Bi­og­ra­phy

Country Life Every Week - - Books -

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

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