Lord Derby’s Cabinet, 1867 – The Seventh Duke of Marlborough (seated at the table with head in hand) Lord Derby (standing with hand on despatch box at the right)
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Fred Glueckstein
Fred Glueckstein is a frequent contributor to Finest Hour and author of Churchill and Colonist II (2015).
John Winston Spencer-Churchill was born on 2 June 1822 at Garboldisham Hall, Norfolk. He was the eldest son of George Spencer-Churchill, the sixth Duke of Marlborough, and Lady Jane Stewart, who was the daughter of the eighth Earl of Galloway. From his birth until the death of his grandfather—the fifth duke—in 1840, John held the family courtesy title Earl of Sunderland. This changed when he became first in line to succeed to the dukedom and was raised to the courtesy title Marquess of Blandford.
John Spencer-Churchill was educated at Eton and then Oriel College, Oxford. He served as a lieutenant in the 1st Oxfordshire yeomanry in 1843. On 12 July of that same year, he married Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane, eldest daughter of the third Marquess of Londonderry.
The young Spencer-Churchills had eleven children. Their third son, Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill, was born in London at 3 Wilton Terrace, Belgravia on 13 February 1849. Lord Randolph would become the father of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill. Read More >
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.
This text is taken from Mary Soames’s 1979 biography of her mother Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage and is reprinted with permission.
The youngest child of Winston and Clementine Churchill recounts how her parents became engaged at the time her father was President of the Board of Trade.
During the months of June and July [1908, Winston] and Clementine met several times, but as unmarried girls did not in those days lunch or dine alone with men, they met in the main only on social occasions. Clementine was by now deeply in love, and in an agony lest their growing friendship should be remarked upon. Such was her anxiety on this count that when Winston invited her to a garden party he was giving in the gardens of Gwdyr House (then the Board of Trade) she declined to go. Presumably their closest family must have been aware that something was brewing, but their discretion was complete. More than most girls Clementine could keep her own counsel, so now at this crucial moment of her life even her close friends were not aware of her feelings.
The parliamentary summer recess was soon imminent, and both Winston and Clementine were committed to prearranged visits, but they planned to meet at Salisbury Hall in the middle of August. In the interval, Clementine went to stay with Mrs. Godfrey Baring at Nubia House in Cowes. She took part in the round of balls and entertainments, but she was a somewhat distracted guest, as her thoughts were elsewhere. Read More >
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 >
Oscar Nemon’s statue of Clementine and Winston at Chartwell
Chartwell, Sir Winston Churchill’s home in Kent, has opened a new exhibition Clementine Churchill: Speaking for Herself, focusing on the extraordinary life of Churchill’s beloved wife Clementine. The exhibition at the National Trust property features items that have never been publicly displayed before, including treasured childhood photographs and a portrait by Paul Maze, the Post Impressionist artist. Read More >
The author campaigning with his father Winston and mother Minnie, 1967. Photo credit: Alamy.com
Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017
By Randolph Churchill
My father, the younger Winston, like his father Randolph, was born during a tumultuous world war. He loved the fact that he was born on 10 October 1940, during the Battle of Britain, at the Prime Minister’s country house Chequers. The night before, his imminent arrival was foreshadowed by the delivery of a German bomb landing one hundred yards from the house. My father liked to say that he was the next bombshell to arrive at Chequers!
Thus began a life full of adventure, daring, and a role on the international stage, which lasted six decades. He inherited the energy and dynamism of his father—my grandfather—who in 1941 in the Libyan desert with SAS founder David Stirling talked his way into the Benghazi German naval base, remained there for twenty-four hours and succeeded in doing no damage to the enemy before they talked their way out. Randolph had an eventful life, full of political opinion and a good measure of drama. Winston’s mother Pamela, the irrepressible daughter of Lord and Lady Digby of Minterne, met Randolph in autumn 1939 on a blind date and married him three weeks later. Theirs was a generation where the cocktail of the war years provided impetus to getting married expeditiously.
Growing up Winston
It was never going to be easy growing up as effectively an only child (his half-sister Arabella was nine years younger) and also as the namesake and grandson of the legendary wartime Prime Minister. My father noted: “I had come to realise from an early age that the name of Winston Churchill, which I was so proud to bear, was both a lot to live up to and a lot to live down.” He was a young man in a hurry. He would often escort his mother on her travels and lacked the benefit of growing up with siblings and other young ones around him. He never liked structure or authority, and he did not enjoy his time at school. He wanted to get on and make his mark in life.
