Thursday, March 2, 2017


This book is the primary reference for this month's
Mistress of the Month post!


The story of Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy, one of children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, and sibling of John Fitzgerald Kennedy who one day became President of the United States, has long been repressed.  Maybe that's because her behavior was scandalous.  Or maybe it's just that her other siblings lived longer, did more, or became more famous that she.  Paula Byrne, author of the book that is the primary reference for this post, had access to Kick's own diaries and other materials not previously seen by a biographer, and brought the lively, self depreciation good sport that Kathleen was to life, noting that her unusual nickname was based not only on the use of the term 'kick" to mean fun, but because she had a habit of kicking off her shoes at staid parties and dinners, and once had to wear a mismatched pair of right-foot shoes when her English companions hid the rest of her shoes in one of those huge mazes created out of shrubbery on a great estate. She was a good sport.

When her father Joseph Kennedy became Ambassador to the Court of Saint James,  London, England in 1938, during the Roosevelt Administration, World War II loomed.  Kathleen and her sister Rosemary, who was "slow" probably due to oxygen deprivation at birth, took their bows before the Queen that year as the British press and Life Magazine in the United States took interest in the  American family. In 1938, the 18 year old Kathleen was voted England's Most Important Debutant!

The young, energetic Irish-American woman's introduction to English society was also fostered by one of the most famous American Ex-Patriots, Lady Astor, who was into English politics.  Soon Kick was attending house parties on Great Estates owned by outstandingly anti-Catholic British peers and became friends with other Catholic girls who were in love with Church of England aristocrats. 

Due to their Irishness and Catholicism, both in America (Boston) and in England, Joseph and his family had experienced social exclusion.  Maybe that's one reason the many children of Joseph and Rose became such good friends with each other. Joe Senior's elite college education, his amazing career in banking, his investments in Hollywood film making, and the many connections he had made in business and in politics, including President Roosevelt, hadn't made the Kennedy family acceptable in Protestant- American  WASP circles.

Joseph and Rose taught their children to be competitive, to not cry in response to tragedy but get on with it, to exceed the high expectations placed on them, and to stand out. Defying the stereotype that the Irish were all drunkards, no alcohol was allowed in their home. As the Kennedy couple continued to be married and procreate, they also came to live separate lives, an arrangement that Kathleen didn't realize was strange until she was older. Joseph having more influence on the sons and Rose on the daughters, both young Joe Jr. and Jack had affairs with married women, while Kathleen and her sisters were sent to convent schools and expected to conduct themselves as devout Catholics. One of her favorite ways of gifting someone was to go to Masses, say rosaries, and do good deeds in their honor.

Kick was great friends with her brothers and in the know about their affairs. While she personallty held back from sexuality, and was considered prudish, her warm personality gained her many admirers and several marriage minded suitors on two continents. Could it be that she was thinking, "if it's OK for them, why not me?"  Would the devout, convent educated young woman really sell her soul for a title or become a Dollar Princess, one of those wealthy American girls who were pursued by broke nobles?

After her debut and introduction to the wealthy aristocrats and royals in England, Kick came to love the country and the people, feeling she had experienced her true home.  When she married Billy Hartington aka William Cavendish*, she had been in love with him for six years and likely he felt the same.  After the family returned to the United States at the onset of the war, Kick had spent four years away from Billy.  She was popular and pursued but she had not forgotten him and endeavored to find her way back to England.  She joined the Red Cross where some gritty work awaited. 

Then, there were difficulties in which the couple and their families wrestled with the issue of their incompatible religions. As time went by, Billy's family had come to love Kick and believe in her.  Even his Catholic-hating father who had a mistress, Lady Dufferin, came around.  Kick's mother, Rose, was the hold out.  Billy's parents had the feeling that this long ordeal, for which there never were any easy answers, had proven the young couple's sincerity and that they would make it as a couple.  From the beginning the two of them had easy conversation, sometimes long into the night.

