September 12, 2008


Autumn/Winter 1881 (Age 6)

Lord Randolph Churchill and his family had settled in at 29 St. James’s Place, London. Notwithstanding his narrow return by Woodstock and his low standing with the Prince of Wales, Lord Randolph had begun his meteoric rise within the Tory Party. The Tories, WSC later wrote, were in disarray, “outmatched in debate, outnumbered in division. What political prophet or philosopher surveying the triumphant Liberal array would have predicted that this Parliament, from which so much was hoped, would be indeed the most disastrous and even fatal period in their party history? Who could have foreseen that these dejected Conservatives in scarcely five years, with the growing assent of an immense electorate, would advance to the enjoyment of 20 years of power?”

This was the political background, Randolph Churchill wrote, against which Winston was to live the four sensitive years of his life between the ages of five and nine. St. James’s Place was to be Winston’s home for the next two years; then, after Lord and Lady Randolph had again visited the United States, the family moved to 2 Connaught Place. But it was from Blenheim, in this winter 100 years ago, that came Winston’s first known letter to his mother:

“My dear Mamma: I hope you are quite well I thank you very very much for the beautiful presents those soldiers and Flags and Castle they are so nice it was so kind of you and dear Papa. I send you my love and a great many kisses. Your loving Winston.”

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His mother, Churchill would later write in “My Early Life,” always seemed “like a fairy princess: a radiant being possessed of limitless riches and power. She shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly — but at a distance.” His relationship with his mother was to improve drastically from these tenuous beginnings. It was she who would play a great part in advancing his early career.

Autumn 1882 (Age 8)

With Lord Randolph’s illness in a remission stage, he was active in the campaign against dual control of the Conservative Party by Salisbury in the Lords and Northcote in the Commons. In December he rested on the Riviera and in Algiers. Jennie remained in London, having contacted what was eventually diagnosed as typhoid.

Winston, meanwhile, had been enrolled in St. George’s School at Ascot. Although he wrote his parents that “I am very happy at school,” he later recalled (in MY EARLY LIFE, Woods A37) “how I hated this school.” He certainly made little progress. In his first term report in December he placed last in his class. His parents were informed that Winston was “a regular pickle” who must treat his work far more seriously.

This unhappy period was presaged by Winston’s rather unpleasant experience the first day he met his Form Master. He was asked to learn the declensions of mensa, the Latin word for “table.” When he had the temerity to ask the meaning and use of the vocative case, he was told he would use it when addressing a table. “But I never do,” he replied. He was then sternly informed: “If you are impertinent, you will be punished, and punished, let me tell you, very severely.”

Thus began what he called a “hateful servitude” and a distaste for the classics “from which, I have been told, many of our cleverest men have derived so much solace and profit.” Winston clearly did not enjoy this experience. Seeing no reason to ever use strange tongues, he never learned to write a Latin verse. Nor did he accomplish any Greek, except for the alphabet. He was deemed a very naughty boy, and was among the school leaders only in receiving birchings. At St. George’s, these were administered with a harshness that was singular – even for the Victorian Age.
{slide=Winter 1882-83 (Age  8)}
Lord and Lady Randolph’s political and social prospects were improving. Lord Randolph had decided that the Fourth Party should fill a vacuum on the political left and “steal the Radicals’ clothes.” He and Sir John Gorst accelerated their attacks on the Gladstone Liberals, and their own party.

Lady Randolph, recuperating from an illness more serious than she realized, planned the move into 2 Connaught Place, near Marble Arch. On the same site only 40 years before, criminals had been publicly executed; in fact, when alterations were made, a mass grave was found in the cellars! At the time, however, it was better known as one of the first private homes in London to have electric lighting.

The Churchills were gradually being accepted back into a society which had ostracized them because of a dispute involving the Prince of Wales. Some historians have stated that reconciliation took place at this time, and that Winston and Jack were presented to the Prince at a dinner given by Lord and Lady Randolph. According to the official biography the reconciliation did not take place for another year; though Lady Randolph accepted an invitation to attend the Queen at Windsor on 14 March, there is no record of Lord Randolph having accompanied her.

