Real-life fairy tales from Blenheim Palace
America’s Golden Age heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt married the 9th Duke of Marlborough in the ultimate cash for class deal in 1895 orchestrated by her fierce social climber mother, Alva Vanderbilt . She met the Duke aged 17 at a dinner given by Lady Paget. “My hostess had placed the Duke on his right and placed me beside him – a rather useless public admission of his intentions,” she wrote in her memoir, Sequins and gold.
The story goes that she was practically forced out of the aisle, but once the deal was done, he secured the funding for an increasingly run-down Blenheim. The heiress arrived in England and the fortunes of the palace began to change. The 9th Duke received $2,500,000 of stock capital from the Beech Creek Railway Company in trust and an annual income of 4% guaranteed by the New York Central Railroad Company, which continued until his death – approximately $66 million sterling in today’s silver. .
Now castellan of the most sumptuous estate in England, the Duchess began to integrate into English society. Winston Churchill was a regular guest, as was Nancy Astor – but ideally never at the same time. “She and Winston Churchill had a strong antipathy for each other, so much so that they were never invited together, fearing the inevitable explosion,” writes Vanderbilt. ‘So it was unfortunate that on one of Lady Astor’s visits to Blenheim, when my son was host, Winston chose to appear. Nancy, with a fever the sincerity of which could not be doubted, exclaimed: “If I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee!” Whereupon Winston with equal warmth and sincerity replied, “And if I were your husband, I would drink it.”
In this world of balls, dinners and charity galas, with one of the richest women in the world at its head, the drama was hot and the loves hotter. The union only lasted 11 years, and in 2019 a new letter emerged suggesting that Vanderbilt had engaged in numerous extramarital affairs. “Reading it today, almost 120 years after it was written, it is impossible not to feel the Duke’s anguish or admire his dignified efforts to do the right thing by his adulterous young bride,” said writes Hugo Vickers in the Daily mail. Just another slice of the palace’s cinematic history.