Family Feuds: Two Families That Nearly Fractured - Arts & Culture

These two slightly connected families have had dramas that have captivated the world’s stage

The Mitfords

An iconic aristocratic English family that can their lineage to the Norman Conquest, the most famous members are the Mitford Sisters, known for their fabulous lives and fractious relationships with each other.

Read More: Keeping Up With The Kennedys – The Next Generation of America’s Royal Family

Nancy, the eldest, became a famous novelist. Pamela was known for her love of farming (and being in a “committed relationship” with another woman). Diana was married to Bryan Guinness, heir to the Guinness brewing fortune. She later divorced him for Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists. Unity was obsessed with Hitler and shot herself after Britain declared war on Germany, after which she lived the rest of her life in convalescence.

Jessica ran away from a life of privilege to elope with Esmond Romilly, Churchill’s socialist nephew. After Romilly was declared MIA during a bombing raid against Germany in WWII, she married Civil Rights lawyer Robert Treuhaft. Deborah, the youngest, married Andrew Hartington, and eventually became the Duchess of Devonshire.

Unity, Tom, Deborah, Diana, Jessica, Nancy and Pamela Mitford

In case it’s not easy to tell where the split lies, Jessica never forgave Diana for her fascist tendencies, while Nancy also considered herself a socialist and used to report on her sisters to M15. “She is a ruthless and shrewd egotist, a devoted fascist and admirer of Hitler and sincerely desires the downfall of England and democracy in general,” reported Nancy of Diana, from January 1941. Diana’s wedding to Mosley took place in Josef Goebbels’ office. Hitler attended. 

Furthermore, according to Nancy, Pamela and her husband Derek Jackson were vicious anti-Semites and wished for the war to end only due to their fear of its impact on England.

The sisters also had a brother, Tom, himself a fascist who refused to fight in Europe and therefore fought in Burma, where he died in action. Their father, David Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale was politically ambivalent: a conservative, he nonetheless dropped any sympathy for the Nazis and stayed a patriotic anti-German. Their mother, Sydney, sided with her fascist children, and this considerably cooled off the relationship between the parents.

As the sisters grew older, they did become closer again, except Jessica never forgave Diana, although they did speak upon Nancy’s death in 1973.

The Kennedys

The Kennedys are interestingly tied to the Mitfords. Kathleen, the 2nd daughter of Joseph Kennedy Sr. and Rose Kennedy (and the younger sister of the eventual 35th president of the United States, John F. Kennedy) was the debutant of the year in England during the first 12 months of her father’s tenure as the US ambassador to the UK. She eventually fell in love with and married William Hartington, the older brother of Andrew Hartington, which made her sisters-in-law with Deborah Mitford.

Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish with Deborah Cavendish in England (The JFK Library)

The relationship and wedding were celebrated for uniting this politically-minded American (with a touch of the Irish) family on the upswing with a grand British noble family. However, it was also scandalous: the Kennedys were strict Catholics. The Hartingtons were Protestants.

Rose was horrified and told her daughter that this was a damnable sin, enough to send her to hell. After a long back and forth with religious leaders on both sides, it was agreed that while Kathleen wouldn’t have to give up her faith, the wedding would have to take place in a registry office. Any future children would be raised Protestant.

Billy Hartington

Any thought of future children was all for naught because five weeks after the wedding, Hartington was posted to France and a few months later, he was killed by German snipers in Belgium.

Many, many years later, there is another feud in the Kennedy family, this time concerning Robert Kennedy Jr., the son of Robert F. Kennedy and Ethel Skakel. Kennedy is an environmental lawyer, more recently known for his controversial stance on vaccines and conspiracy theories.

Kennedy believes that vaccines cause autism, and is the chairman of Children’s Health Defense, an advocacy group for anti-vaccine propaganda. Since the start of COVID-19, Kennedy has peddled multiple false claims regarding the pandemic and the CDC’s Anthony Fauci, claiming that Fauci, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, is profiting off vaccines. He has also compared the plight of anti-vaxxers like himself to Jewish people during the holocaust.

His older siblings Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Joseph P. Kennedy, along with his nieces Maeve Kennedy McKean and Kerry Kennedy Meltzer have written open letters distancing themselves from his baseless beliefs.

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