Through those years Billy had also matured. As England was targeted by the Germans and the bombings of London began, he wanted to fight for his country and became a war hero.  As an officer of the Cold Stream Guards who stood out, Billy was killed by a sniper with single bullet through his heart. Kick and Billy had married in May at a humble registry office, he had left for the war five weeks later, and he was killed in September. Now the 24 year old "Widow Hartington," Kathleen would have to step aside for her debutant friend Debo, married to his younger brother Andrew, and was left with the title Lady Hartington and a small inheritance. Yet Billy's parents, the Duke and Duchess did not abandon her, not ever.  After grieving with them and being supported by them, which would continue until her death, living here and there, she got herself an apartment, and with that Kennedy view of life, knew she had to move on somehow. She threw herself into Red Cross volunteerism again.  She also spent time with her family in the United States where they had homes in Hyannis Port, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida.  Her time in America seemed to only reaffirm that she belonged to England.

picture from FIND AS GRAVE
(Though she died with the married man she was Mistress to,
she was given the burial of the wife of Billy Hartington.)

This book gives in detail the excruciating Protestant and Catholic clergy diplomacies that Kick and Billy went through, looking for some way for him to keep to his Church of England legacy and familial anti-Catholicism, while in love with a devout Catholic woman whose mother would check herself into the hospital when word reached her that the compromise of a simple civil marriage had taken place. Kick's brother Joe Jr., was the only familial representative of the Kennedy's there. This detail, the crisis that was occurring as Kick attempted to marry into one of England's oldest, riches, and most Protestant families, was surprising to me.  This detail comprises most of the book, with the story of Kathleen's Mistresshood taking just a small end portion of the book. Yet, because of all that struggle with religion and grief, the story of her Mistresshood would not be as interesting or understood. 

Unlike the many years of waiting for marriage to Billy, the Widow Hartington, while chairing the Commando's Benevolent Fund Ball in June of 1946, was seduced by Peter, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam. Peter had been a Commando, which was an independent army company, and had completed twelve missions, and came back a decorated war hero himself.  Peter was married with a young daughter, and so unlike Billy Hartington.  He was a gambler, fond of fast cars, fast horses, fast women. He had been around in society for some time and she'd been introduced to him at the end of the summer season in 1945 when they both attended a fall hunt in County Wichlow. If people had doubted that Kick and Billy were made for each other, but had been won over...

"Kick's friends were horrified when they learned about the romance.  Nobody could understand the relationship as she and Peter appeared on the surface to be so different." 
(page 271)

Rose Kennedy was furious with her daughter and went to England to confront Kathleen personally. 

Revealed in this book, and also surprising to me, was that Joseph Kennedy, Kick's father, while gone a whole lot on business, wrote heartfelt and advisory letters to his children, showing support for them, and that even younger brother Robert Kennedy wrote letters of encouragement to his big sister. I came away from the book thinking of Joseph Kennedy, as a much more loving, wise, and involved father than I'd ever imagined.  He was far more wise to the world than his wife, Rose who seemed to hold to high ideals while ignoring her husband's womanizing, that included hitting on Kathleen's friends. It was to her father that Kathleen would now appeal to, after hiding the More-Scandalous-Than-Billy  affair from her family, and easing the truth that she wished to marry yet another Protestant, this time after he got a divorce. So while mother Rose attempted to prevent her daughter and family from any further scandal, it was her father Joseph who said he would try to help, and agreed to meet the couple in France, where it was planned that Peter, not divorced, would ask her father's permission to marry her.

Here is where my own sense of Kathleen emerges after reading the spare pages in this book about her affair with the married Peter. First, Kathleen went to several convent schools, and when she was at the school in Paris, where she studied French literature and needlepoint, in my mind nothing more than a finishing school for rich Catholic girls destined to marry well, the nuns called her "Mademoiselle Pourquoi"  meaning "Miss Why" because she was such a questioner.

