Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Vanderbilt Heiress and her historic pearl choker

Consuelo Vanderbilt (1877-1964) was the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt who started the famous family fortune. She was beautiful and incredibly rich and thus a great marital prize in a time when socially advantageous marriages were arranged between wealthy American girls and land-rich but cash-poor English aristocrats.

Her ambitious and domineering mother forced her to marry the 9th Duke of Marlborough, Charles Spencer-Churchill (right), even though the 18-year-old loved someone else. Alva Vanderbilt declared, "I don't ask you to think, I do the thinking, you do as you're told." Alva resorted to locking up her daughter to prevent her from eloping and finally feigning illness to get Consuelo to go through with it. Consuelo wept behind her veil on her wedding day.

She brought to the marriage a dowry of $2.5 million in railway stocks - about $75 million today. She had dutifully produced the heir and the spare by the time this picture (circa 1906) was taken. The pearl choker she wore as the Duchess of Marlborough reputedly belonged to Catherine the Great of Russia and the Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III). The choker necklace style was made fashionable by Queen Alexandra, Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law.

But the arranged marriage was never happy and it was eventually dissolved. Consuelo went on to marry for love the second time. She also proved that she was more than just a pretty face. With support from a Churchill relative, Winston Churchill (whose mother was also a beautiful and rich American), she made her first public speech. She spent the rest of her life supporting women's rights and equality.

References

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consuelo_Vanderbilt

Lois Sherr Dubin (1987). History of Beads : From 30,000 BC to the Present. Harry N. Abrams. Inc.

Amanda Mackenzie Stuart (2005). Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age :
http://www.amazon.com/Consuelo-Alva-Vanderbilt-Daughter-Mother/dp/0066214181

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