Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lady Henrietta Mary Spencer-Churchill

Lady Henrietta Spencer Churchill with her 2nd cousin, Mary, Lady Soames, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill.
3.26.07 - Lady Henrietta Mary Spencer-Churchill is the eldest daughter of “Sunny,” the 11th Duke of Marlborough of Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire. A child of her father’s first marriage to Susan Hornby (her brother Jamie, the Marquess of Blandford is his heir), Lady Henrietta -- or just plain Henrietta to her friends, family and business associates – is a very successful international interior designer, author of several books on interior design and the decorative arts, as well as a biography of her family’s famous country house and the generations of Churchills who have resided there.

Financial and/or business success for a female British aristocrat when it does occur, usually happens through marriage. As it is in England with primogeniture, the girls do not inherit, or at least not much, when their fathers pass on, so they’re pretty much on their own once they hit majority. Everything goes to the eldest son (and often very little to any son after that), although the Marlborough dukedom enjoys a rare peerage privilege which allows the eldest female to succeed if there is no male extant. So a Churchill woman can, technically, inherit.  This exception was acquired at the behest of the first duchess of Marlborough, Sarah, who named her eldest daughter (who became duchess) Henrietta, to whom Henrietta is directly descended. Besides being the wife of one of England’s greatest (if not the greatest) general, the first duchess, Sarah, was a very good friend of Queen Anne through whom she acquired all kinds of privilege, property and political power. The first Sarah was a far more than formidable character and the special gene seems to have been passed down to her female descendents far more than the male.

Another direct descendent of Sarah, the first duchess, was the ill-fated Lady Diana Spencer, later the Princess of Wales. Lady Diana was in fact named for the first Sarah’s favorite grandchild, also Lady Diana Spencer, who was to have married the Prince of Wales (son of George II), but he died before they married.

This is the long way around to describing the background from which our subject, Lady Henrietta, has emerged as a very self-reliant, enterprising and ambitious young woman. Her commercial activity has created a very successful business that extends beyond marketing the family’s famous name.

Henrietta grew up at Blenheim and her family’s estates. When she was still an infant her parents divorced and her father married Athina (Tina) Livanos Onassis, the first wife of Aristotle Onassis and mother of his children Alexander and Christina who became a much admired big sister to Henrietta.

Married throughout the 1980s, in her late 20s, early 30s, Henrietta is mother of two sons now in their mid-twenties. Although she lives in London and keeps a cottage on the Blenheim estate, Lady Henrietta’s business takes her all over the world, and a good deal of it right here in the US, including here in New York where she is in the midst of a major private residential commission.

Tall, very slender, gracious and charming in a way that first comes off as a shyness, she is characteristically forthright and easy to laugh including at the eccentricities and foibles of her ancestors while at the same time acknowledging their achievements and distractions (see her “Blenheim and the Churchill Family”). However, despite her distinguished family background and her international success, she seems very unimpressed with it all, focusing instead on what needs to be addressed next.

Relevant links:

Visiting Blenheim Palace with Lady Henrietta