Kathleen Kennedy and William Cavendish: A wartime wedding of two dynasties

Ed.- James Youle has been a Senior Information Assistant with University of Aberdeen libraries since 2007. He has a particular interest in twentieth century British art and photography. He tries to find images that offer an insight into the human being and regularly offers photographs to the National Portrait Gallery.

I recently donated two photographs to The National Portrait Gallery. They depict the 6th May 1944 wedding of William “Billy” Cavendish and Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy. Kathleen had arrived in London in 1938 as the daughter of American Ambassador Joseph P Kennedy and had quickly fallen in love with London and England, and later with Billy. In July 1943 she had written to her brother “Jack” (later President) Kennedy:

“I have just returned from a day and a half spent in the country with Billy at Eastbourne… For 24 hours I forgot all about the war… Billy is just the same, a bit older, a bit more ducal, but we get on as well as ever.”

The Marquess of Hartington, as Billy was titled, is dressed in his Coldstream Guards uniform, and the new Marchioness is in pink with a posy of pink camellias brought from Chatsworth in Derbyshire that very morning. Both look happy, but the path to the altar had been fraught. Billy was a Protestant and heir to the Duke of Devonshire. The American Kennedy family were Catholic, and Kathleen’s parents Joseph and Rose were particularly unhappy at the union. Only her brother Lieutenant Joseph Kennedy Jr attended, along with Billy’s family.

Kathleen wrote of Joe in 1944, “Moral courage he had in abundance… in every way he was the perfect brother…”.

Tragically both Joe and Billy died in 1944 on active service, Joe in Suffolk and Billy in Belgium. Kathleen was devastated but made a life for herself with the support of the Duke and Duchess, but in May 1948 she also died tragically. Rose Kennedy in her autobiography wrote of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire:

“They said how much they had loved Kathleen, and how grateful they had been to her because of the happiness she had brought to their son Billy. The Duchess suggested the epitaph ‘Joy she gave, and joy she has’.”

Kathleen was buried at Chatsworth.

James Youle
Senior Information Assistant
j.youle@abdn.ac.uk

—-

The two photographs donated by James can be viewed here on the National Portrait Gallery website.

Eds. Several books about the Kennedy family are available in the Library collections. Here are some suggestions if you are interested in reading more:

Dallek, R. (c.2003) An unfinished life : John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963. Boston [Mass.] ; London : Little Brown.
Shelfmark 973.922 Ken D (Floor 3, The Sir Duncan Rice Library)

Kennedy, R.F. (1974) Times to remember : an autobiography. London : Collins.
Shelfmark 973.9 Ken (Floor 3, The Sir Duncan Rice Library)

Schwarz, T. (c.2003) Joseph P. Kennedy : the mogul, the mob, the statesman, and the making of an American myth. Hoboken, N.J. : John Wiley & Sons.
Shelfmark 973.9 Ken S (Floor 3, The Sir Duncan Rice Library)

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