Underwear is such a small thing . . . until the whole world knows what yours look like.
Consuelo [con-SWAY-lo] read in utter “stupefaction” an account of her trousseau. Garters with gold clasps and studded diamonds. (A little over the top if you ask me. Her too.) The very disregard for decorum (or “vulgarities” as Consuelo put it) was mortifying.
It was the year of— Well, it was the year of the first celebrity wedding. That’s all you really need to know.
Consuelo Vanderbilt was the bride.
And her mother was a blabber mouth. A big fat one.
On purpose, might I add!
You see, Alva Vanderbilt had arranged the marriage of her daughter to the Ninth Duke of Marlborough. Who was he? He was Britain’s most eligible bachelor at the time. More importantly, he was poor. In other words, his dukeship was desperate to marry into money —even if his bride was American.
(Some prince, right?) Well, he wasn’t alone. There were many nobles who’d nearly run their grand estates into bankruptcy by living extravagantly. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, American heiresses were being groomed as princesses, but lacked British titles and the influence that came with them.
Dowries were traded. According to the article The Dollar Princess and the Duke, Consuelo’s was “reputedly worth around $4 billion in today’s money.”
. . . You’d think with that kind of money you could do anything you’d like.
Daisy Goodwin, author of The American Heiress, called Consuelo “the original poor little rich girl.”
Before her engagement to Marlborough, before Alva had escorted her oversees to promenade her in front of England’s high society, Consuelo had become secretly engaged. In her memoir The Glitter and the Gold, she referred to him as Mr. X. He promised to follow her during her European tour and write to her.
Alva interceded all of Mr. X’s attempts of contact. None of his letters reached his young fiancée. (It’s all very Noah and Allie from The Notebook.)
Finally, after many balls, Alva accepted a proposal from Marlborough.
Mother and daughter returned to New York in preparation for the wedding. Alva was so busy planning and publicizing the event that a letter from Mr. X eluded her.
It was just the motivation Consuelo needed to stand up for herself.
Three days before her wedding, she locked herself in her room. Many hands knocked on her door. She was pleaded with. She was told how wretched she was. And then she was told Alva had suffered a heart attack due to her theatrics. (Not true.)
Alva’s health couldn’t bear anymore. If another episode occurred, it would be fatal, and it would be on Consuelo’s head.
This, of course, was all rubbish. But, at the end of the day, Consuelo loved her mother and wished her no bodily harm. She unlocked her door.
. . . And with tears pooling in her eyes, nineteen-year-old Consuelo married Marlborough, a man who disliked Americans. Her humiliation was furthered when Marlborough informed her of his mistress during their honeymoon.
Her marriage only deteriorated from there.
Despite her marriage of inconvenience, Consuelo found her footing in England. She was a cherished confidant to Winston Churchill, her cousin by marriage. She was a great advocate to the war relief effort and donated her home to the cause. Overall, she was a highly respected lady in every sense of the word.
When I began listening to her “tell-all” book The Glitter and The Gold, I was looking forward to Consuelo giving a written dressing down of Alva and Marlborough.
I was pleasantly disappointed.
Respected women don’t speak poorly about others. . .
Throughout the book, Consuelo kept a cool tone in her retelling. She didn’t shy from facts. She shared her story rather objectively, as if she’s pondered on it for some time and has elected to forgive.
I’m happy to report that she reconciled with her mother.
The same cannot be said of her and Marlborough. As Consuelo spoke about pursuing divorce, there was a notable hesitancy. For a case to be made on her behalf, Alva’s manipulation had be made public. I’m confident it was with a heavy heart Consuelo asked Alva’s permission to open old wounds.
Alva gave her blessing, hoping her daughter would be free to find happiness.
And especially don’t speak poorly about their spouses.
The title The Glitter and the Gold supposedly referred to Consuelo’s first and second marriage. In anecdotes about Marlborough, she was very controlled in her wording. She was factual about their interactions.
In anecdotes about Jacques Balsan, she almost gushed about him at times.
I had even more respect for Consuelo after learning what she could say and didn’t. She didn’t vent. (As I’m so prone to do!) She didn’t waste words on downtrodding others. (As much as I think they had it coming.)
She understood the integrity of silence. . .
Toward the final chapters of her memoir, there’s an anecdote you know. Well, probably. The scene took place at dinner party hosted by Consuelo’s eldest son. One of the guests was Nancy Astor.
Now, I know she was the first woman to gain a seat in British Parliament, but that’s not what I remember her for.
I remember her for a spat she had with Winston Churchill.
Consuelo recalled it this way: “After a heated argument on some trivial matter Nancy, with a fervor whose sincerity could not be doubted, shouted, ‘If I were your wife I would poison your coffee!’”
Imagine how differently we would read Consuelo’s story if she had spoke with similar contempt to Marlborough.
Your words reflect on your character. What do they say about you?
Proverbs 29:11 (King James)
“A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards.”