Consuelo Vanderbilt Biography

Consuelo Vanderbilt, an American socialite from the renowned Vanderbilt family, gained fame as the Duchess of Marlborough through her marriage to the 9th Duke of Marlborough. Although their union lacked love, it provided social advantages. Raised under her mother’s strict guidance, Consuelo was groomed to attract eligible European aristocrats, solidifying her status as one of the prominent American ‘Dollar Princesses’. Eventually, she became one of the first aristocratic women to obtain a divorce and remarried Lt. Col. Jacques Balsan, a pioneering French aviator. Despite the separation, Consuelo maintained a close friendship with Winston Churchill, her first husband’s cousin.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In March
  • Also Known As: Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, Consuelo Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
  • Died At Age: 87
  • Socialites
  • Family Members
  • Died on: December 6, 1964
  • Place of death: Southampton, New York, United States
  • City: New York City
  • U.S. State: New Yorkers

Childhood & Early Life

Consuelo Vanderbilt was born on March 2, 1877, in Manhattan, New York, United States. She was the daughter of railroad millionaire William Kissam Vanderbilt and his first wife Alva Erskine Smith. Consuelo was named after her godmother, Consuelo Yznaga, a half-Cuban and half-American socialite who had recently married George, Viscount Mandeville.

During her childhood, Consuelo’s mother was determined to secure an aristocratic match for her daughter. She subjected Consuelo to wearing a steel rod to improve her posture and even whipped her with a riding crop for minor disobedience. Consuelo received her education at home from governesses and tutors and became fluent in several foreign languages at a young age.


Consuelo’s mother became interested in Charles Richard John Spencer-Churchill, the 9th Duke of Marlborough, after visiting his aunt in India. While on their way back home, the Vanderbilts stopped in Paris, where Consuelo attended her first European ball. This event caught the attention of at least five suitors. Through the matchmaker Lady Paget, Consuelo’s mother arranged a meeting between Consuelo and the Duke, despite the fact that Consuelo was secretly engaged to American socialite Winthrop Rutherfurd. When Consuelo attempted to elope with Rutherfurd, her mother locked her up and threatened to harm him. Eventually, her mother feigned illness to coerce Consuelo into giving consent to the marriage.

Consuelo and the Duke were married on November 6, 1895, and settled in London. They had two sons together. However, after eleven years of marriage, Consuelo realized that they were not growing closer. They separated in 1906 and officially divorced in 1921. Consuelo later remarried French aviator and industrialist Lt. Col. Jacques Balsan in 1921.

Later Life

During the Second World War, Consuelo and Colonel Balsan escaped from occupied France and settled in New York. Her husband passed away in 1956, the same year she lost her younger son. Consuelo Vanderbilt died on December 6, 1964, in Southampton, Long Island, New York. She was buried alongside her son in the churchyard at St Martin’s Church, Bladon, Oxfordshire, England.

Consuelo Vanderbilt was known for her philanthropic efforts. As the Duchess of Marlborough, she provided assistance to poor tenants on her husband’s estate and was involved in various philanthropic projects. During World War I, she served as the chair of the Economic Relief Committee for the American Women’s War Relief Fund. After her second marriage, she helped in the construction of a hospital in France and personally attended to children in need of preventive care at a sanatorium near Paris.


After Consuelo Vanderbilt’s first marriage, a cartoon depicting her in handcuffs kneeling next to the Duke in her wedding gown was published in New York papers. The cartoon symbolized her perceived lack of freedom and control in her marriage.

Leave a Comment