Kick: The True Story of Kick Kennedy, JFK’S Forgotten Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth Paula Byrne ( William Collins, £ 20)
THE alliance of American money with British titles is usually framed as a Victorian and edwardian phenomenon that largely ceased with the outbreak of the second world war. Certainly, the number of socalled ‘dollar princesses’ crossing the Atlantic to marry into the aristocracy diminished from a flood to a trickle after 1914. As a result, one of the most intriguing examples of the trend is also one of the most overlooked: that of the union, in May 1944, of Kathleen ‘Kick’ Kennedy, daughter of the former American Ambassador to the Court of st James’s, with william ‘Billy’ Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington and heir to the Duke of Devonshire.
That their glamorous, romantic and ultimately heartbreaking story has been so neglected is doubly surprising given the clans from which they sprang. Not only were the Kennedys hugely wealthy and celebrated, they had already embarked on a collective destiny that would see Jack, Kick’s adored brother, become President in 1961. For their part, the Cavendishes were one of england’s most illustrious dynasties, presiding over vast estates and innumerable treasures from their ancestral seat of Chatsworth in Derbyshire.
All of the elements of a fairytale made real—good looks, riches, popularity and charm —were in place. However, the forces of history, allied with a spiritual crisis straight from the pages of Brideshead Revisited, conspired to transform the fairytale into something akin to a Greek tragedy.
All of this makes for a compelling biography, dominated by personalities so forceful and energetic that they can scarcely be confined between the covers of a book. Paula Byrne is to be commended for handling the formidable task with aplomb. In Kick, she has produced a lively work that places its protagonist firmly centre stage, allowing her warmth, charisma and legendary vitality to shine through.
It was that very vitality that made Kathleen Kennedy a shimmering star in the crowded firmament of London society during the late 1930s. And— cruellest of all ironies—it was that same vitality which enabled her to leap over every obstacle family and faith could place in her way, only to fall victim to a fate larger and more inexorable than either. Martin Williams
The Kennedy clan ( left to right): baby Jean, Bobby, Pat, Eunice, Kick, Rosemary, Jack and Joe Junior