Opening remarks by Jennie Churchill for the ‘Churchill’s Shakespeare’ exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.
My great grandfather first visited the United States in 1895, just before his twentieth birthday.
At that time, he did not like your press or your currency but he did love your hospitality.
It was on his first visit to Washington, D.C. in 1900 that he met the first on many Presidents of the `United States
That President was William McKinley.
He was to be the first of very many with whom, Winston met and developed relationships
Famously, Churchill is rightly credited with developing the modern special relationship between our two countries.
Given that he was himself the product of an Anglo-American special relationship this was not only a strategic necessity but a natural evolution.
A female reporter in New York once asked Churchill: “Doesn’t it thrill you… to know that every time you make a speech the hall is packed to overflowing?”
Churchill replied: “It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way, I always remember that if, instead of making a political speech, I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big!”
His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, may have been the quintessential British aristocrat, a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough…
…and his mother was the Brooklyn-born talented Jennie Jerome. I am proud to be named after her.
While to most people she is simply Winston Churchill’s mother.
However, many of you will know that she was a great beauty, once famously described as being more panther than woman.
And some of you may know that after Lord Randolph’s death she went on to have two further marriages, both to much younger men.
But there is so much more to her than this.
Jennie spoke several languages fluently and was a concert standard pianist.
She was a superb networker, who knew how to get things done in Victorian and Edwardian high society.
She was an author, a magazine publisher and a playwright.
While two of her three plays were performed in her lifetime, the third play “Between the Devil and The Deep Sea” was, thanks to the incredible Allen Packwood, read earlier this year at Churchill College, Cambridge.
She unashamedly pulled the strings that launched Winston’s career as a soldier, helping him to see action in Cuba, the Indian north-West frontier and the Sudan.
Winston remarked on his mother:
“She left no wire unpulled, no stone unturned, no cutlet uncooked”
During the Boer War, she raised the funds for, organised and effectively commanded her own hospital ship, with her second son, Jack Churchill, being one of the first treated on the vessel
And–as you will see today–she was a prime mover behind the Shakespeare Ball that raised funds for both the British National Theatre and the 1912 festival…
…which turned London’s Earls Court into a sort of Shakespearean Disneyland, and re-created buildings from Elizabethan times.
I have no doubt that my great, great grandmother would have loved not only this theatre but its sheer spectacle.
Gifted with high energy, she was an irrepressible doer, always living her life on a dramatic plane.
There can be little doubt that my great grandfather inherited his sense of the theatrical and, above all, his love of language and drama from his irrepressible, ever curious and always energetic mother.
Jennie was truly unique and larger than life and her genes clearly were inherited by her eldest son.
Thankfully, they were, for one can only wonder the impact on Freedom, Justice, Honor, Liberty and the Rights of Man would be, had they not been passed on to Winston.
Which is why I am glad that my great, great grandmother, Jennie, features so prominently in this wonderful exhibition.
Sir Winston’s love of both Shakespeare and the dramatic are, perhaps manifested in a military staff memo he wrote in July 1943.
He closed his instructions with a quotation from Act IV of Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.
No better words illustrated the point he was making as he exhorted his men to bold and courageous action.
Our family and the international Churchill Society are proud that the name and memory of Sir Winston Churchill rides high on Capitol Hill and throughout the United States.
However, we are equally proud and thankful that two of Britain’s greatest authors Shakespeare and Churchill are appropriately linked together in this exhibition.
On behalf of the entire Churchill family, we both congratulate and thank all of those who worked so long and hard to put on this truly magnificent exhibition.
We are so grateful that the Folger has brought these two literary icons rightfully together in this glorious setting, and I thank you for allowing me to express our gratitude to you.
Get the Churchill Bulletin, delivered to your inbox, once a month.