Can’t Buy Me Love?

This guest post is drafted by Regent Oxford Law students Kathleen Knudsen and Joseph Kohm:
Can a woman or man of economic means dictate who she or he will marry? Or who their children will marry?  Yesterday the Regent Oxford Program students visited Blenheim Palace and discovered otherwise.

Imagine being seventeen years old and in love. Then one day your mother insists that you marry someone whom you have never met, from another country and another culture. When you refuse, you are locked in a room until you agreed to marry this unknown person. This is the true story of Consuelo Vanderbilt, only daughter and eldest child of William Vanderbilt, New York railroad millionaire.  

On November 6, 1895, against her wishes, Consuelo was married to Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough. The marriage made Consuelo a duchess and gave the Duke of Marlborough $2.5 million of Vanderbilt money (worth over $70 million in 2014 dollars). Their story is one of the many immortalized at Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, England.

Home of the current Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace originated when Queen Anne conferred the Oxfordshire estate on the 1st Duke of Marlborough for his victory at Blenheim, Austria in the War of Spanish Succession. It takes a lot of funds, however, to maintain a palace over the centuries, and by the early 1900s Blenheim Palace needed a major makeover.  That prompted the then Duke of Marlborough to arrange the marriage of his son to the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt.  Portraits of the Duchess Consuelo are throughout the Palace.  This money-for-title marriage illustrates the bleak reality that economic pressures impact marriage decisions.

Like a good exchange, both families had what the other wanted: the poor British needed money, and Americans lacked noble titles in their heritage. And though this appeared to be a marriage of solid political and financial advantage, it was not effective to generate happiness in either party to the marriage.  Consuelo even referred to her two sons as “the Heir and the Spare,” as only the eldest would inherit the estate under English law. Their marriage ended in divorce twelve years later.

Ironically, the richest family in the world could buy whatever they wanted, even a noble title, but they did not buy happiness for their own daughter. While money can’t buy love it may still be the best default for some conflicts ; or consider the latest twist on the rich girl dilemma

This English-American marriage liaison illustrates that marriage for political or financial benefit, nonetheless, does not inherently or necessarily foster a strong family or family restoration. But the Oxford group of Regent students enjoyed every minute!

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