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 >
On 13 November, Jennie Churchill, great-granddaughter of Sir Winston, presented on behalf of the International Churchill Society unique silver medallions to forty-five veterans of the Second World War who are residents at the Royal Hospital Chelsea (RHC). Additionally, the RHC was presented with the Society’s annual Winston S. Churchill Leadership Award.
Founded by King Charles II in 1682, the RHC is a retirement and nursing home for some 300 veterans of the British Army. Established as an alms house, the ancient sense of the word hospital, the RHC sits on a sixty-six acre site in central London, with buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the same architect responsible for St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Any man or woman who is over the age of sixty-five and served as a regular soldier may apply to become a Chelsea Pensioner, as the residents are known, if they have found themselves in a time of need and are “of good character.” Pensioners are easily distinguished by their famous scarlet coats, which they wear for many occasions.
Antonia Keaney is author of A Passion for Fashion—300 Years of Style at Blenheim Palace (Unicorn 2019), from which the quotations in this article are drawn.
Blenheim Palace is famous for many things, and one of its leading claims to fame is that it happens to be the birth- place of a certain Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill—twice prime minister of Great Britain, accomplished writer, artist, and skilled bricklayer.
One may be surprised at hearing Winston Churchill referred to as a style icon, in much the same way that one might express surprise at his being described as “wonderfully pretty” (Lord Randolph’s description of his prematurely born son in a letter to his mother-in-law), but icons tend to develop rather than to be born, and that is certainly true of Winston Churchill.
The ninth Duke of Marlborough with his first wife, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and their children, as depicted by John Singer Sargent
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Hugo Vickers
Hugo Vickers’ biography The Sphinx: The Life of Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough was published by Hodder & Stoughton/ Zuleika in January 2020.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Winston Churchill could have become the tenth Duke of Marlborough, and thus custodian for life of Blenheim Palace. He was heir presumptive to the title between 1895 and 1897, since at that time his first cousin the ninth Duke had no children, and Winston’s father Lord Randolph Churchill had died in January 1895.
This prospect was evidently of some concern to Frances, Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, a daughter of the third Marquess of Londonderry, though this may have been exaggerated by Consuelo Vanderbilt in her somewhat misleading and self-serving memoirs The Glitter and the Gold. That was the book from which she emerges as the poor, unloved American bride, forced by her mother to marry Sunny, the ninth Duke, in 1895—his only motive to obtain Vanderbilt money to keep Blenheim going. In her book, Consuelo described her husband’s grandmother as “a formidable old lady of the Queen Anne type… [with] large prominent eyes, an aquiline nose, and a God-and-my-right conception of life.” Read More >
The entrance front of Blenheim Palace from Vitruvius Britannicus (1725)
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Robert Courts
Robert Courts is Member of Parliament for Witney. He lives with his family in Bladon, abutting Blenheim Park.
Winston Churchill is reported to have said: “At Blenheim I took two very important decisions: to be born and to marry. I am content with the decision I took on both occasions.” Certainly the remark typifies his characteristically understated humour, giving as it does only a hint of the role that Blenheim Palace played in his life. In fact, it made up part of the fabric of his hinterland: a vision of what he came from, was, and wanted to be.
But Blenheim is and was much more than just a gorgeous backdrop to the lives of either Winston Churchill or his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. Whilst it was this weight of history, so vividly portrayed at Blenheim, that made the young Winston acutely aware of his ancestry—and his destiny— there is a much greater story to be told in the way Blenheim has shaped and been shaped by the surrounding area.
125 Years Ago
Winter 1895 • Age 20
“He Was My Model”
As 1895 opened, three events occurred in the first seven weeks—a wedding and two funerals—that were to have a major effect on the young Churchill’s life. For they combined to lead him into meeting his American mentor the lawyer, statesman, and orator Bourke Cockran, of whom Churchill once said, “He was my model. I learned from him how to hold thousands in thrall.
” The first event was the wedding in Vienna on 9 January of Count Charles Rudolf Kinsky and Countess Elizabeth Wolff-Metternich. Kinsky and Churchill’s mother Jennie had long been lovers. Had that affair continued, she likely would not have begun a new relationship with Cockran.
