Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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"Lady Kick" - The Kennedy Rebel - JFK's Younger Sister (written in 1999)

The Ambassador's Daughter

The bespectacled Ambassador arrived at the Court of St. James, nodded curtly at the doorman and marched through the door without so much as a glance behind him. Trailing behind, his wife herded their smiling offspring past the endless flashing bulbs to an alcove. Here she paused and instructed her children to turn around, enabling the delighted paparazzi to zoom in upon the good-looking young quartet who, despite numerous rehearsals, were utterly overwhelmed by the attention. Joe Junior, already taller than his father, a proud and sure-footed young man with his heart set on playing Biggles and steering airplanes across the skies. Beside him, Jack, a chubby big-toothed teenager, heart set on following Daddy's footsteps from Harvard to the Democratic Party. Then there was Kathleen - or Kick as she was known. And Boy could she! Kick Kennedy, sweet seventeen, a wholesome red-lipped big bosomed American broad, her pretty head deeply dippy at the prospect of spending some time in this ancient land of chivalrous, well hung knights and exotic mistresses. And finally Rose, always that little bit peculiar, a distant glint in her blurry green eyes, as if everything was a dream from which she would never awaken.

Kick Kennedy was born Kathleen Agnes Kennedy, fourth of nine, second daughter of Joseph P. Kennedy and his wife Rose, daughter of Boston's formidable Mayor Fitzgerald. Hers was to be a short and rather tragic life, even as Kennedys go.

They say Joe Kennedy brought the curse upon his clan by his own sheer appetite for the high life. His own grandfather had journeyed across the turbulent ocean from a farmstead near New Ross, Co. Wexford, to a New World where the spin-doctors were hard at work stamping a defiant republican identity upon the hundreds of Irish daily disembarking onto the east coast.

By the time Kick came bouncing into Massachusetts on February 20th 1920, her 32 year old Harvard educated father had established himself as a central figure in Boston's bootlegging and booze industry. His son Jack would inherit this penchant for hanging with wise guys and the pretty dolls. By the time Kick's younger sister Jean (Kennedy Smith) was born in 1928, Joe had become a millionaire, moved the family to New York, joined the Democratic Party, established himself as a Hollywood mogul and embarked on a torrid affair with the actress Gloria Swanson in Palm Beach, Florida.

In 1938, Joe Kennedy Snr took up office as Franklin D. Roosevelt's United States Ambassador. When it came to selecting a man capable of working with the social and political elite of Great Britain on the eve of a World War, Joe Kennedy was a peculiar choice. A man with such a passionate hatred for colonialism and the monarchy was never going to have a good thing to say about the likes of Churchill and Chamberlain. And they for their part referred to Joe Kennedy as "an arch-shit". But FDR owed Joe a favour and if Joe understood anything it was the power of the press and so he surrounded himself with his photogenic children who rapidly became the darlings of the British press. Rose and Kick were "presented" to society soon after their arrival in 1938. Jack Kennedy would spend his vacations in London when not writing essays at Harvard, Joe Jr likewise hung out in London while learning how to fly.

Billy Cavendish

But the shapely 19-year-old Kick Kennedy flew with him across the Atlantic and soon found herself swept into the excitement of London society on the eve of a war. Her father displayed a vulgar disdain for the English way of life. Kick loved it. At a garden party in Buckingham one afternoon in 1938, the vivacious daughter of this exceptionally powerful Catholic American family came upon Billy Cavendish, the young Marquis of Hartington (William John Robert Cavendish), eldest son and heir of the Duke of Devonshire of Chatsworth and Lismore Castle, a relation of the man assassinated in Phoneix Park by the Fenians with a very close connection to Oswald Mosley. Billy was from one of the bluest blooded clans in Britain. He was considered a potential husband for Princess Elizabeth. His father was Grandmaster of the Freemasons with four inches of praise in Burke's Peerage.

Kick's mother Rose, a staunch Catholic, was understandably appalled by her daughter's romance with a titled English Protestant. And Joe was equally disgusted, not least since his recall from London when he stirred up a hornet's nest by daring to suggest England's democratic days were over in an interview with the Boston Globe in November 1940. The bespectacled American Ambassador genuinely believed England was bucked and that Roosevelt's only option was to side with Adolf because, well, at least Adolf wasn't a god-darned Commie. Joe was lambasted as a coward and a Nazi.

