AMERICAN FANCIERS IN ENGLAND
Interestingly, two other Americans became associated with the breed in England following their marriages, namely Consuelo Vanderbilt [1877-1964] and Gladys Deacon [1881-1977].
"The Wedding of the Century" occurred Saturday, November 6, 1895, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City, when Consuelo Vanderbilt married Charles Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough [1871-1934]. Consuelo was pushed into the marriage by her socially ambitious mother. One report states that Mrs. Vanderbilt locked her daughter in her room for three months until she consented to marry the Duke. Another report says that the bride had to put ice on her swollen eyes and cheeks prior to the wedding ceremony because she had been weeping for many days. The bride provided an enormous dowry, variously estimated, of something near $2,500,000 [about $300 million in today's dollars] and even more in stocks, shares and dividends from the Vanderbilt business empire, plus $100,000 annual income for life. This astonishing financial windfall was sorely needed by the Duke for the restoration of the neglected, mammoth Blenheim Palace, his ancestral home. The red and white variety of the toy spaniel was kept and developed there, albeit originally as a small sporting spaniel. This historical connection is the reason the variety is officially known as the Blenheim Spaniel.
A magnificent, life-sized portrait by John Singer Sargent [1856-1925] of the Duke, Consuelo, their young sons John and Ivor, and two Blenheim spaniels depicted in a rather elegant domestic scene, still hangs in the Red Drawing Room of Blenheim Palace. The composition of this painting seems to give focus to the Duchess and the young heir to the duchy. It may be considered that Consuelo Vanderbilt rescued the Marlboroughs in more ways than one. Consuelo famously referred to her sons as "The heir and the spare."
Naturally enough, Consuelo was very unhappy in her loveless marriage to the Duke of Marlborough. Consuelo separated from the Duke in 1906 and they were officially divorced in 1921. In July 1921, she married her second husband, French Lt. Col. Jacques Balsan [1868-1956], a daring sportsman and aviator. His brother Etienne Balsan [1878-1953] was a former lover and financial backer of another notable breed fancier, Coco Chanel [1883-1971]. Consuelo's second marriage seems to have been a happy one, and by all accounts she somehow managed reconciliation with her mother.
Consuelo Vanderbilt and Gladys Deacon had been close personal friends, for a time, reportedly first meeting at Blenheim in 1897. [One historian has claimed that Gladys Deacon had been a bridesmaid at Consuelo's wedding, but her name does not appear with the list of participants in a November 3, 1895 New York Times detailed report on the wedding, only days away]. Biographer Hugo Vickers writes that “Consuelo took Gladys under her wing and adored her”. Gladys would visit the Marlboroughs for weeks at a time over a period of several years. Surviving letters between Gladys, the Duke, and the Duchess convey a rather casual and comfortable friendship. Gladys Deacon was a celebrated, alluring beauty of unconventional intelligence and outspoken character for the times. Obviously, to some degree, the Duke was also captivated by Gladys, and it seems logical that the presence of Gladys Deacon at Blenheim Palace provided a pleasant distraction from an otherwise unhappy coexistence for the Duke and Consuelo.
Of course the gossips had a field day for years with the trio, kindled by the lengthy separation of the Duke and Duchess, and the scandal of a possible divorce in high society. In those days, divorces were granted only upon ugly testimony and proof of desertion or infidelity by either party. Biographer and historian Hugo Vickers writes that “Gladys had to be content with playing the role of mistress…difficult at times and not without humiliation. Had Consuelo agreed to a divorce earlier, then Gladys would certainly have become Duchess sooner”. The Duke was kept waiting and hoping for a relaxation of the Victorian-era divorce code.
Some 24 years after their first meeting, and strangely enough within only a few weeks following Consuelo's divorce decree, Gladys Deacon became the 12th Duchess of Marlborough by marrying the 9th Duke at the British Consulate in Paris on June 24, 1921. Despite their intimate association of many years before their actual marriage, they too did not enjoy a happy life together after all. Gladys reportedly dined at the opposite end of a thirty foot table with a loaded revolver beside her plate, presumably in order to keep her husband in his place, or as far away as possible, under the circumstances.