Two weeks later, Lord Randolph Churchill died on 24 January. Victorian convention required a two-year period of mourning before a widow could accept social invitations. That was not acceptable to Jennie, who promptly left England for Paris, less than a month after her husband’s death. There she rented a large house on the tree-lined Avenue Kleber and invited her older sister Clara and her younger sister Leonie to join her, which they did. Read More >
125 Years Ago
Autumn 1894 • Age 20 “Wild With Excitement”
Winston was still smitten with Molly Hackett. On 8 October he wrote his mother, who was on a round the world holiday with his ailing father, “I have seen Miss Hackett a good deal lately & she is most constant in her enquiries after you.” Winston knew his father was ill but not how ill. He was allowed to read reports from Dr. Keith to his grandmother. In a 21 October letter to his mother, Winston wrote that he was “very much disturbed by Dr. Keith’s last letter which gives a very unsatisfactory report about Papa. I hope however that there is still an improvement and no cause for immediate worry.” But Winston soon learned the full gravity of the situation and wrote his mother on 2 November: “I persuaded Dr. Roose to tell exactly how Papa was… he told me everything and showed me the medical reports….I had never realized how ill Papa had been and had never until now believed that there was anything serious the matter.”
On 3 November, Winston gave his first public speech. It involved “a riot” at the Empire Theatre, once a stage for serious ballet, and now a music hall where unchaperoned women gathered in the promenade behind a wooden partition that purported to separate them from young men. A public campaign was underway to shut the Empire down. Winston opposed this effort and treated the incident as a lark, writing to his brother on 7 November: “Did you see the papers about the riot at the Empire last Saturday? It was I who led the rioters—and made a speech to the crowd. I enclose a cutting from one of the papers, so that you may see.”
Writing in his famous essay Painting as a Pastime, Winston Churchill said of his favorite hobby: “I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.”
There have been several good books that gather together examples of Churchill’s paintings. This is the first book, however, that gathers together all of Churchill’s speeches and writings about painting. It is worth reading.
Sir David Cannadine writes and speaks frequently about Churchill. As a professional historian, his resume is unsurpassed. So it is notable that he does not underestimate the importance of painting in Churchill’s life. He has never been alone. Included in this book are essays by six people from the professional art world during Churchill’s time showing their appreciation for the statesman’s passion.
Annie Gray is a historian specialising in British food and dining c.1650–1950. Her biography of Georgina Landemare, Victory in the Kitchen: The Story of Churchill’s Cook, is due out in spring 2020.
Long-time Finest Hour readers will be familiar with the name Georgina Landemare. She was, along with Grace Hamblin and Victor Vincent (the Chartwell gardener), one of the longest-serving of the Churchills’ paid retinue, with them on and off (mainly on) for twenty-two years. She catered networking parties during Churchill’s Wilderness Years, policy-making gatherings when he was Prime Minister during the War, and family get-togethers during his bitter postwar years in opposition. Mrs. Landemare tends to have only a walk-on role in the many books about the Churchills, however—a surprising omission, given the important role she played in the smooth running of the family home.
Georgina’s early life was entirely average. She was born into what was categorised at the time as the “affluent working class,” meaning working class people with jobs and steady wages. Her father was a coachman, her mother a maid. They were from Hertfordshire, and Georgina was born at her maternal grandmother’s house in Aldbury, near Tring. Today it is a commuter village for London, but it remains a chocolate-box style picture of English countryside sweetness. When I visited there last winter, it was snowing, and I hid in the firelit warmth of the local pub—at one time run by relatives of Georgina’s mother—trying to visualise it as it was in 1882 when Georgina was born: a struggling rural outpost ruled by a handful of local gentry families. She never lived there, however, moving at a young age with her family to London. She started work at thirteen, and then, aged fifteen, became a scullery maid in a house in Kensington Palace Gardens. Looking back, she described it as “starting her track of life,” even then determined that service would be a career and not merely a job.
Churchill feeding the swans at Chartwell credit: Alamy.com
Finest Hour 183, First Quarter 2019
By Piers Brendon
Piers Brendon is former Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre and author of Churchill’s Bestiary: His Life Through Animals (2018). See extract page 50.