I believe that Kathleen had come to question her Catholicism and did not think religion should or did matter so much, though it was her upbringing and the only religion she had known or come to depend on. I think she was torn, knowing the high profile of her Catholic family and the discrimination that people from her heritage had experienced.  She had been raised a privileged young woman, far removed from the earthly poverty of her Kennedy ancestors in Ireland who still lived without an indoor toilet. She had been a media darling. She had received hate mail after marrying Billy. 

At 26 she was a woman of independent means, beautifully dressed with some important jewelry, capable of chairing charity events in high society, intelligent, college educated, though not as well as her father and  Harvard alumni brothers. She was not expected to be in mourning or stay a widow forever. She was expected to remarry. 

I think the death of her husband and brother and the war in general had informed her that life was not to be taken granted, but seized.  She had but a brief  month of sexuality in her marriage. Having been married, she was no longer expected in English society to pretend to be a virgin.  Billy's parents and sister, her brother Jack, and several close friends were aware that she was in a full-on affair with Peter.  It was a whirlwind.  Peter was as keen.  Maybe he had never much been into the glamorous woman he had married and cheated on during their honeymoon. World War II was an era in which women stepped outside the roles of wife and mother, even to do hard physical labor in factories for the war effort.  It was a step ahead in the liberation of women from traditionally expected roles.

As Rose Kennedy threw a fit, Kathleen's maid couldn't believe her ears, that a 28 year old woman who was widowed would allow her own mother to talk to her that way.  Kathleen's sister Eunice Kennedy had come to visit for a couple months in the fall of 1946 and had not been aware that her sister had become a Mistress.

In a small plane, on the way to meet her father for that respectful moment in which the married Peter would, cart in front of the horse, ask permission to marry her, Kathleen and Peter were killed when it crashed. Joseph Kennedy found himself in France identifying her body instead.  Much has been made of the fact that with her she had lingerie and what could be used (in those pre Pill days) to prevent pregnancy - another sin for a good Catholic girl - in her suitcases.  Her worldly father was supposedly stunned to realize. I have to wonder.  This was, after all, a married man who was not sexually faithful to his often pregnant wife, and who had the actress Gloria Swanson as a mistress for some time.

Quoting Angela Lambert on Kick, on page 265, '"Gaiety, like honesty, is a kind of social courage.  It is not easy to be unfailingly charming, lively, and original.  It requires energy, and generosity, always to make the effort to be on one's form."

We may never know if it was love at first sight for the "hard smitten" Kathleen AND Peter, the seducer. What we do know is that the young woman took risks and had ambitions of her own, like so many of her siblings and the Kennedy Family, but hers were of the heart.

Later this month, I'll be posting based on this book:
In search of more information on Kathleen Kennedy and Peter Wentworth - 8th Earl Fitzwilliam.  The title "Black Diamonds" refers to the family's fortune in coal.


Notes: Most Americans are not familiar with the many titles of royal and noble persons in England or other countries since we don't use them here and give up any right to them upon becoming American citizens.  Generally, a person can have many titles, and as a result what to call them at any time or place is a question.  Their name can change as they inherit other titles as well.  Those in the know, know who they are however.  An example would be that Prince William goes by the lesser title of Duke of Cambridge, though he is most certainly a Prince, at this time but has many other titles.  Some titles are only used during a local visit to the area in which the title was first used or granted..

If interested in other Mistress of the British Isles, you might want to visit my posts on 
King George and his two mistresses, the Elephant and the Castle - October 2013
Camilla Duchess of Cornwall - April 2016
Mary Boleyn - Mistress of King Henry the 8th (who didn't loose her head) - January 2012
Hilda Lezard, Mistress of the Mysterious John Henry Manners - 9th Duke of Rutland -November 2014
 or run a search within MISTRESS MANIFESTO using the words Great Britain, England, or Ireland!

If interested in Mistresses surrounding the Kennedy Family, search for

Edie Bouvier Beale - Jackie's Eccentric Cousin - August 2014
Maria Callas  - Mistress of Ari Onassis - May 2009
Marita Lorenz - Mistress of Fidel Castro and General Marcos Peres -  May 2015

The search block is embedded in the left side bar!

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