Like many marriages, theirs was not always smooth sailing. A liberal, with a puritan streak and strong views of her own, Clementine disapproved of Churchill’s more disreputable contemporaries. As their daughter Mary later said, ‘sometimes her judgments about his friends were truer than his’. She was never afraid to express her opinions and they occasionally had heated quarrels. According to Mary, Clementine once threw a dish of spinach at Churchill (but missed)! And once, after a row, Clementine is reported to have burst out: ‘Winston, I have been married to you for forty-five years, for better’ – then, loudly – ‘AND FOR WORSE!’ (Anthony Montague Browne, Long Sunset) But Churchill trusted his wife implicitly and she was a valued advisor throughout their life and, although he didn’t always take her advice, he relied on her sensible and balanced approach to life and its problems. A favourite expression of Churchill’s – ‘Here firm, though all be drifting’ – could, as Richard M. Langworth notes in Churchill: In His Own Words, be easily applied to Clementine. She was Churchill’s stalwart supporter and rock throughout the troubled span of their fifty-seven-year marriage.
When Winston and Clementine were married, Churchill was already a leading figure in the Liberal government and their life – and marriage – was played out in public from the start. They were one of the celebrity couples of the age. Thankfully, Churchill had indeed chosen ‘most wisely and most well’. Clementine Churchill was the ideal wife for Winston. As a child, she too had experienced a difficult family life and straitened circumstances (as she would in her marriage) and had the resilience to see the couple through their difficult – and, at times, harrowing – family crises and ever-present financial anxieties. But despite their ups and downs, Clementine and Winston maintained a close and supportive relationship over the years, sending each other affectionate letters during long periods of absence, sometimes decorated with drawings illustrating their pet names for each other: she was his ‘Kat’ and he was her ‘Pug’.
‘Perhaps history would have been different if my father had married a docile yes-woman … but my mother had the will and capacity to stand up to him, to confront him and to argue with him.’
Mary Soames, in ‘Life With My Parents: Winston and Clementine’, Finest Hour 91
Churchill proposed marriage to three women in his twenties, all of whom said ‘no’ (although all of them remained his friends). He met Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, ten years his junior, at a party, the Crewe House ball, in 1904 but the meeting wasn’t a success. Unusually for him, Churchill was tongue-tied and they hardly spoke.
When they met again, however, at a dinner party in 1908 (Clementine had been invited at the last minute, to fill a gap at her great-aunt’s table), they clearly got on rather better. Impressed by her beauty, her intelligence and her ability to talk politics (she was an earnest Liberal and supporter of greater rights for women, Churchill began an ardent courtship. They became engaged only a few months later, on Tuesday 11 August, when Churchill proposed to her while they were both staying at Blenheim Palace (Churchill had encouraged the Duke of Marlborough to invite her to a small house party). After failing to appear in the morning, and almost blowing his chance, Winston took Clementine for a walk in the afternoon to the Rose Garden and, sheltering from a shower in the Temple of Diana, he asked her to marry him. She agreed.