Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington

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For her niece, see Kathleen Hartington Kennedy.
Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington
Lady Hartington.jpg
Kennedy wearing an American Red Cross uniform in London, c. 1943
Born Kathleen Agnes Kennedy
(1920-02-20)February 20, 1920
Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died May 13, 1948(1948-05-13) (aged 28)
Saint-Bauzile, Ardèche, France
Cause of death Airplane crash
Resting place St. Peter's Churchyard, Edens-or, Derby shire, England
Residence London, England
Education River-dale Country School
Norton Convent of the Sacred Heart
Holy Child Convent
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington
(m. 1944; his death 1944)
Parent(s) Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr.
Rose Fitzgerald
Relatives See Kennedy family

Kathleen Agnes Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington (née Kennedy; February 20, 1920 – May 13, 1948) was an American socialite. She was the daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. and Rose Kennedy, sister of future U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and wife of William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, heir apparent to the Duke of Devonshire.

When her father was appointed Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Kathleen made many friends in London, and was the ‘debutante of 1938’. Working with the Red Cross, she began a romantic relationship with Hartington, whom she married in May 1944. He was killed on active service, only a few weeks later. Kathleen died in a plane crash in 1948, flying to the South of France on holiday with her new fiancé Earl Fitzwilliam.

Early years[edit]

Kathleen Agnes Kennedy was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, fourth child and second daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (1888–1969) and Rose Kennedy (1890–1995). She was especially close to her older brother, the future president John F. Kennedy (known as "Jack"). Kathleen was nicknamed “Kick” because of her "irrepressible nature".

Kathleen was educated at Riverdale Country School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, New York. She also attended Noroton Convent of the Sacred Heart in Noroton, Connecticut and the Holy Child Convent in Neuilly, France.[1] Like all the Kennedy children, she learned early on the importance of being a winner and that succeeding was the only way to win her father's approval. While the Kennedy daughters were not raised to have political ambitions like their brothers, they were nonetheless provided with many of the same educational and social opportunities owing to their father's powerful connections and influence while growing up. This was particularly the case when Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom in 1938.

As a child, Kathleen was very athletic and played football with her brothers. Her optimism and high spirits attracted many suitors, some of whom were Jack's closest friends. When Kathleen attended the Riverdale Country School, her mother did not approve of the male attention being shown to her daughter and sent her to the all-girls Noroton Convent of the Sacred Heart. Eventually, Kathleen started to date and had her first serious relationship with Peter Grace, an heir of the W.R. Grace & Co.


Kennedy's time in England during her father's appointment as Ambassador would dramatically influence the remainder of her life. While living in England, she was educated in London at Queen's College and quickly cultivated a wide circle of friends, both male and female, in British high society including dating David Rockefeller and was declared the "debutante of 1938" by the English media. With WWII imminent following the invasion of Poland in September 1939, the entire Kennedy family, save for Ambassador Kennedy, returned to the United States. Kennedy, having become very fond of England and the many friends she had made, petitioned her parents to remain in London in spite of the coming danger but was overruled by her father and sailed back home in the early fall.

After returning to the States, Kennedy enrolled at the Finch School for a time and then attended Florida Commercial College. In addition to her studies, Kennedy also began doing volunteer work for the Red Cross. In 1941, she decided to leave school and began working as a research assistant for Frank Waldrop, the executive editor for the Washington Times-Herald. She later teamed with Inga Arvad, who wrote the "Did You Happen to See....." column and was eventually given her own column where she reviewed films and plays.[1]


In 1943, seeking a way to return to England, Kennedy signed up to work in a center for servicemen set up by the Red Cross. During her time in England, both before and particularly during the war, she gradually but increasingly grew more independent from her family and the Catholic Church. During this time, Kennedy began a romantic relationship with politician William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington. He was the eldest son and heir apparent of the Duke of Devonshire.

