The late Cardinal Winning was robust, outspoken and a holy man, says Simon Caldwell. And, of course, he was photogenic The oddly touching letters of Joe Kennedy to his children tell us a great deal about the passions that made — and ultimately destroyed — America's greatest dynasty, says Christina White
Hostages to Fortune: The Letters of Joseph P. Kennedy, edited by Amanda Smith Viking £20 Joseph Patrick Kennedy's speech on behalf of President Franklin D Roosevelt in October 1940 would, in later years, come to haunt the political dynasty that he created. "My wife and I have given nine hostages to fortune," he said. "Our children and your children are more important than anything else in the world."
It was a rallying cry for the Democratic party in America to stand behind their leader; it was weeks prior to JPK's resignation, in December 1940, as Ambassador to the court of St James's. Ambassador Kennedy had talked of "peace"; others sneered that he meant appeasement.
Francis Bacon coined the phrase "hostages to fortune", regarding kith and kin as "impediments to great enterprises"; but he in turn was evoking the Roman poet Lucan, for whom wife and sons were "hostages to the fates". And it was the fates that would tell for the Kennedys.
This is a fascinating, but flawed, insight into an IrishAmerican family at the height of its political and social powers. Amanda Smith is the adopted grandaughter of JPK. She has just one memory of "Grandpa" in red pyjamas, the "oldest person I had ever seen". As a child she thought him "spectacularly freckled"; in her eyes he was simply a frail, elderly man, neither Machiavellian in intent nor Lothario in action.
Her cataloguing of these private letters is as much about rediscovering a family as preserving a past. She writes: "His letters reveal a man who grew increasingly guarded with age and in proportion to his own burgeoning notoriety." She says that she looked for, but found no written evidence, of the bootlegging (the apocryphal tale of JPK standing in the darkness on the North Shore of Boston waiting for his runners to come in with illegal liquor), of the clandestine meetings with German financiers before the outbreak of World War II, of the affairs with Gloria Swanson and any number of nubile starlets. But, then, JPK was too sly a fox to leave traces.
The correspondence begins in 1914 with the honeymoon of Joseph and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy in Atlantic City, and ends in December 1961 with the stroke that would incapacitate him until his death eight years later.
The diary extracts tend towards the self-congratulatory and lack the wit or wisdom of honest observation. I was struck, for all his anti-English rhetoric, by an obseqiousness to royalty and the fading upper classes of English society. Joseph Kennedy was lord in the free democracy of America but on English soil he was servile.
Some of the most telling extracts are the shortest. A telegram from Edward Kennedy in Antibes to his father: "Happy Father's Day having barrels of fun send money for more barrels. Love — Ted". And later, from JPK: "Dear Teddy — if you're going to make the political columns let's stay out of the gossip columns." There is a humanity here that is unexpected. The patriarch, who critics insist lived vicariously through his children (political power the sole and motivating objective), reveals a sympathetic side to his character.
The letters to the young Kennedys were frequent and full of interest. Jack is criticised for poor penmanship, for "curious" accounting and for devoting too much time to sports and too little to Latin. His father, keeper of the family purse, castigates him for yet another dry cleaning bill, suggesting he hang his clothes up instead of leaving them crumpled on the Door, Joseph Jr comes through as diligent, if staid; eager for the approbation of his father. Jack by contrast is the dealer, the charmer. With Joe Jr's wartime death, the political mantle passed to the second son, but there is a sense here that Jack, in truth, was better equipped to deal with the necessary machinations of political life.
Kathleen "Kick" Kennedy is the beloved eldest daughter, indulged by her father despite a headstrong determination to go her own way against the Catholic concerns of her family. It was Kick who would marry outside the Church, and, on the death of her husband, Lord Hartington, would then embark on another affair with Lord Peter Fitzwilliam, an Irish peer, married and a protestant.
Her death in a plane crash in 1946 grieved her father but, one senses, came as sad relief to her devout mother.
