With the death of Paul Addison, the world of Churchill studies is substantially poorer. No one claiming fully to understand Britain’s Second World War leader can fail to have read his pioneering study Churchill on the Home Front. Equally his biography Churchill: The Unexpected Hero is regarded by many, including myself, as the best short biography. Paul died on 21 January 2020 after a stoic battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Rosemary and his two sons, James and Michael. For many years he was my close friend and colleague at the University of Edinburgh.
Born outside the small cathedral city of Lichfield in the English Midlands, Paul won a firstclass degree in history at Pembroke College, Oxford. As a postgraduate student he benefited from the inspired supervision of the celebrated historian A. J. P. Taylor to write his Ph.D. thesis on the opposition to Churchill’s wartime coalition government. It was Taylor, Paul often said, who fired his passion for history. The thesis formed the foundation of his path-breaking book The Road to 1945, which was published in 1975. Others followed, such as a BBC book accompanying the TV series Now the War Is Over (1985) and No Turning Back (2010). These all helped set the agenda for other British historians and influenced generations of students. Read More >
Ophelia Field is author of The Favourite: The Life of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (2018)
Hugo Vickers, The Sphinx: The Life of Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough, Hodder and Stoughton, 2020, 388 pages, £25. ISBN 978–1529390704
When Hugo Vickers concludes, towards the end of this jaw-dropping biography, that Gladys Deacon “had lived a fuller and more varied life than most,” he is guilty of extreme British understatement. This was a woman who had been a muse, an object of infatuation, or at least an object of curiosity to Auguste Rodin, Bernard Berenson, Giovanni Boldini, the Crown Prince of Prussia, Marcel Proust, Edith Wharton, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Count Hermann von Keyserling, Henri Bergson, Jean Giraudoux, Jacob Epstein, Virginia Woolf, Jean Marchand, H. G. Wells, Paul Valéry, Lytton Strachey, Arnold Bennett, George Moore, Edith Sitwell, Evelyn Waugh, Siegfried Sassoon, and many more. Events such as having lunch with Mussolini, or D. H. Lawrence entrusting her with his dirty drawings, barely even find space here for explanation.
By comparison, the ninth Duke of Marlborough seems a rather boring man for the beautiful young American heiress to fixate on marrying from the age of fourteen, a consistency of purpose at odds with the overall discontinuity of both her life and personality. Like an actress, Gladys could metamorphosise. One hostess wrote of her when she visited, “Fortunately she is a hundred people in one, and entertains herself by her own rapid changes of mood.” Read More >
Graham T. Clews, Churchill’s Phoney War: A Study in Folly and Frustration, Naval Institute Press, 2019, 339 pages, £50.50/$44.95. ISBN 978–1682472798
W. Mark Hamilton is author of The Nation and the Navy: Methods and Organization of British Navalist Propaganda, 1889–1914 (1986).
Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty for the second time at the start of the Second World War in September 1939. As in 1914, when Churchill held the office at the start of the First World War, he presided over the largest naval force on earth. This time, however, he carried deep political scars from the Great War and the Dardanelles. Nevertheless, the Admiralty supposedly signaled all the ships of the Royal Navy: “Winston is back.”
The “Phoney War”—or the “Bore War” as some derisively called it—took place over an eight-month period from September 1939 to spring 1940 and was a naval conflict, with the armies on the continent in gridlock and their air forces frozen. In his memoirs, Churchill termed it the “Twilight War.”
The mortal enemy facing Britain was again Germany, but this time, a war-tested German U-boat fleet was in place. Author Graham Clews is critical of Churchill’s slow response to the submarine danger and argues persuasively that Churchill did not sufficiently understand the threat it represented. There was considerable debate at the Admiralty about how to confront the U-boats—whether to reintroduce the convoy system used in the First War or to activate an aggressive “patrolling school,” which would command surface ships to seek and destroy the submarines. Churchill, after some vacillation, promoted the convoy approach, which Clews says was the better choice. Read More >
David Stafford, Oblivion or Glory: 1921 and the Making of Winston Churchill, Yale University Press, 2019, 301 pages, $26/£20. ISBN 978–0300234046
John Campbell’s books include major biographies of F. E. Smith, Aneurin Bevan, Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher, and Roy Jenkins.
