Lady Randolph Churchill CI DStJ (Jeanette "Jennie" Jerome) (January 9, 1854 – June 9, 1921) was an American society beauty, best-known to history as the mother of British prime minister Winston Churchill.
Jennie Jerome was born at 197 Amity Street, in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, New York, the second of four daughters of financier, sportsman and speculator Leonard Jerome and his wife, Clarissa Hall, daughter of Ambrose Hall, a landowner and sometime New York State Assemblyman.
Read more about Jennie Jerome and the New York park named in her honor, free from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Long considered one of the most beautiful women of the time, she was married for the first time in 1874 to Lord Randolph Churchill (1849–1895), third son of John Winston Spencer-Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough. They were wed at the British Embassy in Paris. [Anita Leslie. Lady Randolph Churchill: The Story of Jennie Jerome, 1968]
Through this marriage, she acquired the title Lady Randolph Churchill. They had two sons: Winston Churchill (1874–1965) born less than eight months after the marriage and John Strange Spencer-Churchill (1880–1947). As was the custom of the day, she played a limited role in her sons' upbringing, relying largely upon nannies such as Winston's beloved Mrs. (Elizabeth) Everest. Winston completely worshipped his mother, writing her numerous letters during his time away from home at school, begging her to visit him, which she rarely did. However, after he became an adult, she and he became good friends and strong allies, to the point where Winston regarded her almost as a political mentor, more as a sister than as a mother.
A strong personality, Jennie was well-respected and influential in the uppermost British social and political circles. She was said to be intelligent, witty, and quick to laughter. It was said that Alexandra of Denmark especially enjoyed her company, despite the fact that Jennie had been involved in an affair with Alexandra's husband, Edward VII, a fact that was well-known by Alexandra. Through her family contacts and her extra-marital romantic relationships, Jennie greatly helped Lord Randolph's early career as well as that of her elder son Winston.
It has been long rumored that her darkly handsome second son, John (Jack) Churchill, was fathered not by her husband Lord Randolph, but by an Irish nobleman, Col. John Strange Jocelyn, 5th Earl of Roden (1823–1897), with whom she is believed to have had an affair. It seems unlikely that she would be so obvious as to give the offspring of a secret affair the same name as his alleged father. It is even more unlikely when it is recalled that the gentleman in question was more than thirty years her senior, and at the time would have been 56 years of age to her 25. But she did have numerous lovers during her marriage, including Count Charles Andreas Kinsky, King Edward VII of the United Kingdom, and King Milan of Serbia, the more prominent ones with the full knowledge of her husband.
Five years after the death at age 45 of Lord Randolph, on July 28, 1900, she married George Cornwallis-West (1874–1951, a captain in the Scots Guards who was the same age as her elder son. Around this time, she became well-known for chartering a hospital ship to care for those wounded in the Boer War, and in 1908, she wrote The Reminiscences of Lady Randolph Churchill. She separated from her second husband in 1912, and they were divorced in April 1914, whereupon Cornwallis-West married the famous actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
Her third marriage, on June 1, 1918, was to Montague Phippen Porch (1877–1964), a member of the British Civil Service in Nigeria who was three years Winston's junior. At the end of World War I, Porch resigned from the colonial service, and in 1921 he returned to Africa to find his fortune.
Throughout her life and all three marriages, Jennie conducted extra-marital affairs, initially to strengthen her first husband's social and political position. She supported his causes, and wielded considerable power behind the scenes, even writing many of his speeches. She also stood by him as he was dying of tertiary syphilis. She never showed such devotion to her subsequent husbands who were both more than 20 years her junior. (She married Lord Randolph the same year her future second husband was born and three years before the birth of her third husband).
Even after the death of Lord Randolph and despite her remarriages, Jennie preferred to be known as "Lady Randolph Churchill." Though the title was no longer officially hers, she was so welcome in royal circles that no one seemed to object.
Death and after
In 1921, while her husband was in Africa, Jennie, aged 67, fell downstairs while visiting friends in Somerset, breaking her ankle. Gangrene set in and her left leg was amputated; soon afterward she died at her home in London following a haemorrhage of an artery in her thigh (resulting from the amputation). She was buried in the Churchill family plot at St Martin's Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, near her first husband and sons.
In 1926 her widower, Montague Porch, married Donna Giulia Patrizi (died 1938), who was a daughter of the Marchese Patrizi della Rocca.
According to legend, Jennie Churchill was responsible for the invention of the "Manhattan" cocktail. She commissioned a bartender for a special drink to celebrate the election of Samuel J. Tilden to the governorship in 1874. The party was held at the Manhattan Club, for which the drink was named.
An unsubstantiated legend has it that Leonard Jerome, a man who loved opera, named his second daughter after the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, with whom he purportedly had an affair (doubtful, as Lind was highly moralistic in her personal life). There is no evidence that Lind and Jerome ever met.
A noted beauty—an admirer said that there was "more of the panther than of the woman in her look"—Lady Randolph Churchill worked as a magazine editor in early life. There is a persistent rumor (often wrongly cited as fact) that she had a fashionable tattoo of a snake twined around her wrist, which she hid with a bracelet when required. However, while this is certainly possible (since tattoos of the type were fashionable at the time, worn by fashionable women such as the 7th Marchioness of Londonderry, who had a snake tattooed on one of her legs in 1903), extensive searching has so far provided no evidence other than rumor. The historian Sir Martin Gilbert (Winston Churchill's official biographer) considers it very unlikely.
Hall family lore insists that Jennie was part Iroquois, but no evidence of any Native American ancestry has yet been uncovered, despite much genealogical digging. Moshe Kohn, in an article in The Jerusalem Post on 15 January 1993, alleged that the Jerome family name was originally Jacobson, and that Jennie's ethnic ancestry was, in fact, Jewish, at least on her father's side. However, there is no truth to this claim; the name of the family was never "Jacobson" but was always "Jerome" since the family (in the person of a Huguenot immigrant named Timothy Jerome) first set foot in America about 1717.
Jennie Churchill was portrayed by Lee Remick in the American television series Jennie and by Anne Bancroft in the film Young Winston.