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The Dollar Princesses of the Gilded Age

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Wow, such an interesting time of the Gilded Ages. The wealthy and the nobles searching each other out.

Millionaire Dollar Princesses

Millionaire Dollar Princesses

A Young Consuela Vanderbilt

A Young Consuela Vanderbilt

Blenheim Castle

Blenheim Castle

Gilded Ages in New York

So many of us are glued to anything relating to the royals, and today the show, Downtown Abbey is watched by millions.

The notorious Lady Caroline Astor would not allow new money socials into her 'club'. But the mothers realized that if they crossed the Atlantic searching for eligible British noblemen, they could gain respectability and secure a title for their wealthy daughters, complete with huge dowries trading cash for the titles. And the search was on. The British aristocrats needed cash for their dilapidated castles since aristocrats didn't work.

It has been estimated that between the years 1880-1920, over 300 wealthy brides secured marriages with British nobility. One of the first Dollar Princesses to marry a nobleman was Jennie Jerome, whose father was "King of Wall Street." Jennie would marry Lord Randolph Churchill after only three days of the meeting each other wedding in 1874, and seven and a half months later, their son, Winston Churchill ( the future prime minister), was born. Each partner had numerous affairs during their marriage—Jennie, notably with Edward, Prince of Wales.

Nineteen years later, his nephew, Charles Spencer Churchill, would marry one of the richest Dollar Princesses, Cornelius Vanderbilt, with her enormous dowry of 2.5 million Vanderbilt shares stock and $100,00 annual payment. Cornelius was one of America's richest women with a mother determined to have her daughter wed someone with a Europen title.

The Dollar Princesses and their doweries pumped over twenty-five billion dollars into the British economy. And as a result, the Blenheim Castle is open to the public for all to see the beauty of a time gone.

the-dollar-princesses-of-the-gilded-age
Jennie Jerome Churchill

Jennie Jerome Churchill

Consuelo Vanderbilt Churchill

Consuelo Vanderbilt Churchill

Wedding of Consuelo Vanderbilt

For years, Consuelo's mother, Alva Vanderbilt, was determined to have her daughter admitted to the elite New York society. She schemed, pleaded, and even imprisoned her with servants guarding her, and she was allowed no correspondence. Alva was unaware Cornelius had already fallen in love with another. Alva had already picked out a husband for her and finally convinced her daughter through intimidation to marry Charles. On November 6, 1895, they were married at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 5th Avenue, New York. Her dress with a train of fifteen feet was by a top Paris designer and cost over $6000. at the time.

The wedding was delayed for a few hours because Cornelius had spent the morning in tears leaving her eyes and face streaked and red.

The marriage was a disaster from the start, and each partner already loved someone else. Charles needed a great deal of cash to restore Blenheim Castle. It was cold, damp, and had no running hot water. Hot bath water had to be boiled in the basement and carried up to the copper tub. Obviously, Cornelius was used to the finer pleasures of life and was not happy. They did have two sons, John Albert William Spencer Churchill (1897-1922, and Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill (1898-1956). She had produced an heir and a spare.

They separated in 1906 and finally divorced in 1921. Although her marriage to Charles was a disaster, in 1921, Cornelius married Col Louis Jacques Balsan (1868-1956), and they very happy together and settled in France. So, fortunately, Consuelo was finally able to find happiness.

Cornelius Vanderbilt Wedding 1895

Cornelius Vanderbilt Wedding 1895

Benefits of the Dollar Princesses

While it was mostly pre-arranged marriages between the rich Americans and the British's nobility, it was apparent it was a win-win arrangement. Because of the wealth flowing into the British economy, many of the castles the public visits today a result of the restorations the American wealth provided. And many of the marriages did end up as happy, or at least content.

Here are a few of the Dollar Princesses:

  • 1874 Miss Jennie Jerome, Lord Randolph Spencer Churchill
  • 1878 Miss Mary Stevens married Sir Arthur Henry Fitzroy Paget
  • 1895 Miss Cornelius married Charles Spencer Churchill, Duke of Marlborough
  • 1903 Miss Mary Leiter married Lord Curzon
  • 1910 Miss Margaret Drexel married Guy Montague, a Viscount

In 1911 King George V was crowned King of England and between his disapproval of these kinds of unions long with the public losing interest in the Dollar Princesses declined.

Comments

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 08, 2021:

Thanks for your visit, I do appreciate it.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on January 06, 2021:

Very interesting. I had heard of a few of these marriages but not the term before. I can understand the appeal but I'm sorry to learn they weren't always happy marriages.

Blessings,

Denise

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 06, 2021:

Alicia, many thanks for your visit and comment. I do appreciate your visit.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 06, 2021:

This is an interesting article. I’ve never heard the term “dollar princess” before. Thank you for the education, Fran.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on January 04, 2021:

Survivor, thanks for reading. I agree with your comments and hope you liked the article.

Rosina S Khan on January 03, 2021:

This was an interesting account how Dollar Princesses married British Nobles to pump money into the British economy while the wealthy princesses got titles. It sure looks like a win-win arrangement with many of the marriages being happy or content. Thanks for sharing, Fran.

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