Letters of war, of political upheaval in Europe, are inter spersed with pressing concerns from Rose: "I will get the alligator bag to you somehow," promises JPK. Rose's concerns are maternal and religious. Writing to Joe Jr in 1942, she implores him not to give up candy for Lent "as you have lost considerable weight — but to say a Rosary occasionally" instead. Ever conscious of heaven's rewards, she writes to JFK at the height of his bid for the presidential candidacy: "Dear Jack, this is just a note to remind you of church." She writes the same day to Jacqueline Kennedy reminding her of "Jack's Easter duty".
This was a family intent on learning and on achieving. Respectability, not wealth, was the primary motivation, but this was tempered with an old Irish-Catholic faith, however flawed or abused. Joseph Kennedy writes of a visit to Milan: "Of course when I got to Milan there were two things I wanted to see — the Cathedral and da Vinci's Last Supper. Jack and I rushed out to see the Last Supper and found that the place was locked at 4.30 and we couldn't get in. That didn't please me very much." Undeterred, they found the head of the museum and had a private viewing.
We live today in a more sterile environment, encouraged to free ourselves of clutter. JPK kept apart from the incriminatory and the damning — every note his children passed him, every political memo. His hoarding instinct has given us a glimpse of what made and ultimately destroyed the Kennedy family. The Cardinal: Official Tribute by Ronnie Convery, Brian McGeachan and Paul McSherry, Lindsay Publications £9.99 Always Winning: Thomas Joseph Cardinal Winning, 1925-2001 by Fraser Elder, Martin Gilfeather and George Wilkie, Mainstream Publishing £16.99 This Christmas was the first in 27 years that Glasgow's Catholics had spent without their beloved archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Winning, who died of a heart attack on June 17 last year — the same date that Cardinal Hume died of cancer two years before.
Given the popularity of "Red Tom" among the ordinary folk of Scotland, it was obvious that there would be some kind of pictorial tribute to him. Two sources have obliged: one is the Catholic Church in Scotland, which has published an official tribute, and the other is the work of three journalists with impressive backgrounds in the secular print and broadcast media.
The latter comes in the form of a large hardback; its pages are crammed with magnificent glossy pictures of the cardinal, interspersed with tributes from Scottish bishops and politicians as well as written accounts of key moments in the cardinal's life. It is visually stunning.
However, closer inspection also reveals signs that the book was hastily prepared. Most of the pictures were taken within a fortnight of each other in November 1994, when the Archbishop of Glasgow travelled to Rome to be made a cardinal; hence some great scenes of Cardinal Winning and other Scots in the Eternal City. There are a number of small mistakes, such as misspellings of Italian street names — and even the Christian name of one MP, John McFaul, mysteriously appears as James.
The official tribute, on the other hand, is less sumptuous but perhaps more comprehensive and assiduously researched. In common with Always Winning, there are plenty of pictures, and, though they are not as impressively displayed, they do actually span the cardinal's life, showing him as a boy, a student, a seminarian and a young priest, as well as archbishop and cardinal.
The book is dedicated to the cardinal's Pro-Life Initiative, which will receive part of the proceeds. There is a foreword from Cardinal MurphyO'Connor, and the text of the homily by Bishop Joseph Devine of Motherwell, a possible candidate for the see of Glasgow, at the cardinal's funeral.
Few people were indifferent to Cardinal Winning. As a schoolboy, he once renounced his faith in the face of sectarian bullies; but he grew up to become lionhearted in his defence of orthodoxy. He became a voice of immense moral authority and a yardstick by which many conservative Catholics measure their own bishops. Always on the "side of the people", as the Pope said, Cardinal Winning consistently spoke out for the ordinary man or woman, and on such issues as marriage and the family he was often more in touch with their sentiments than their own elected representatives would ever have the courage to be.
Unlike Hume, he never courted the establishment but remained a voluble and prophetic voice outside of it, embarrassing its members by demonstrating time and again just how politically disenfranchised the people of Britain have become in recent years. My bet is that these two books will sell very well indeed.