One of the Nine Hostages to Fortune
Born 1920 Died 1948
Born on the 20th February 1920 in Brookline, Massachusetts, Kathleen Agnes Kennedy was the second daughter and fourth child of Joseph Patrick Kennedy and his wife Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, although she was generally known throughout her life as Kick Kennedy, despite being known (to the British at least) as the Lady Hartington during the latter part of her short life.
Educated at the Riverdale Country School in New York City and the Noroton Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Connecticut, Kick Kennedy then spent a year studying at the Holy Child Convent in Neuilly, France. However perhaps the most significant event in her life came in 1938 when her father was appointed as the United States Ambassador to Great Britain. In many ways Joe Kennedy was a peculiar choice as the British ambassador since he was a Roman Catholic of Irish origins, but Kennedy wanted the job and it was his money that had helped Roosevelt get elected in the first place, whilst it has been suggested that Roosevelt wanted to get him out of the way, as he regarded Kennedy as a "very dangerous man" with political ambitions of his own.
The Kennedy family duly landed at Plymouth in March 1938 having made the journey across the Atlantic aboard the Washington. The British press were initially impressed with their new American ambassador and his family of nine, and were particularly enthralled by the young Kick, who was heralded by Queen magazine as "America's Most Important Debutante", and made her formal entrance into London Society at her coming out ball held at Princes Gate on the 12th May 1938. Kick certainly made an impression on Society, due to her lack of inhibition and informality, with one contemporary expressing the view that she was "very genuine, very kind and very funny", whilst although she was not conventionally pretty she was apparently in possession of a significant amount of sex appeal, which attracted a steady stream of suitors as well as a number of marriage proposals. Society clearly also made an impression on Kick, as it appears to have transformed her into a committed Anglophile, but unfortunately the holiday came to an end when Great Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, and she was sent back to the United States together with her mother and the rest of the Kennedy children.
Back home Kick attended the Finch School in New York and later the Florida Commercial College, before finally leaving school in 1941, and going to work for the Washington Times-Herald as a research assistant to the Executive Editor Frank Waldrop. She soon graduated to writing her own reviews of films and plays, and assisted with the 'Did You Happen to See' column written by Inga Arvad, which she then later took over when Arvad left the newspaper.
Having spent the summer of 1940 as a volunteer for the Red Cross in New York organising benefit events for the Allied Relief Fund, Kick later decided to become a full-time volunteer for the Red Cross in Britain. She attended some special Red Cross courses held at American University, and then sailed aboard the Queen Mary on the 25th June 1943, bound for Glasgow. Her father was somewhat concerned at her decision to return to Britain, due to what he referred to anti-American feeling' in the country. In truth this was more of an 'anti-Joe Kennedy feeling', inspired by the ambassador's belief that the British "have had it", and that it was therefore best to seek a rapprochement with Germany. Naturally such opinions did not endear him to the British, indeed one Foreign Office official recorded his view that Joe Kennedy was a "a very foul specimen of double crosser and defeatist" who "thinks of nothing but his own pocket", and his reputation had sunk so low that Kennedy was obliged to resign in November 1940.
Fortunately for Kick the British were not inclined to view her in the same light, and as she took up her post as the Program Assistant at Hans Crescent, an officers only club for American servicemen at Knightsbridge in London, she was welcomed back into the London social scene without a murmur.
In fact Kick spent her first night in London out in the company of one Billy Hartington. Otherwise known as William John Robert Cavendish, Billy was the eldest son and heir of the Duke of Devonshire, and thus known by the courtesy title of the Marquess of Hartington. They had first met at a garden party held at Buckingham Palace back in the summer of 1938, and whilst it was rumoured that they had become an item, they had in fact remained nothing more than close friends, for the simple reason that Billy was engaged to a Sally Norton at the time and also regarded it as unthinkable that he should marry a Catholic.
However shortly after Kick's return to Britain he had occasion to change his mind. The catalyst was apparently his failure to get elected as the Member of Parliament for West Derbyshire, where he had lost out to a Charles Frederick White standing under the banner of Independent Labour. This defeat convinced Billy that life in post-war Britain might be quite different and that it therefore might no longer matter that his wife was a Roman Catholic. He therefore decided to ask Kick to marry him. She did not however give him an immediate positive response as she was "deeply religious" and therefore concerned that the Catholic Church would only recognise the marriage if the children were raised as Catholics. Since Billy Hartington was adamant that he would not agree to this, she would therefore be left in the position of committing a mortal sin in the eyes of the church by effectively cohabiting.