Every time I review a book for Finest Hour I am amazed by how many new angles historians manage to find from which to write about Churchill. Some do seem to be scraping the barrel; but, by focussing closely on a single critical year in Churchill’s life, David Stafford has found a genuinely illuminating and fresh perspective. One could suggest other pivotal years, but Professor Stafford makes a compelling case for 1921 as the year in which Churchill, on the cusp of middle age at forty-six, began to bounce back from the disaster of the Dardanelles, shake off his youthful reputation for recklessness and poor judgment, and be recognised, in some quarters at least, as a potential Prime Minister.
Much of the freshness comes from the way Stafford mixes the public and political with the private and personal, with no clear boundary between the two. His book opens with Churchill at a New Year party at Philip Sassoon’s house at Port Lympne, along with Lloyd George and various other ministers and fixers, where the singing of music hall songs mingled with serious discussion; and ends with Winston and Clementine enjoying Christmas on the Riviera. In between, a constant whirl of country house weekends with aristocratic relatives and society hostesses is a reminder, often lacking in conventional political history, of the gilded social world in which the governing class of the day lived and moved. By contrast, Churchill only once visited his Dundee constituency during the year and was shocked by the poverty and barefoot children he encountered. Read More >
Erik Larson, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance during the Blitz, Crown, 2020, 585 pages, $32. ISBN 978–0385348713
Chris Matthews hosted Hardball on MSNBC for twenty years and is a member of the Board of Advisers to the International Churchill Society.
Erik Larson tells the story of London under the Blitz with all its sound and fury, but also its unexpected joy. The Splendid and the Vile delivers the great saga with a novelist’s touch. It is like you are watching and hearing the days and nights of 1940 as a passenger on a London double-decker bus.
“It was the dust that many Londoners remembered as being one of the most striking phenomena of this attack and others that followed,” Larson writes. “As buildings erupted, thunderheads of pulverized brick, stone, plaster, and mortar billowed from eaves and attics, roofs and chimneys, hearths and furnaces—dust from the age of Cromwell, Dickens, and Victoria.” Through that dust we meet up with our defiant hero.
“Good old Winnie,” comes a voice from the crowd. “We thought you’d come and see us. We can take it. Give it back. When are we going to bomb Berlin, Winnie?” Now we hear the answer that would make all the difference: “You leave that to me.” Read More >
125 Years Ago
Spring 1895 • Age 20 “Master of My Fortunes”
Churchill famously wrote in his autobiography My Early Life that, after the death of his father in early 1895, “I was now in the main the master of my fortunes. My mother was always at hand to help and advise; but…she never sought to exercise parental control. Indeed she soon became an ardent ally….We worked together on even terms, more like brother and sister than mother and son. At least so it seemed to me.”
Eventually, a relationship similar to the one Churchill described had evolved between him and his mother, but it had not begun that way. Jennie still controlled the family purse strings, and his letters to her during the spring of 1895 tell a different story. They show her exercising parental control:
4 May: “I cannot put it any plainer than that. I am absolutely at the end of my funds—so if you can possibly give me a cheque for all—or any part of this sum—I shall be awfully pleased…,I agree with you it is dreadfully inconvenient & I hate to have to worry you like this—but my mess bill comes in a few days and must be paid somehow.”
8 May: “Very many thanks for the cheque. I will try and manage somehow until 15th when I must pay my mess bill. I am so sorry that things are not going well as regards finance.”