The Kennedy Thing

A few months before the Japs blew up Pearl Harbour, Kick's elder sister Rose - who'd been presented to London along with herself - was institutionalised after a failed prefrontal lobotomy. She never recovered. Neither parent was present when the Kick and Billy married at a registry office in Chelsea on May 6th 1944. In fact, the only member of the Kennedy family to attend was her big beloved medal-winning brother Joe who managed to take some time off flying missions over Europe for the occasion.

And then the Kennedy thing began to happen. Five weeks after the wedding, Billy got the call up to go fight the Nazis with the Coldstream Guards. In August, Joe's aeroplane blew up while he was flying "one last" special mission over Great Britain.A German sniper ended the life of Captain William Cavendish in Belgium on September 10th 1944. (His younger brother Andrew succeeded as Duke of Devonshire and married Debo, youngest of the Mitford sisters). Jack Kennedy was still recovering in hospital from injuries sustained when a Jap destroyer sliced apart the PT-109 he was commanding somewhere near the Solomon Islands. And wee Bobby had just signed up with the Navy. Her father was still in political disgrace.

Earl Fitzwilliam

Kick was particularly devastated by her brother Joe's death. He'd been the only sibling to attend her wedding. But then she came upon a member of the British Commandos and sometime captain of the Grenadier Guards, the dashing 38 year old Peter, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, owner of a massive 90,000 acre estate at Coolattin, Co. Wicklow, and another at Wentworth Woodhouse in Rotherham. Peter succeeed to the earldom on the death of his father on 15th February 1943. (1)

The Kennedy parents deemed Kick beyond redemption. Fitzwilliam was worse than Hartington. He was married - to Obee Plunkett, a daughter of the Bishop of Tuam & Meath, and mother to their only child, Juliet. And he was an Anglo-Irish Protestant, of the same blood as several Lord Lieutenants and an evil landlord. Actually, William Wentowrth, 2nd Earl of Fitzwilliam, was dismissed from his post as Lord Lieutenant in 1795 because he favoured Catholic Emancipation. And his grandson Charles William Fitzwilliam (1786 - 1857), the 4th Earl, who cleared 6000 tenants off his Wicklow estate has lately been hailed as Ireland's Oskar Schindler because he personally paid for their passage to Canada, fed 'em up on the voyage and tried to secure some form of a cash advance for every last one of them. The Fitzwilliam Clearances took place between 1847 and 1856. Coolattin collapsed amid the Crisis so Fitzwilliam - "a compassionate Victorian" - opted for a programme of "Assisted Emigration" from New Ross. That said, many of those émigrés ended up working on the Canadian railroads in which, like many a shrewd investor, the 4th Earl made a substantial fortune. In fact, many of these unskilled labourers came direct from New Ross to St. Andrews in New Brunswick from where a railway line was being built to Quebec.

The 4th Earl's descendent, Peter Fitzwilliam, served in the war as a Captain in the Grenadier Guards. Peter and Kick fell in love and Fitzwilliam said he would divorce his wife for her. I don't know what Jack made of all this; he'd been elected to Congress for Boston on Guy Fawkes Day 1946. On May 13th 1948, the couple boarded a small aeroplane in London and set forth for Cannes. Joe Kennedy was apparetnly waiting there to meet the couple. There was talk of a reconciliation between father and daughter. The pilot reckoned the weather was too dodgy. Kick told him not to be a wimp. The flight took off. They got as far as the Rhone Valley when a storm pushed the plane into the side of a mountain and Kick and Peter and the pilot went the same way as Joe Junior I and Joe Junior II.

Peter is buried in the family plot at Wentworth Church near their stately home of Wentworth Woodhouse. Kick was laid to rest in the Devonshire's family plot at Chatsworth in north Derbyshire. If the Kennedy's needed any consolation, Bobby graduated from Harvard that June and Jack secured a substantial majority in the Congressional Elections that November.(2)

(1) Trivia gurus might like to know Peter Fitzwilliam was played by Greg and Dharma's Thomas Gibson in the 1990 TV movie The Kennedys of Massachusetts.
(2) Everyone is agreed that JFK's visit to Ireland in June 1963, coming the week after his Ich bin ein Berlinner speech was the happiest few days of his life. Within 6 months Jackie would be igniting an eternal flame and watching his body lowered into the ground of Arlington National Cemetery. It is extraordinary for me to think that my grandfather was ten years older than JFK.

With thanks to Darren Conway and others.