness of Londonderry, Frances’s life was steeped in great historical names and occasions, from Tsar Alexander I and the Duke of Wellington (her godfather) to her childhood friendship with Queen Victoria, and ultimately her famous grandson, Sir Winston Churchill. She was an inspiring woman who transformed Blenheim Palace into not only a family home, but also a social and political focus for the life of the nation. She was a deeply caring woman who often acted as a surrogate mother to the younger members of her family, including Winston. Her crowning achievement, fully and dramatically retold in this book, was her humanity, leadership, and skill in averting the effects of the Irish potato famine of 1879. It was this most public performance which brought Frances the award of the Order of Victoria and Albert from Queen Victoria herself, normally reserved for members of the royal family. This absorbing and remarkable book restores a most gracious lady to her proper place at Blenheim, and includes previously unpublished photos and a foreword by the present 11th Duke of Marlborough.
|Publisher:||The History Press|
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About the Author
Margaret Elizabeth Forster is married to the archivist at Blenheim Palace, who is continuing to work on the Duke of Marlborough’s personal family archives. The author has been granted exclusive access to the Blenheim archives for her book.
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Frances, 7th Duchess of Marlborough
By Margaret Elizabeth Forster
The History PressCopyright © 2012 Margaret Elizabeth Forster
All rights reserved.
A Glamorous Beginning
On a bitterly cold evening in the winter of 1822 a tiny horse-drawn carriage was making its way along a narrow valley in the Austrian Alps, slowly but steadily approaching the small town which still lay a considerable distance ahead. The overhead sky was gradually darkening to leave a clear but heavily frosty night. The distant mountains, so enchanting during the day, seemed to be closing in and threatening those less imposing aspects of nature.
The most noticeable occupant of this small vehicle, sitting in the corner of the carriage and anxiously watching the approach of night, was a man of average height and weight, dark in colouring but with a rare animation which was overlaid by an expression of grief and sadness only discernible at close quarters. This was Lord Charles Stewart, brave and brilliant soldier of the Napoleonic wars, Adjutant-General to the British Expeditionary Force under the Duke of Wellington, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry and, until recently, His Majesty's Ambassador in Vienna. This was the man who had fought so courageously alongside Wellington at Waterloo. The heartbreak in his face was for his stepbrother Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary, whose sudden death had left him totally bereft, not only in personal terms but also in terms of his career. As a result he was moving his family to the town of Verona in Italy, where he had been directed by Castlereagh's successor at the Foreign Office to attend the Congress there before he relinquished his duties.
Not everyone in the carriage bore such responsibilities. The small cradle opposite him contained a very lively occupant, carefully swathed in blankets to protect her from the weather but nevertheless managing to surface sufficiently to take a keen interest in her surroundings. Two huge blue-grey eyes, resting at the moment on her father's aquiline profile, took in every aspect of the world around her. Lady Frances Anne Emily was very much awake and alive; this was the future 7th Duchess of Marlborough. At present history scarcely acknowledges it, but she grew to be a remarkable and fascinating woman of considerable achievement, not the least of which was the vital influence she was to have on her grandson, Winston Churchill.
Her elder brother Harry, her father's son and heir, was sound asleep in the opposite corner, his blonde hair falling across his forehead in an unconsciously innocent way. Last, but certainly not least, the baby's mother, the new Marchioness of Londonderry, Frances Anne, was fully awake but had her eyes fixed anxiously on her husband's face, deeply concerned for the man, 20 years older than herself, whom she loved so passionately and had fought to marry against the advice of her guardian aunt; she had slept no more than he had and was increasingly anxious to reach their destination.
When one enters the chapel at Blenheim Palace, two statues immediately draw the eye: they are of John Winston Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough (1822-83), and his second son Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill (1849-95), father of Sir Winston Churchill. Of the wife and mother who placed them there, very little trace can be found, and yet the infant with the blue-grey eyes in this frail-looking carriage became one of the most influential duchesses ever to rule 'this wild and unmerciful house', as Sarah, the 1st Duchess called it.