15 May: “I quite understand how difficult it is for you and as you cannot arrange anything at present—I must wait. But I do hope that this deadlock will not last more than a very few days. My mess bill is of course unpaid.…I write this only to show that things are very difficult with me and in order that you will be as quick as you can.” Read More >
Timothy Riley is Sandra L. and Monroe E. Trout Director and Chief Curator at America’s National Churchill Museum.
World leaders regularly visit Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, a small town of 12,000 people with an enormous ability to attract heads of state. Winston Churchill’s historic appearance in Fulton, of course, stands above all others. His “Sinews of Peace” speech, delivered on 5 March 1946, was one of the first salvos in the Cold War and set the stage for others to comment upon world affairs from one of the unlikeliest of places in the center of America. The importance of Churchill’s address, commonly called the “Iron Curtain” speech—and known worldwide simply as the “Fulton Speech”—paved a path for other leaders to follow. Presidents Harry S. Truman, Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan all journeyed to and spoke in Fulton (Bush twice and Truman on three occasions). Furthermore, Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson were inducted as Churchill Fellows of Westminster College and served, with Truman, as honorary co-chairmen of the Winston Churchill Memorial and Library, rechristened “America’s National Churchill Museum” by act of Congress in 2009. Even two notable leaders born behind the Iron Curtain, Polish President Lech Walesa and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, have spoken here, offering observations and opinions on world affairs.
While leaders throughout the world have descended, and continue to descend, upon this small Missouri town, those who succeeded Churchill as prime minister of the United Kingdom are linked more often to Fulton than those from any other nation. As early as 1903, Churchill pondered the concept of a “special relationship”—a phrase he would make famous in Fulton more than four decades later. “I have always thought that it ought to be the main end of English statecraft over a long period of years to cultivate good relations with the United States,” Churchill said in the House of Commons. Read More >
Iain Carter is Director of the Conservative Research Department. He has previously been Political Director of the Conservative Party and a special adviser to the Leader of the House of Lords.
Winston Churchill said, “Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.”1 There are few who have experienced the gravity of politics quite so acutely as he did, and during his own time in 10 Downing Street Churchill served alongside five men who went on to follow him as Prime Minister. Three of them, Attlee, Eden, and Macmillan, worked much more closely with him than did Alec Douglas-Home and Edward Heath. Yet the relationship all five of them had with Churchill played a part in their individual ascents to the pinnacle of British politics.
Ally and Rival
Perhaps the most interesting relationship between Churchill and those who followed him is the one he had with Clement Attlee. Without Attlee’s backing, it is far from certain that Churchill would have become Prime Minister in 1940. Attlee went on to serve with distinction in the War Cabinet, including as Deputy Prime Minister from 1942 onwards. His loyalty saw him back Churchill on major issues of strategy in discussions with the chiefs of staff, as well as facing down criticism from Labour colleagues. Despite this wartime unity, Attlee went on to become one of Churchill’s greatest political rivals, beating him in both the 1945 and 1950 general elections before the Conservatives were returned to power in 1951.
Philip Williamson is professor of History at Durham University and author of Stanley Baldwin: Conservative Leadership and National Values (1999) and co-editor (with Edward Baldwin) of The Baldwin Papers. A Conservative Statesman 1908–1947 (2004).
Stanley Baldwin (1867–1947) was one of the most successful and important political leaders of twentieth-century Britain. In October 1935, Winston Churchill described him as “a statesman who has gathered to himself a greater volume of confidence and goodwill than any other man I recollect in my long political career”—and Churchill had been familiar with the greatest figures in British public life during the previous forty years. When Baldwin retired in 1937, he was in Churchill’s words “loaded with honours and enshrined in public esteem,”1 receiving tributes not just from members of his Conservative party and its partners in the National coalition government, but also from leading figures in the Labour and Liberal opposition parties. Yet his reputation declined precipitously after the outbreak of the Second World War. For various periods Baldwin and Churchill had been colleagues and opponents: Baldwin revived Churchill’s political career in 1924, but at other times he had a large part in excluding him from government office. They differed on many of the great issues of the 1930s, and Churchill’s later memoirs for these years, The Gathering Storm, entrenched a persistently harsh historical verdict on Baldwin’s leadership.