Lady Randolph wrote her husband that Winston had returned from his unsuccessful first term at school “slangy and loud,” that he was taking great pleasure in teasing “baby. Jack,” and that Lady Randolph would have to “take him in hand.” Even Jack was accusatory. Asked by Sir Henry Drummond Wolff if was being good, the little boy replied, “Yes, but brother is teaching me to be naughty.”
{slide=Spring 1883 (Age 8)}
Even to his political enemies Lord Randolph Churchill stood out as “perhaps the one man of unblemished promise in his party,” but he excoriated the Tories as much as the Liberals. The state of war escalated when he objected to Lord Northcote’s selection as eulogist for the unveiling of the statues of Disraeli. Against the advice of his friends, Lord Randolph railed against Northcote in The Times letters column, for which he was denounced by almost every Conservative Member and newspaper in London. But the provinces remained loyal to him.

His reputation in the House was completely restored with a speech in reply to Gladstone on the chronic Bradlaugh Question (whether a Member could affirm rather than swear his allegiance in the House). He was seen as the only Tory in the House who was Gladstone’s equal.

In a May article, “Elijah’s Mantle,” Lord Randolph lamented the loss of “Dizzy,” outlining his conception of Tory Democracy and speculating on the next Tory leader. He hoped to be its recipient and many believed this was his destiny. Punch showed a cartoon of “Little Lord R,” standing before Disraeli’s statue, dreaming that “they’ll have to give me a statue-some day!!”

At the unveiling, each Conservative Member wore a primrose, Disraeli’s favorite flower. Sir Henry Wolff suggested to Lord Randolph that they form an association with the primrose as a symbol. “Let’s go off and do it at once,” Lord Randolph replied. Thus arrived the Primrose League an association that would also facilitate the active entry into politics of Lady Randolph Churchill.
{slide=Summer 1883 (Age 8)}
Despite the defection of Arthur Balfour, the Fourth Party continued to be a significant influence in British politics. Lord Randolph Churchill was viewed as one of the few parliamentary equals of Gladstone. Indeed, he was warned that his attacks might kill the Prime Minister. “Oh no!” he replied. “He will long survive me. I often tell my wife what a beautiful letter he will write to her, proposing my burial in Westminster Abbey.”

In early July, the Duke of Marlborough died and his shaken son Randolph returned to Blenheim to grieve, canceling all public appearances and refusing to attend Parliament for the remainder of the year. He then took his wife and son for a short holiday to Germany, where they observed Bismarck on his walks and dined with the Kaiser. “We talked banalities,” RSC wrote … “I have reason to believe that the fame of the Fourth Party has not yet reached the ears of this despot.”

Winston was still unhappily attending St. George’s School in Ascot. In one month he was late 19 times. His general conduct was improving but his teachers reported that he did not know the meaning of hard work and he still ranked last in his class. His composition was “very feeble”; his grammar was “improving”; his writing was “good but so terribly slow”; his spelling was “about as bad it well can be.” Not surprisingly, his best subject was history.
{slide=Autumn 1883 (Age 9)}
Following the death of his father, Lord Randolph toured Europe with Jennie. On their return he was reluctant to reenter political life and his brother, the new Duke, persuaded him to activate the Harriers. For weeks he spent hours at the kennels and also became interested in the proposed Oxford-Woodstock railway. Many wondered whether his loss of interest in politics was permanent but because he was easily the most popular Tory speaker, he received numerous invitations to speak. He finally consented to deliver three speeches in Edinburgh in December.

He had not been neglecting the Tory Democratic movement nor the party machine. While at Blenheim he made plans to obtain control of the National Union of Conservative Associations from the influential Conservative MPs and the Cariton Club. At the Conservative Conference at Birmingham, he declared war on the Central Committee of the party because it was not responsible to the general body. He said he hoped “before long to see Tory working men in Parliament,” and that the Conservatives would never gain power until they “gained the confidence of the working classes.”

Winston, meanwhile, said the master at St. George’s, “began well but latterly has been very naughty! On the whole he has made progress . . . though at times he is still troublesome.” His composition was “very variable” and once again, history was his best subject. He wrote his mother of a school excursion to “hampton cort palace” and began to show an early awareness of his father’s profession with a reference to Charles Bradlaugh, a radical MP.
{slide=Winter 1883-1884 (Age 9)}
During the first term of 1884 young Winston finally exhibited an improved performance at St. George’s School. His Division Master was “more satisfied with him than I have ever been,” but cautioned that there was still much room for improvement. His Head Master commented that perhaps Winston was “beginning to realize that school means work and discipline,” but complained that Winston was “rathe.r greedy at meals.” Many years later WSC’s son and biographer defended his father’s culinary behavior with some rather caustic judgments of the food at En

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