The suggestion that she might marry a Protestant attracted the almost unanimous opposition of her family, who did their best to persuade her to abandon idea. However despite the fact that the Devonshires were devout supporters of the Church of England and Billy's parents did not approve of the idea of their son marrying a Catholic, they made no attempt to persuade him otherwise, neither did they threaten to take any action against him should he do so. Indeed the proposed marriage appeared to be far more of a problem for the Kennedys. Old Joe had political ambitions, and as the representative of America's first Catholic family, such a marriage might have undermined his claims on the Irish Catholic vote. However the real centre of opposition was his wife Rose Fitzgerald who threatened never to speak her daughter again.
However despite the opposition of her family Kick eventually decided to accept the marriage proposal; she and Billy eventually reached a private understanding, based on Billy's suggestion that their children would be raised as Catholics in the event that the Peerage was abolished in a post-war Britain, whilst Kick was also influenced by the advice of David James Mathew, the auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, who told her that she would not be committing a mortal sin in marrying Billy, as she would not be doing so for selfish reasons. Such ideas did not cut much ice with Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy who prevailed upon Francis Joseph Spellman, the Archbishop of New York, to use his contacts in London to despatch a series of functionaries who sought to persuade Kick to at least postpone the marriage.
Unfortunately for Rose, her daughter turned out to be just as stubborn as she was and Billy and Kick were duly married at the Registry Office in Chelsea on the 6th May 1944. The only Kennedy to make an appearance was Kick's oldest brother Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr., although the Devonshires turned out in force despite their qualms about the marriage. The wedding reception was held at their home in Eaton Square, where the Duke provided the champagne and the chef from Claridges Hotel produced a celebratory chocolate cake. As it turned out, the happy couple were only to spend some five weeks together before Billy received orders to join his regiment the Coldstream Guards on the 17th June, and duly left for France to join the post D-Day Campaign in northern Europe. A few weeks later on the 12th August 1944, Kick's brother Joseph was killed when his Liberator bomber exploded in mid-air, and so on the 16th August Kick flew back to the United States to rejoin her family. She was therefore in New York when her father received the telegram that communicated the news that her husband had been killed in action on the 9th September 1944, whilst leading an attack on the town of Heppen in Belgium.
"So ends the story of Billy and Kick" she wrote in her diary.
The death of Kick's husband enabled her to attend her first Holy Communion since her marriage, an event which certainly pleased her mother who, in any case appears to have warmed to Billy Hartington by this time, and was describing him, at least in death, as "a wonderful man", whilst she enthused about what happiness her daughter would have enjoyed "had God willed" that she had spent her life with him. For her part, Kick was naturally less happy with this turn of events, which appears to have shaken her religious faith, and ruefully remarked that God "had taken care of the matter in His own way".
Kick subsequently returned to Britain to continue her work for the Red Cross. After the end of World War II, she attended a ball at the Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair on the 12th June 1946, a glittering affair attended by the Princess Elizabeth amongst others, that heralded the return of Society after the austerity of the years of war. It was there that Kick met one Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam who, in addition to being the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, was something of a war hero, having served as a Commando and been awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Although it was a case of love at first sight there were however, certain obstacles to the relationship, as not only was the Earl Fitzwilliam a Protestant, but worse still he was already married, although he was already looking to divorce his wife Olive Dorothea, or 'Obby' as she was commonly known. None of this however prevented the pair from embarking on what was viewed at the time as a scandalous affair, which was viewed with some amazement by their respective friends, since Peter Fitzwilliam, best known for his interests in gambling, horse racing and women, hardly seemed the best match for the apparently serious minded Kick.
On the 19th February 1947 Kick joined the rest of the Kennedy family at their holiday home in Palm Beach, Florida, and tried to work up the courage to break the news of her latest relationship. It was however some two months later on the verge of her departure, before she finally summoned up the nerve to tell her parents. No one knows what words passed between them on that occasion, but one Kick's friends later recalled that she was "visibly shaken" on the following day. She nevertheless climbed aboard the Queen Elizabeth on the 22nd April 1947 and returned to Britain apparently determined to marry Fitzwilliam as soon as he was free to do so. Even the surprise appearance of her mother Rose Fitzergerald, who followed her to Britain, and spent four days haranguing her in an attempt to get her to abandon her new love failed to change her mind. The defeated Rose returned to America after vowing that she would never speak to Kick again or suffer her name to be spoken of, should she continue her relationship with the Earl Fitzwilliam.