As an Oxford undergraduate Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father, kept his own pack of harriers, nine couple of hounds supervised by a whip dressed in livery. At Blenheim Palace, where Winston was born in 1874, twenty gamekeepers wearing brown breeches, green velvet coats with brass buttons and black billycock hats, assisted by an army of loaders and beaters, ensured that the Duke of Marlborough’s field sports, often attended by royalty, were conducted like military operations. The immense stable block, housing carriage horses as well as a score of magnificent hunters, was run by a platoon of grooms, and in the great house some eighty servants were on hand to cope with a large dog population. Gladys—wife of Winston’s cousin Sunny, ninth Duke of Marlborough—was said to walk around on a “moving carpet of King Charles spaniels,” and she bid fair to turn the palace into a kennel.1 In short, Winston was brought up in symbiosis with animals, both wild and tame, and with the people who managed their lives.
Like other members of the Victorian upper class, Churchill had no difficulty in reconciling his fondness for blood sports with his affection for creatures great and small. Hunting, shooting, and fishing were intrinsic to aristocratic life at the time, activities deemed essential to a wholesome rural existence, part of the natural order of things. At the same time pets were cherished with sentimental devotion, and kindness to animals was regarded—as Churchill himself said it should be—as a mark and duty of civilisation. Where he was unusual was in his passionate engagement with the animal kingdom.
Churchill revelled in the thrill of the chase, saying that fox-hunting was the greatest pleasure in the world and later delighting in hunting big game in Africa and wild boar in France. Yet at Chartwell, his home in Kent, he surrounded himself with domestic creatures (including pet foxes) who became members of his extended family. He doted on them extravagantly, investing them with human characteristics. They permeated his mind, imbuing his conversation and his rhetoric with animal imagery. He identified with them, talked to them, even wrote them letters. They became bit-part players in the psychodrama of his life. Hesitating when his wife Clementine urged him to get on with carving a large roast chicken on the dining table, he said in a voice fraught with emotion: “I’m just wondering if this is Ethel.”2Read More >
For more about Churchill’s animals, see pages 11 and 50.
Coming in Finest Hour 184: Churchill’s Monarchs
10 August 1954
CHARTWELL—My Darling, Here I stay in bed most of the time and only go out to feed the fish. Gabriel [Clementine’s Siamese cat] gets on very well with everyone except his yellow rival. He is very friendly to me and Rufus [the poodle] and most attractive.
One gets no consolation at this moment from the animal world. All the Chartwell rabbits are dead [from myxomatosis] and now the poor foxes have nothing to eat, so they attack the little pigs and of course have eaten the few pheasants. It is said they will perish and migrate and that then there will be no one to cope with the beetles and rats.
On the other side the Swans are well, and the Zoo came down yesterday to clip their wings so that they cannot fly away if they dislike what is going on around them. Christopher [Soames] and I have jointly invested nearly £1,000 in 8 Swedish “Land race” pigs: out of which he expects to make a fortune. They live at Bardogs and have remarkable figures.
Their hams are much admired and there are only about 1,200 of them in our Pig population of 5 millions. The Boar is said to be worth 5 or 6 Hundred £s, and in two years we hope to make a fortune.
My darling one I brood much about things, and all my moods are not equally gay….My beloved darling come back soon refreshed and revived, and if possible bring the Sun with you as well as your lovely smile—W[inston]
Cita Stelzer is author of Working with Winston: The Unsung Women behind Britain’s Greatest Statesman to be published this May and from which this article is adapted.
In the course of his long career, Winston Churchill published numerous histories (earning him the Nobel Prize for Literature) containing some thirteen million words. He also produced untold memoranda, letters, directives, and an estimated 5,000 speeches for delivery in the House of Commons and to audiences in Britain, America, Canada, the Soviet Union, and other countries, as well as over the wireless. When completed, The Churchill Documents, published by Hillsdale College, will consist of twenty-three hefty volumes. And those volumes do not include his published books. Without the help of his many talented and devoted personal secretaries, such an enormous, high-quality output would almost certainly have been impossible. Most of it was dictated to his teams of ever-present secretaries, some of it while in cars, planes, trains, and some of it while in bed at 8 AM or again after dinner until 2 AM. Whether preparing to correspond with President Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, or his wife Clemmie, or to transmit instructions to his generals, Churchill knew that the shout of “Miss” would instantly produce a young lady to “take down.”