Duchess Frances, as she came to be known in later life, was born Frances Anne Emily Vane-Tempest-Stewart on 15 April 1822 at 21 St James's Square, London, into a family which had always been significant both socially and politically. The house was rented for her birth by her parents, who wished to be near Charles' step-brother and his wife, Viscount and Lady Castlereagh, and it cost what her mother described as the 'immense' rent of £500 per month. Frances, the second child and eldest girl in a family of six children, was the daughter of two very interesting parents, both of whom emerge from nineteenth-century history as highly colourful characters who certainly left Frances with significant genes to enjoy and pass on to her descendants. Her background provides considerable insight into how she became the remarkable force she did. The qualities and personality she grew up to demonstrate are founded in her own family and the life and experience she gained with them: her strength of character, her strong sense of family, her confidence, her poise, her fortitude, her compassion for the deprived, all were the product of the inheritance and environment which surrounded her childhood.
Her father, Lord Charles William Stewart, was a member of the Scottish-Irish family of Stewart of Mount Stewart in Ireland, whose members made substantial contributions to British national life in both military and political matters. His reputation was that of a glamorous British soldier, fighting companion of the Duke of Wellington in the Napoleonic wars against France. Born in 1778 and younger by nine years than Castlereagh, his step-brother, he was deeply devoted to him. Although not as intellectual as Castlereagh, he acquired a reputation at Eton for courage and physical prowess, narrowly escaping death when he rescued a schoolfellow from drowning.
His military career reads like a roll of honour. He joined the 18th Dragoons and in 1803 was made a colonel and ADC to George III. He preferred action to office and in 1809 joined Sir John Moore in Portugal, distinguishing himself in battle and, after Sir John's death at Corunna, becoming Adjutant-General (i.e. second in command) of the British Forces in the Peninsula to Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Duke of Wellington. At the age of 32 he was promoted to Major-General and only ended his military career when, three times wounded, he was invalided home in 1812. At almost the same moment his wife died suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving him with one son, Frederick. Castlereagh, at that time Foreign Secretary, made Charles a Knight of the Bath and sent him to Berlin to liaise diplomatically with the Prussian and Swedish armies. In 1814, as the war with Napoleon was brought to an end, he entered Paris with the conquering forces. He was given the position of Privy Counsellor GCB, the title of Baron Stewart of Stewart's Court and Ballylawn in County Donegal, and appointed British Ambassador to Austria, with special reference to the Congress of Vienna.
Such a man, of sound character and well respected, could expect to be welcomed by the family of his future wife, but her aunt and guardian, Mrs Angelo Taylor, showed considerable resistance. Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest was descended from more than one distinguished line and was one of the wealthiest heiresses in the country. The Vanes were Earls of Darlington; in the seventeenth century Sir Henry Vane of Raby Castle in Durham was Secretary of State to Charles I. The Tempests dated from medieval times in both Durham and Yorkshire; Sir Piers Tempest had fought with Henry V at Agincourt and had been knighted on the battlefield. The vast estates of her grandfather, John Tempest of Wynyard Hall and Brancepeth Castle, came to Frances Anne's father, Sir Henry, on condition that he added the name of Tempest to his own name of Vane. He also 'inherited' John Tempest's parliamentary seat for Durham City and later, in 1799, married the 18-year-old heiress Catherine, Countess of Antrim. Frances Anne, born in 1800 in St James's Square, was the only child of this wealthy pair; she did not see much of her mother, who led a frantic social life, but became very attached to her aunt, her father's sister Frances, Mrs Angelo Taylor, who nursed her through smallpox and later became her guardian. This was the lady who questioned the marriage: Frances Anne was fatherless, she was extremely wealthy, there were almost 20 years between Frances Anne and Charles Stewart, and he already had a son by his first marriage who was only a little younger than Frances Anne.
Frances Anne did not inherit the exceptional beauty of her aunt or the arresting good looks of her father, but her portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence at the time of her engagement to Charles Stewart shows an attractive young woman with considerable humour and character in her face, a gift which was to serve her much more effectively than beauty, and would be inherited by her daughter Frances. This was the woman and role-model Duchess Frances had before her eyes for the first half of her life; it must have had a profound effect on her.
What is now known of Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest is to some extent drawn from her Journal, which she wrote in 1841 at Wynyard Hall, the family home near Durham, towards the end of her life, because it would be a 'souvenir of a long, brilliant existence', intended only for her children.