However her father Joe appeared to be less opposed to the idea, and even came up with the ingenious suggestion that it would be possible to have Peter Fitzwilliam's first marriage annulled if it could be proved that he had not been baptised. Although this was a quite impossible and ludicrous notion given that the Earl's baptism into the Church of England was a well attested public event, it did suggest to Kick that her father might be persuaded to give his blessing to her proposed marriage, and that this would at least keep open one line of communication to her family. It was therefore arranged that both Kick and Peter would travel to Paris for a meeting with Joseph Kennedy on the 15th May 1947, and so the couple decided to charter a De Havilland Dove from Skyways of London to take them to Paris.
Flown by an experienced pilot former RAF pilot named Peter Townshend and a co-pilot named Arthur Freeman, the De Havilland Dove duly left Croydon Airport on the 13th May 1948. Their intention was to fly down to Cannes after a brief stopover in Paris for refuelling, spend a day on the Riviera, and then return to Paris on the following day for the meeting with Joseph Kennedy. Unfortunately they were late leaving Croydon, and were therefore some forty-five minutes behind schedule on arrival at Le Bourget Airport, at which point Peter and Kick then decided to arrange an impromptu lunch with some Parisian friends. Having said that they would be gone for only forty minutes, they didn't return for a couple of hours. By this time their pilot Peter Townshend had enquired about the weather conditions along their expected route, and established that there was a thunderstorm in progress over the Rhone valley, and decided that it was too dangerous to fly. However, despite the pilot's reservations, Peter Fitzwilliam managed to persuade him to continue with the flight; whether he did so by offering Townshend more money, or by simply the exercise of sheer charm isn't known, but what later happened was subsequently well documented by the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses.
They eventually left Le Bourget at around 4.00 pm that afternoon. The final radio communication with the plane was later at 5.02 pm, just before the De Havilland Dove flew straight into the storm at an altitude of 10,000 feet just north of the Ardèche mountains somewhere in the region of Vienne. About half an hour later the pilot lost control of the plane, which fell into a steep dive. As the pilot struggled to pull out of the dive, the stress became too much for the plane's structure to bear, and it broke up in mid-air and scattered into pieces across the mountainside. All four occupants were killed on impact.
The wreckage was found by a local farmer named Paul Petit who later hauled the bodies down from the mountain in his ox cart to the nearest village of Sainte Bauzille. Kick's body was identified by her father Joseph Kennedy, and amongst the personal effects handed over to him was a vaginal douche which, if nothing else, would have brought home the stark reality of her relationship with Peter Fizwilliam. Indeed the Kennedy family were at pains to ensure that it was all kept secret from the public, and ensured that when the New York Daily News which broke the story, it was under the headline 'Chance Invite Sends Kennedy Girl to Her Death', and so established the fiction that Fitzwilliam was on his way to the Riviera and happened to bump into Kick at the Ritz Hotel in London and offered her a lift down to the south of France to meet her father. Whilst in her own autobiography Time To Remember, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy even further distorted the truth when she claimed that Kick had been returning from the Riviera with friends.
Kick's body was taken to the Church of St Philippe du Roule in Paris as the Kennedy family remained unsure what they should do nest. In the event the Devonshires stepped in and organised Kick's funeral, and arranged for her to be buried in the Cavendish family plot at St Peter's Church in Edensor, Derbyshire. It was even left to the Duchess of Devonshire to choose the epitaph, "Joy she gave, Joy she has found", that was carved on her headstone. Joseph Kennedy was the only member of the Kennedy family to attend Kick's funeral; Rose Fitzgerald went into hospital for some routine tests to provide herself with an excuse for not going, whilst she made sure that none of her other children attended either. Indeed as far as Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy was concerned, "that airplane crash was God pointing his finger at Kick and saying NO!". She did arrange for a memorial mass for her daughter, but sent out cards that included a prayer that was a plea for plenary indulgence, applicable only for souls in purgatory, a gesture which upset a number of Kick's friends, whilst according to Somerset Maugham, it was widely believed that Rose had put a curse on her own daughter.
Since that time the Kennedy family have never been that particularly keen to draw attention to the life of Kick Kennedy. Although both Joseph and Rose subsequently financed the Kennedy Gymnasium at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York which was dedicated in Kick's honour in October 1957, it was pointedly not named the Kathleen A. Kennedy Gymnasium, and when Robert F. Kennedy later named his first daughter, Kathleen Hartington Kennedy, it was with the strict instruction that she should never be known as 'Kick'.
- Catherine Bailey, Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, (Penguin, 2008)
- James W. Hilty, Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector - from Google Books
- Kathleen Kennedy
- Turtle Bunbury The Ambassador's Daughter
- Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy Hartington
- Deborah Devonshire, Jack the lad, The Spectator, Jun 3 2006
- Kathleen Kennedy
- Kennedy, Kathleen Agnes