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JFK’s historic Derbyshire detour to sister’s grave

Kathleen Kennedy at her wedding to the Marquess of Hartington, 1944
Kathleen Kennedy at her wedding to the Marquess of Hartington, 1944

WHEN JFK left Ireland for Britain exactly 50 years ago last week he made a largely undocumented detour to Derbyshire to lay a wreath on the grave of his late sister Kathleen Kennedy.

At the time most observers believed the American President was travelling direct from Shannon to a meeting in London with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

But on June 29, 1963, Kennedy landed at the Royal Air Force base at Waddington, Lincolnshire and then travelled by helicopter to Edensor, Chatsworth in the Peak District.

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His sister Kathleen had first come to London in 1938 before settling and marrying William Cavendish, the Marquess of Hartington.

But after losing her husband in World War II she remarried wealthy British aristocrat named Peter Fitzwilliam, who was the 8th Earl Fitzwilliam.

Tragedy struck again in May 1948 when on their way to a romantic getaway in the South of France via a meeting with her father Joseph Kennedy in Paris.

En route, their small chartered plane crashed in stormy weather killing them both.

More than 15 years later on that June 1963 day in Derbyshire stood sibling Mrs Jean Smith, who later became President Clinton’s Ambassador to Ireland, and the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire along with President Kennedy who laid a wreath of flowers, which he brought from Ireland, on the grave.

Today, beneath an epitaph which reads: ‘Joy she gave, Joy she has found’ an acknowledgement states that Kathleen Kennedy was the ‘Widow of the Major Marquess Hartington killed in action and daughter of the Hon. Joseph Kennedy sometime Ambassador of the United States to Great Britain.’

An added plaque reads: ‘In memory of John F Kennedy, President of the United States of America who visited this grave on 29th June 1963’.

Located a mile away is Chatsworth House, a 297-room estate where prior to her marriage, Kathleen had celebrated her 24th birthday.

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3 comments on “JFK’s historic Derbyshire detour to sister’s grave”

  1. hanne jeppesen

    Kathleen was not married to Peter Fitzwilliam, they were romantically involved, but he was still married, he was also a protestant, as Kathleen's deceased husband was, which was a problem for Rose Kennedy, a devout catholic, however Kathleen was a strong willed young woman, and had was determined to marry the man she loved, she had pretty much won her father over to her side.

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  2. Peggy Roberts

    Kathleen Kennedy was certainly not married to Peter Fitzwilliam as claimed on your website. She was the widow of the Marquess of Hartington - heir to the Duke of Devonshire whose stately residence was Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. Peter Fitzwilliam was the 8th. Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse in South Yorkshire. Kathleen and Peter were having an affair and were both killed when his private plane crashed in a storm on the way to the south of France. He was already married to Olive and they had a daughter, Julia.

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