Lord Charles Stewart and Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest, aged 17, met in 1818 at her mother's house in Bruton Street, Mayfair. At the age of 41 he was a dashing, handsome man with a brilliant career as soldier and diplomat already established; he was British Ambassador to Austria, based in Vienna, a post from which he supported Castlereagh at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Their further acquaintance led to attachment, but Frances Anne's aunt and guardian was not impressed. Frances Anne was heiress to an immense fortune in land and productive collieries, providing her with an annual income of £60,000 compared with Charles's £18,000 and, under the law as it then stood, on marriage her property would belong to her husband; furthermore, she was a ward in Chancery, which enabled her aunt to delay the marriage by legal proceedings.
Finally, however, Frances Anne, whose resolve had only been strengthened by this opposition, married her Charles quietly in London in April 1819, when she was given away by the Duke of Wellington, her aunt having been satisfied with a stringent marriage settlement which would protect her fortune from misuse. This meant, in effect, that Charles became tenant for life of his wife's estate, but the trustees were empowered to suspend his authority if they considered he had acted imprudently in his management of the estates, especially the collieries; nor was he allowed to sell any portion of the landed property unless he made good the sale by the purchase of land or government stock of equivalent value. Charles in due course carefully honoured this agreement.
Castlereagh, who provided his country house for the honeymoon, wrote at the time about Frances Anne:
She is not a beauty but she is extremely well-looking, mild and intelligent and innocent ... and for her time of life, she seems to have a great deal of decision and character. The situation in which she is placed will require a large share of both.
By the time Charles and Frances Anne had spent a week of their honeymoon at Cray in Kent, the Castlereaghs' delightful country house, and for a second week at Wildernesse, Lord Camden's property, where the estate workers strewed the ground with flowers to welcome the new bride, they were expected at the Pavilion in Brighton to stay for a few days with the Prince Regent. Returning to town, they prepared for their visit north. The journey took four days, but they were given the traditional splendid reception: the tenantry took the horses from the carriage and drew it themselves to the tremendous accompaniment of bells. Frances Anne sadly recorded in her diary that she had not seen Wynyard for five years, when she had left it at 14, after her father's death; she was appalled to see that her mother had stripped it, selling all the plate and many other valuable things.
This did not, however, prevent them giving a magnificent ball to the county and visiting Durham and Sunderland, where again they were received with great enthusiasm. It took a considerable time to restore the estates and collieries, which had been neglected and plundered during her minority; they had to write off whatever money was owed to them by her mother and appoint new agents. Finally back in London, having been presented at court by Lady Castlereagh and having attended a fancy dress ball at Carlton House, they were ready to leave England in July 1819.
Frances Anne soon had plenty of adventures to reflect upon, beginning with the long, slow journey to the British Embassy in Vienna, where her husband was to return to his ambassadorial duties. They reached Paris in the middle of August, where they spent three weeks dining with the 'corps diplomatique', which Frances Anne found 'boring', and being presented to the Bourbon monarch, Louis XVIII and 'Madame', his queen, and the other members of the Orleans family, who were 'very kind' to her. In early September 1819 they crossed the inhospitable Jura mountains to Geneva, where Frances Anne discovered she was pregnant. Resting here for a few days, she was delighted at the scenery, the high mountains and the blue waters of the Rhone.
On through Schaffhausen, Augsburg, Munich and Salzburg, where Frances Anne became ill and where they decided to push on to Vienna, arriving on 10 October. A miscarriage soon followed, and the newly decorated, newly furnished British Embassy, a large house in the Minoriten Platz, was no consolation to the unhappy young bride.
Time passed, however, and Charles and Frances Anne gradually settled down to embassy life. There was entertaining to do and balls to attend. Vienna, the musical capital of Europe, resounded with melody. Frances Anne, used to a high standard of living, and Charles, who loved fine clothes, were soon the centre of local discussion. The observations of Martha Bradford, wife of the Reverend William Bradford, embassy chaplain, have been recorded:
'Tis plain she is not free from caprice, and 'tis equally plain that she is a completely spoilt child with fine natural qualities and excellent abilities, and with a quickness of perception and sense of the ridiculous, which makes her at once entertaining to a degree and perhaps a little dangerous.