Churchill was a non-stop worker, especially during the Second World War when he rigorously enforced his rule (a blessing for later historians) that every instruction, every thought, must be reduced to written memoranda to avoid confusion, or perhaps deliberate misinterpretation. This made accurate transcription of his words essential to his direction of Britain’s war effort. True, he did take an occasional afternoon off to paint except during the war, but even then it was the job of his secretaries to see to it that proper paints, brushes, and canvasses arrived wherever he might be when he found time to relax. And the blue paint requested was not just any blue, but often a specific hue, such as cobalt. Read More >
125 Years Ago
Summer 1893 • Age 18 “I Had at Length Got In.”
Winston spent the summer of 1893 with his brother Jack on holiday in Switzerland. Shortly before leaving, he learned he had passed the Sandhurst entrance exam. He promptly sent a telegram to Lord Randolph telling him of this and, in Lucerne on 6 August, wrote a letter to him saying, “I was so glad to be able to send you good news last Thursday.”
Lord Randolph’s reply on 9 August did not reciprocate the enthusiasm. He expressed his “surprise at your tone of exultation over your inclusion in the Sandhurst list.” His father was primarily displeased that Winston’s score was not high enough to secure him a position in the infantry, only the cavalry. Thus, he complained, Winston had “imposed on me an extra charge of 200 pounds a year” to purchase and care for horses. “With all the advantages you had and all the abilities which you foolishly think yourself to possess & which some of your relations claim for you, with all the efforts that have been made to make your life easy & agreeable & your work neither oppressive nor distasteful, this is the grand result that you come up among the 2nd and 3rd rate class who are only good for commissions in a cavalry regiment.”
Winston S. Churchill
by Sir John Lavery
the First World War,
Finest Hour 181, Summer 2018
By Douglas S. Russell
Douglas S. Russell is author of Winston Churchill, Soldier: The Military Life of a Gentleman at War (2005).
Winston S. Churchill in his memoir My Early Life famously wrote, “Twenty to twenty-five, those are the years.”1 Indeed, those were years of great adventure and real achievement for the young lieutenant of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars. During those years from 1895 to 1900, Churchill saw combat in Cuba, India, Sudan, and South Africa, was mentioned in dispatches and recommended for a decoration, earned four campaign medals and the Spanish Order of Military Merit, wrote five books, established himself as a popular war correspondent and lecturer, gained international fame as an escaped prisoner of war, and was elected to a seat in Parliament, all before his twenty-sixth birthday.
Churchill was interested in things military from a young age. His earliest surviving letter, written at age seven, is about toy soldiers, flags, and castles. It was, according to Churchill’s autobiography, his large collection of toy soldiers that led Lord Randolph Churchill to choose a military career for his son when Winston was only fourteen years old.2 As a schoolboy at Harrow, he was placed in the army class to prepare for the entrance examinations for the Royal Military College Sandhurst. He also actively participated in the Harrow School Volunteer Rifle Corps, where he wore a uniform and received military training for the first time. Churchill had an early and strong belief in his own star. As a schoolboy at Harrow he told a classmate in 1891, “I have a wonderful idea of where I shall be eventually…. London will be in danger and in the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capital and save the Empire.”3
The recent Channel 4 documentary “Churchill’s Secret Mistress” asserted, but did not establish, that the great man had an affair with Doris, the wife of Viscount Castlerosse during the mid-1930s. The evidence that two well-qualified historians, Warren Dockter and Richard Toye, produced to make the case for this adultery is flimsy and circumstantial, whereas Churchill gave a lifelong demonstration of his faithful devotion to his wife Clementine.
Having been Keeper of the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge and written much about Churchill and the inter-war period, I was interviewed for the documentary myself. During filming, I explained my reasons for disbelieving in the alleged liaison.
I noted that the allegation rests on two pieces of testimony. The first is a 1985 tape-recording in which Sir John Colville, one of Churchill’s wartime private secretaries, asserted that Churchill “certainly had an affair.” The second is a family tradition expounded by Lady Castlerosse’s niece, based on confidences shared with her relations at the time, that Doris did indeed become Churchill’s mistress.
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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.