Private Jackie Kennedy letters withdrawn from auction

President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy as they attend one of five inaugural balls in Washington Image copyright AP
Image caption President John F. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy as they attend one of five inaugural balls in Washington

Recently discovered letters written by the late Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of former US President John F Kennedy, to an Irish priest are being withdrawn from auction.

The correspondence was due to be auctioned next month in County Laois for up to $5m.

The extremely private Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy wrote to Father Joseph Leonard, a Vincentian priest at All Hallows College in north Dublin from 1950 until his death in 1964.

In her letters, she revealed her feelings of happiness in meeting and marrying JFK but also her worries that he might be turn out like her father, a bit of a philanderer.

She later revealed her distress at her husband's murder.

The letters also detailed her happiness in her Irish visits before she married into the Kennedy family.

For years, the letters remained undiscovered, as far as the public was concerned, in All Hallows College.

Then the Vincentian Fathers announced they were going to auction the correspondence.

Image copyright AP
Image caption A picture taken in 1961 of Jacqueline Kennedy, the wife of John Fitzgerald Kennedy

They gave two reasons for their decision.

They said the college "does not have the resources or facilities to properly curate the letters, thereby running the risk of damage and deterioration".

They also said the collection was "a treasure trove of valuable historical information, covering seminal events that include her engagement to Senator Kennedy and his assassination in 1963, and would be a valuable addition to the Kennedy archive".

The auction of the hitherto unknown archive became a major news story with lots of American interest in their former First Lady's private insights.

The Vincentian Fathers said: "This correspondence between friends provides tremendous insights into Jacqueline Kennedy's opinions and motivations and illuminates a warm, witty, intelligent and insightful woman who remains one of the most iconic and famous women in American history.

"It also demonstrates an affectionate and warm relationship between the 21 year old graduate and a Vincentian priest in his seventies which is refreshing to observe."

But the would-be auction proved controversial.

Many felt its contents were private and should have been returned to the Kennedy family; that the privacy of a very private woman should be respected; and that no money should be made out of the sale of such correspondence.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jackie Kennedy popularised the pillbox hat simply by wearing it at her husband's inauguration

Other likened the very private nature of the contents to what might be said in a confession and that, therefore, the letters should not have been made public, never mind sold at auction.

It also emerged that someone else had photographed the contents and was attempting to sell the images.

The issue went to court and the man in question was asked to stop and ordered not to pass himself off as the owner of the correspondence.

After more than a week of controversy, the Vincentian Fathers and the college announced the auction in County Laois next month would not now go ahead.

No reason was given.

In a short statement, the Order said: "The Fr J Leonard CM / Mrs. J. Kennedy letters are being withdrawn from auction at the direction of All Hallows College and the Vincentian Fathers.

"Representatives of All Hallows College and the Vincentian Fathers are now exploring with members of Mrs. Kennedy's family how best to preserve and curate this archive for the future."

So, it could well be the case that the letters might be returned to the Kennedy family, after all.

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