Party Leader and Prime Minister
Baldwin was Conservative party leader for fourteen years, from 1923 to 1937, and prime minister three times: 1923–24, 1924–29, and again—after four years from 1931 as deputy prime minister Read More >
Stuart Ball is Emeritus Professor of Modern British History at the University of Leicester. His books include Portrait of a Party: The Conservative Party in Britain, 1918–1945 (Oxford, 2013).
Although very different in personality, the self-contained and often inflexible Neville Chamberlain and the emotional and often impulsive Winston Churchill had four things in common during their formative years.
First, both had fathers who were amongst the most dynamic and controversial figures in late-Victorian politics. Lord Randolph Churchill rose and fell meteorically in the Conservative Party of the 1880s, whilst the radical Liberal Joseph Chamberlain broke with his party over Home Rule for Ireland in 1886, joined a coalition government with the Conservatives in 1895, and then shattered that party’s unity by resigning from the cabinet in 1903 to advocate “tariff reform”—the campaign for protectionism that led Winston Churchill to cross the floor of the House of Commons and join the Liberal Party in 1904.
Second, neither was expected by his father to have a political career, but instead Churchill was to enter the army and Chamberlain to go into business; in both cases, they did not enter the House of Commons until several years after their fathers’ death. Read More >
Kenneth O. Morgan is author of books about Lloyd George, James Callaghan, and Michael Foot. He serves in the House of Lords as Baron Morgan of Aberdyfi.
During his years in the Liberal party from 1904 to 1923, Winston Churchill served under three prime ministers. The third of these was unique. For unlike his relationships with Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and H. H. Asquith, towards David Lloyd George, Churchill was almost in awe. Robert Boothby, who served as Churchill’s Parliamentary Private Secretary when Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer, told a famous story in his memoirs about a meeting between the two great war leaders that took place in the 1920s. The old relationship, Churchill told Boothby ruefully, was quickly restored, “the relationship between Master and Servant. And I was the Servant.”1
Of course, Lloyd George was eleven years older than Churchill. He entered parliament in 1890, while Churchill was still a schoolboy at Harrow, and was first appointed to the Cabinet two and a half years before Churchill. But the ascendancy was personal and psychological as well as political. Even though Lloyd George had been a fierce critic of the South African War while Churchill was an imperialist, when the latter crossed the floor to join the Liberals in 1904, he chose to sit next to the Welshman in the Commons, after a controversial maiden speech, and they joined in onslaughts on the failing Unionist government. Churchill had nothing to do with Lloyd George’s ventures in politics on Welsh and other matters down to 1906 and was first appointed to the Colonial Office as a junior minister while his colleague went to the Board of Trade (with Churchill the more zealous free trader of the two). But after 1908 the pair formed a bold and dynamic partnership as pioneers of social reform. Churchill went down to the Criccieth home of Lloyd George, who was now Chancellor, to plan out a vast prospectus of social insurance, following up his colleague’s visit to examine the insurance system in post-Bismarck Germany. The outcome was a double triumph, Lloyd George brilliantly carrying through the 1911 National Health Insurance Act, and Churchill starting up labour exchanges to tackle unemployment before advancing to the Home Office. Read More >
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman as depicted by “Spy” in Vanity Fair. “CB” was the first Prime Minister to hold the title officially.
Finest Hour 188, Second Quarter 2020
By Fred Glueckstein
Fred Glueckstein is a frequent contributor to Finest Hour and author of Churchill and Colonist II (2015).
On 18 February 1901, Winston Churchill, a member of the Conservative Party, gave his maiden speech in the House of Commons. Churchill presented his views and recommendations concerning the state of affairs in South Africa.
