William Waldorf Astor’s cousin who died on the Titanic

July 31 2023 | Castle History

Former owner of Hever Castle William Waldorf Astor had a cousin who died on the Titanic.

Historian Gareth Russell who has written a book on the Titanic explains more.

John Jacob Astor IV was part of the senior branch of the Astor family, known as “the landlords of Manhattan” which William Waldorf Astor was also a part of.

Unfortunately the two branches of the family had a feud about who could be known as The Mrs Astor and who could be Mrs Astor.

The feud led to William Waldorf Astor knocking down his house on Fifth Avenue in New York which was next door to the other branch of the family and building The Waldorf Hotel. In retaliation the other branch of the Astors knocked down their home and built the rival Astoria Hotel. A truce was eventually agreed and the hotels merged to become the Waldorf Astoria but the relationship was never warm.

Part of the reason that William Waldorf Astor left America and subsequently bought and restored Hever Castle was due to this family feud.

His cousin John Jacob, known as Jack, was on the Titanic on his honeymoon with his second wife, Madeleine when he died.

Divorce was still quite a scandal at the time and John Jacob and first wife, Ava waited until John Jacob’s very conservative mother Caroline had died before divorcing.

“Neither of them could face the wrath of Caroline” explained Gareth.

Madeleine was 29 years younger than John Jacob so combined with the fact that he had been married before made it a big scandal.

They honeymooned in the Atlantic and on the Nile before Madeline discovered she was pregnant so they booked a return on the Titanic so John Jacob could change his will to ensure the new child had the same inheritance rights as his other children.

Gareth said: “Because of the divorce and the fact that Madeleine was 29 years his junior meant people on the Titanic were trying to get a look at them.”

Madeleine had been quite sick in her pregnancy so John Jacob was very reluctant to let her on a lifeboat or get on one with her. It was only when the ship began to tilt that they realised how serious it was and Madeleine got on a lifeboat and made it back to New York to have the baby. But unfortunately the rules were then stricter about who was allowed on the lifeboats and John Jacob had to stay on the ship and died onboard.