Certainly, the fact that Frances Anne was only 19 years of age and in possession of a huge fortune attracted attention and some degree of envy wherever the couple went. Charles's diplomatic position gave plenty of opportunities for the display of finery and jewellery and Frances Anne was later to record her regret that she had not spent her leisure time more profitably in furthering her education. There was also the strange story of Tsar Alexander I of Russia ...
In 1820 the Russian Tsar Alexander I called on them on his way to the Congress of Laibach in Slovenia and thus gave rise to the rumour of an affair between himself and Frances Anne that was to persist and become an important part of both their lives. He was to be a familiar figure to our Frances in her early years. It so happened that two years previously the Tsar had sat for his portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence and had been greatly taken by an unfinished portrait of a lady which stood on an easel in the studio. Since Sir Thomas refused to identify the lady or to sell the picture, Alexander insisted on having the portrait placed in front of him as he sat and later confessed that he felt a great disquiet about it. Now, two years later, in the British Embassy in Vienna, he came face to face with Frances Anne, Lady Stewart, and recognised her as his mysterious lady in the portrait of two years earlier. This was to lead later to a much closer association.CHAPTER 2
From Crisis to Crisis
The period just before Duchess Frances' birth was to prove both busy and eventful for the Stewarts. In Britain in 1820 George IV acceded to the throne and began proceedings for divorce against his wife Caroline. Since this involved gathering information from northern Italy, where she had been living, it fell to Charles to travel there, collect the necessary witnesses and ship them off to London. At the same time he was instructed to attend the Congress of Troppau as an observer. Frances Anne, now pregnant again, missed him dreadfully, with the result that at the end of each week he made considerable overnight journeys to be with her.
More adventures followed when a fire broke out in the Embassy, starting in Frances Anne's bedroom, next door to where she was sitting with her companion Ellen Cade, daughter of her old governess, who had come out from England to keep her company. As the flames burst into the boudoir where they were both sitting, they rushed out, but at the head of the stairs Frances Anne fainted. The two rooms where the fire began were entirely consumed; the adjoining ones were badly damaged. Her clothes and laces were burnt but her jewels were saved. As for the pregnant Frances Anne, she was carried to a nearby house, where a Dr Forbes tried in vain to bleed her in both arms but managed to give her 50 drops of laudanum. She could not rest until she returned home, to a bed on the ground floor. Violent spasms and shivers brought back Dr Forbes, this time with one hundred drops of laudanum, which 'composed and under God's blessing, saved me'.
It says a great deal for the future son and heir that he survived all this; perhaps he gained the strength from it to face further ordeals ahead. He was finally born in April 1821 to his ecstatic parents. His father gave his mother a set of pearls which cost £10,000. The layette cost £2,000. He was named George (after the King) Henry Robert (after his two grandfathers) Charles William (after his father). Martha Bradford again shares her rather sour observations at the christening, recording, rather acidly, that everyone assembled at nine o'clock in the evening arrayed in gold, silver and diamonds, and was received by Lady Stewart, dressed in Brussels lace over white satin, and £10,000 worth of pearls. Charles was in full Hussar uniform, yellow boots included.
Excerpted from Churchill's Grandmama by Margaret Elizabeth Forster. Copyright © 2012 Margaret Elizabeth Forster. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations,
1. A Glamorous Beginning,
2. From Crisis to Crisis,
3. An Emotional Farewell,
4. A Privileged Childhood,
5. An Eventful Adolescence,
6. A Marriage has been Arranged,
7. Frances and Blenheim,
8. Duchess of Marlborough,
9. The Triumphant Revival,
10. A Beloved Son,
11. Randolph at Oxford,
12. Randolph and Jennie,
13. A Parental Dilemma,
15. Family Life,
16. Disappointed Hopes,
17. The Prince's Revenge,
18. Ireland, 1887-1880,
19. The Famine Fund,
20. The Sad Aftermath,
21. Randolph Ascendant,
22. A Caring Grandmother,
23. ... and Others,
24. An Error of Judgement,
25. Mixed Emotions,
26. The Last Days,
27. Looking Ahead,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It's about time this great woman is brought into the public arena for the very justly deserved praise she receives in this carefully researched, meticulously documented telling. She and her husband understood and lived out the duties and responsibilities that accompany wealth and privilege in an untypically moral and charitable manner - a rarity among the ostentation and licentiousness so rampant in her day. Loved making the wonderful discovery of her life and works; thank you Ms Forster!