The speech was widely recognized as a success, and Churchill received many congratulatory letters. One was from the Leader of the Opposition, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who had been unanimously elected in February 1899 as the Leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. The letter to Churchill read: “I hope you will allow me to say with how much pleasure I listened to your speech.”1
Three years later, in 1904, Churchill crossed the floor of the House to join the Liberals as a supporter of free trade, a policy the Conservatives were abandoning. On 13 December 1905, Campbell-Bannerman, now Prime Minister, appointed Churchill to the junior ministerial post of Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. The non-Cabinet-level portfolio was Churchill’s first Government position. Read More >
T. G. Otte is Professor of Diplomatic History at the University of East Anglia. His next book, Statesman of Europe: A Life of Sir Edward Grey, will be published later this year by Allen Lane.
Next to the monarch who lent his name to the Edwardian era, H. H. Asquith (1852–1928) was its chief representative.1 The period is bathed in the nostalgic afterglow of a late-summer afternoon, but underneath its sedate surface this was a time of searing political and social conflicts. And then there was the war that ended the era, and in which modern Britain began.
It fell to Asquith to deal with these challenges. It was he who promoted Winston Churchill to the Cabinet and under whom Churchill served the longest. Asquith “was a man who knew where he stood on every question of life and affairs in altogether unusual degree….He always gave the impression…of measuring all the changing, baffling situations… according to settled standards and sure convictions.”2
Twenty-two years Churchill’s senior, Asquith belonged to a different generation; his background was different, too, middle-class and meritocratic. At Oxford he won early fame for effortless intellectual brilliance, but he had to work hard to establish himself at the Bar. Elected to Parliament in 1886, his assurance, heightened by his infrequent but well-chosen interventions, Read More >
“The question is: what are the characteristics and features that make the great man so inspirational and so relevant?”
The Right Honourable David Cameron served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2016, the youngest holder of the office in 200 years. He led a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats for five years and a Conservative government following the general election of 2015. Mr. Cameron was Member of Parliament for Witney from 2001 to 2016 and leader of the Conservative Party from 2005 to 2016. Born in London, he was educated at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford. Prior to entering Parliament, he worked on the staff of Prime Minister John Major.
As a Prime Minister living and working in Downing Street, you constantly feel the presence of Winston Churchill. His leather armchair meets you as you walk into the building. His portraits glare at you from the walls of the famous staircase. You take your place at the Cabinet table where he sat during the most vital moment in our country’s history, May 1940, when ministers debated whether to fight on against Hitler.
But stronger than the physical reminders of Churchill are the reminders of his legacy. It is a legacy that pervades not just No. 10 but our politics; not just our country but our world. And it inspires not just postwar Prime Ministers, but all those who learn about and live in a world shaped by his extraordinary achievements.
The question is: what are the characteristics and features that make the great man so inspirational and so relevant?
ALEXANDRIA, VA—Your fascinating story about the ninth Duke of Marlborough did not take the opportunity to discuss Consuelo Vanderbilt’s very unusual mother.
Alva Vanderbilt was married to a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt and spent her husband’s wealth with great pleasure. She aspired to be accepted into the elite “400” in New York City, and to displace Caroline Astor as the reputed head of the group. Toward that end, she had her husband build a fabulous mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, called Marble House and held sumptuous parties there and in New York. She eventually divorced him and married Newport neighbor Oliver Belmont, son of August Belmont of the international banking empire. Needless to say, she was quite wealthy.
What was amazing about Alva’s career was her transformation into a militant advocate of women’s rights. A woman who forced her daughter Consuelo into a marriage she did not want became converted to fund raising and marching in the cause of securing for women the right to vote in both the US and the UK. She was a co-founder of the National Women’s Party, endowed it with substantial funds, and built its headquarters in Washington, D.C. While Alva lived in the Belmonts’ Newport mansion, she used Marble House to host fundraisers for the suffragette cause. Read More >
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.