Zoe Colbeck is the General Manager for the National Trust at Chartwell.
David Lough, ed., My Darling Winston: The Letters Between Winston Churchill and His Mother, Pegasus Books, 2018, 598 pages, $35. ISBN 978–1681778822
This is the first time that the letters between Lady Randolph Churchill and her son Winston have been gathered into a book. Mother and son are said to have corresponded more than a thousand times. David Lough, whose previous book No More Champagne (2015) provided a meticulous examination of Winston Churchill’s finances, has unearthed and transcribed nearly 800 of these letters and selected 450 for inclusion in this fascinating book. The result not only tells us about the relationship between Winston and the former Jennie Jerome over the course of their shared lives and how it changed; it also illustrates the upper class life which they lived.
Lough observes that Winston’s letters have “great passages of self-analysis that make his correspondence with his mother such a valuable source of insight into his character.” It is fascinating to be able to see into Churchill’s mind this way, and I was really surprised by some of what I read. He realised that his education had been utilitarian: focused on getting him into the army. To reach his goal of becoming a politician, Lt. Churchill would have to increase his knowledge and read the books he would have learnt from had he gone to university. To this end he had his mother send him many books, as well as the records of the House of Commons, so that he could learn more about how Parliament worked.
Churchill’s younger brother, Jack, was born in 1880 when Churchill was five. They saw little of their parents and both of them were looked after by a nanny. Mrs Everest (she was, in fact, a spinster; the ‘Mrs’ was an honorary title) was hired when Winston was only a few months old.
The children led a peripatetic life, often travelling with her from their home in Ireland (the ‘Little Lodge’, where the Churchills lived when his grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, became Viceroy of Ireland), to the Isle of Wight, to Blenheim and to London.
Anne Sebba is the author of Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died under Nazi Occupation (St Martin’s Press, 2016). Quotations in this article are from her biography American Jennie: The Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill (2007).
A few years after she was married, Jennie Jerome wrote to her mother Clara trying to close off a conversation: “Money is such a hateful subject to me just now…don’t let us talk about it.” She was explaining why she could not attend as many balls as she wished and why her expenses were so great. From the day she married Lord Randolph Churchill on 15 April 1875 in Paris, money (or the lack of it) dogged her life. The wedding could only take place the day after the money forming her marriage settlement had arrived. Leonard Jerome was finally prevailed upon to agree to a capital sum of £50,000, yielding approximately £2,000, a year of which Jennie was allowed to keep half as “pin money” and Randolph the other half. Without it, there would have been no wedding.
Born in 1854, Jennie’s upbringing and education had all been geared towards fulfilling her destiny, which, for a young girl of social standing, meant making a good marriage, preferably to a British aristocrat. Jennie was a highly talented pianist and extremely well read, as well as strikingly beautiful. Yet these attributes were merely accomplishments, not a means of earning a living. Nonetheless, Lord Randolph’s career as a Member of Parliament (and a second son) earned him nothing, and although he was briefly appointed to the Cabinet in 1886—a paid appointment—he resigned after six months on a matter of principle, believing he would be called back. But he never was and died in 1895.
Winston Churchill was surrounded by strong women all his life, from the day he was born until the day he died. This can easily be overlooked, given that his professional career took place at a time when politics was all but exclusively the realm of men. Yet Churchill absolutely required the nurturing, the example, and the strength of mind that the women in his life provided. In this issue we look at some of the key women in the life of the Greatest Briton.
Churchill’s story begins with his mother Jennie Jerome. Bright and beautiful, Jennie was frustratingly constrained by the conventions of her time. Anne Sebba examines how Jennie attempted to be an independent woman. Constrained himself as a child by the customs for raising the children of the well-to-do in Victorian Britain, Churchill received the attention he desperately needed from his beloved nanny. Katherine Barnett tells the story of the blessed Mrs. Everest.
As a young man, Churchill’s first efforts at finding a wife did not meet with success. In Pamela Plowden, however, he did find a lifelong friend, as Fred Glueckstein explains, and one who could still be counted on to support both Winston and Clementine during the darkest times, as Timothy Riley discovered. Read More >
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Churchill was delighted when a little girl surprised him with flowers one day in Italy. Gratefully moving his cane aside, he gave her a kiss on the cheek. Missing his own family, and beset with troubles, he truly loved this moment. I guess we’ll never know the little chap behind the bouquet. … See MoreSee Less
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.