Gladys, Duchess of Marlborough

Today marks the 140th Anniversary of the Birth of Gladys Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who was born on this day in 1881. The daughter of Edward Deacon and Florence Baldwin, Gladys Marie Deacon was born and grew up in Paris, being educated at the Convent de l’Assomption at Auteuil with her three sisters while their father was imprisoned for killing his wife’s lover in 1892. After his release and their parents’ divorce, Gladys and her sisters lived in the United States for three years before returning to their mother France after their father was declared mentally unstable. A noted society beauty who had a plethora of admirers, including the Crown Prince of Germany, at the age of 22, she underwent a plastic surgery attempt and had her nose injected with paraffin wax, which slipped to her jaw and caused her face to be misshapen for the rest of her life. In the late 1890s, she began to live with the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace, becoming good friends with the American-born Duchess, formerly Consuelo Vanderbilt, and the mistress of the Duke, residing with them until their divorce in 1921, when she married the Duke and became the Duchess of Marlborough. Marcel Proust wrote of her: “I never saw a girl with such beauty, such magnificent intelligence, such goodness and charm.” However, the marriage soon became unhappy, partly due to her successful breeding of Blenheim spaniels, and she kept a revolver in her bedroom to prevent her husband’s entry. The Duke moved out of Blenheim Palace, and two years later evicted her, though they remained married until his death in 1934, while he was planning to evict her from his London Townhouse. The Dowager Duchess became reclusive, never being photographed after 1935, and moved with her dogs first to north Oxfordshire and later to the Grange Farm at Chacombe. By 1962, she had become mentally ill, and was forcibly moved to St Andrew’s Hospital where she died in 1977, aged 96. The Duchess’ biography was written by celebrated author Hugo Vickers, who visited her dozens of times in the years before her death.


Gladys Deacon Instagram | AU

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