May 11, 2020

Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020

Page 04

By David Freeman, January 2020 

To understand Winston Churchill, it is necessary to visit Blenheim Palace. While Chartwell is the house with which he is most closely associated, Churchill did not purchase his estate in Kent until he was nearly fifty. The ducal lifestyle of Victorian Britain and Blenheim, where he was born and spent much time throughout his formative years, were the factors that shaped the man. In exploring these themes, we are honored to have His Grace the twelfth Duke of Marlborough introduce this issue.

Churchill himself wrote about the establishment of the family seat during the reign of Queen Anne when he composed his multivolume biography of his illustrious ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. The seventh Duke sat in residence when his grandson Winston was born in a small room off the Great Hall. Fred Glueckstein introduces us to this imposing figure.

Winston himself was closest to the ninth Duke, his first cousin, who was known as “Sunny” from the courtesy title Earl of Sunderland that he held in early life. Hugo Vickers examines the relationship between the cousins and Sunny’s unhappy attempts to make a marriage as successful as Winston’s. To his credit, Sunny did help nudge Winston towards proposing to Clementine, as we learn in an excerpt from Mary Soames’s biography of her mother.

Winston and Sunny served together in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Their military service continued during the Edwardian period, when both men became members of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, a squadron of the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, which regularly trained in the grounds of Blenheim Park. Douglas S. Russell tells the story of this period, including the annual summer camps which required Winston to rise at the most un-Churchillian hour of 5:30 in the morning.

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Antonia Keaney, who works on the Blenheim staff today, takes a whimsical look at Churchill the style icon. In his youth and as a young soldier-turned-politician, Churchill typically dressed in conventional, even dapper, styles. By middle age, however, he had adopted his more familiar, albeit idiosyncratic, tastes in clothing. Finally, Robert Courts, who represents today the constituency in which Blenheim is located, contrasts the community as it is today with the era in which Churchill’s father Lord Randolph served as Member for Woodstock.

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