The two had met and begun a friendship when she moved to England when her father was appointed Ambassador. Despite objections from her mother Rose, she and Hartington reunited upon her return to England.[2] Rose especially rejected their relationship because she saw that their marriage would break the laws of Rome by allowing Kathleen's kids to be raised in the Church of England rather than the Roman Catholic Church. Rose even tried to manipulate their relationship by keeping Kathleen away from Hartington and postponing a possible wedding. Regardless, Kathleen married Hartington on May 6, 1944, in a civil ceremony at the Caxton Hall Registry Office.[3][4] Her eldest brother Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., whom she had grown close to during the last year of his life, was the only member of the Kennedy family to attend the ceremony. On August 12, 1944, Joe Jr. was killed when his plane exploded during a top-secret bombing mission in Europe.[3]


Kathleen and Hartington spent less than five weeks together before he went out to fight in France. Four months after their marriage, and less than a month after Joe Jr. was killed, Hartington was killed by a sniper during a battle with the Germans in Belgium. With his family's blessing, he was buried close to where he fell. His younger brother Lord Andrew Cavendish, who was married to Deborah Mitford of the famous Mitford sisters, thus became the heir apparent to the dukedom as Hartington had left no heirs.

Popular on the London social circuit and admired by many for her high spirits and wit, Lady Hartington eventually became romantically involved with the Earl Fitzwilliam.[5] Fitzwilliam was in the process of divorcing his wife. Once again, Rose Kennedy expressed her disapproval of her daughter's suitor and warned her that she would be disowned by the family and cut off financially if she married Fitzwilliam. In May 1948, Kathleen learned that her father would be traveling to Paris. In an effort to gain his consent for her upcoming plans to marry Fitzwilliam, she decided to fly to Paris to meet with her father.[6]


St Peter's Churchyard, Edensor - grave of Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington (née Kennedy, 1920–1948). Her grave is marked with a headstone and a plaque in the ground commemorating the visit of U.S. President John F. Kennedy at the gravesite. On her gravestone, it says "Joy she gave joy she has found"

On May 13, 1948, Kennedy and Fitzwilliam were flying from Paris to the French Riviera for a vacation.[7] Peter Townshend, the pilot, noticed the menacing sky and told Fitzwilliam that he was not about to fly in that condition. Yet, Fitzwilliam, a man who always got his way, convinced Townshend to continue with the plans and fly anyway. At 3:30 in the afternoon, their plane took off, reaching an altitude of 10,000 feet. Approximately one hour into the flight, radio contact was lost with the plane when it entered the region near Vienne which was also close to the center of a storm. The plane's four occupants endured twenty minutes of severe turbulence which bounced their small plane up and down as much as several thousand feet at a time.

When they finally cleared the clouds, they instantly discovered the plane was in a dive and moments away from impact, and they attempted to pull up. The stress of the turbulence coupled with the sudden change of direction tore loose one of the wings, followed by both engines and finally the tail. The plane's fuselage then spun into the ground seconds later, coming to rest nose down in a ravine after striking terrain near the summit of Le Coran, the highest of the Cevennes Mountains in the Saint-Bauzile, Ardèche, France. Kennedy was instantly killed along with Fitzwilliam, pilot Peter Townshend, and navigator Arthur Freeman.

The story of Kathleen's death was cleaned up for public view in order to save the Kennedy family's reputation. The Boston Post reported that Kathleen was only in England to be near her dead husband and the New York Daily News story explained that while Kathleen was in Paris, she happened to chance upon Lord Fitzwilliam and merely hitched a ride on his plane.

Her father was the only family member to attend the funeral, arranged by the Cavendishes. Rose Kennedy refused to attend her daughter's memorial service, choosing to enter a hospital for routine medical tests.[6]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Kathleen Kennedy". jfklibrary.org. 
  2. ^ Buck, Pearl S. (August 4, 1970). "Kathleen put love before religion". The Montreal Gazette. p. 15. 
  3. ^ a b "Kathleen Kennedy Loses Husband in Action". The Pittsburgh Press. September 18, 1944. p. 2. 
  4. ^ "Kathleen Kennedy Flies From London". The Lewiston Daily Sun. August 17, 1944. p. 1. 
  5. ^ Bailey, C. (2007). Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, pp. 406–419. London: Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-91542-2.
  6. ^ a b Hilty, James (2000). Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector. Temple University Press. p. 52. ISBN 1-439-90519-3. 
  7. ^ Schenectady Gazette May 15, 1948.

Further reading[edit]

  • McTaggart, Lynne (1983), Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times, ISBN 0-385-27415-7 
  • Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family. New York: Villard Books, 1994. Print.

External links[edit]