Winston Churchill once observed about a photo of his grandfather Leonard Jerome that he was “very fierce.” “I’m the only tame one they’ve produced,” he said modestly.1 Jerome, like his grandson, spent a lifetime beating the odds.
Despite an historic disdain for hereditary aristocracy, Americans love to create their own—if transitory—nobility. They are the wealthy, stars, glamorous, or notorious. Leonard Jerome was all that and more: he was a feisty, flamboyant, ultra-wealthy investor, sportsman, diplomat, raconteur, and arts patron. He easily made fortunes and easily lost them. His friends were a “Who’s Who” of the nouveau riche elite, and by age forty his informal moniker was “The King of Wall Street.”
Jerome’s life started humbly in 1817: he was one of ten children who tended chickens and other livestock on father Isaac’s farm in Palmyra, New York. Arriving in Palmyra at the same time was the family of a young Joseph Smith, who went on to found the Mormon church. The Jeromes had their own religious antecedents. Their French Huguenot forebears immigrated in 1710.
At age fourteen, Leonard toiled in a store, where he learned to haggle. He followed brothers to Princeton University, but, struggling with math and expenses, he transferred to and graduated from the less expensive Union College in Schenectady, New York. He then studied law and started a practice before an entrepreneurial spirit led him to found a newspaper and printing business. Both succeeded thanks to his shrewd management and hard-hitting political editorials.
Celia Sandys, author of several excellent books about her grandfather Sir Winston Churchill, will interview Lady Williams of Elvel, the former Jane Portal and one of Sir Winston’s last-surviving secretaries, at the 34th International Churchill Conference, which will take place at the J. W. Marriott Essex House in New York City next October 10, 11, and 12.Follow this link to register today.
Celia’s books include The Young Churchill about her grandfather’s youth, Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive about his adventures in South Africa, and Chasing Churchill about his various travels. She is Co-Chair of the International Churchill Society Board of Advisers and a highly popular speaker.
“A day away from Chartwell is a day wasted.” — Winston S. Churchill
By Edwina Sandys Edwina Sandys is a painter and sculptor. A granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill, she is the author of Winston Churchill: A Passion for Painting (2015), reviewed in FH 174. This article (A Day at Chartwell) copyright 2017 Edwina Sandys, Artists Rights Society, NY.
I visited Chartwell last June with my sister Celia Sandys to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the house to the public. It was a typical English afternoon, not quite sunny, not quite rainy. Tea was in a large tent on the lawn near the house. Many of our cousins, Soames and Churchill, were there, as well as friends of the family. I was very pleased to meet for the first time David Coombs, author of the comprehensive catalogue of Winston Churchill paintings.
After a few “Hellos” and “How are yous?” I had a strange feeling that we were sitting having tea and cakes on what had in earlier days been the croquet lawn. Before that it had been a tennis court. I had never known it as a tennis court but had heard of my grandmother’s prowess as a fine and graceful tennis player, who also played in tournaments. The Croquet Lawn was very much part of my Chartwell days. Although I never saw Grandpapa playing croquet, I played many games with Grandmama and Field Marshal Montgomery. Monty was a frequent visitor and, although known for being a stern and formidable soldier, was very kind and even interested in talking to a young, shy, teenager like me. In those days, in the English countryside, croquet was quite a different game from the one played today in the United States, where it is taken very seriously, competitively as well as sartorially—everyone in white dresses or flannels.
Winston and Sarah in Africa during the Second World War (photo: Imperial War Museum)
Finest Hour 175, Winter 2017
By Catherine Katz
Catherine Katz earned degrees in history at Harvard and Cambridge. She is working on a biography of Sarah Churchill.
Sarah Churchill was the essence of the modern woman living in an era that was not yet ready for her.
Judged in her day as a “Bolshie Deb,” a runaway bride, a rising star of London’s West End, and “the one that’s always in trouble,” she was in her own words endlessly “written up, written down and always written about” as “a woman who happened to be a daughter of one of the ‘greats’ of history.”1
To describe Sarah merely as Winston Churchill’s daughter would be to tell only half her story. While Sarah was certainly her father’s daughter in both fact and temperament, restricting our understanding of her to this narrow lens belies her fierce independence, depth, intelligence, professional success, and personal impact on the lives of some of the most extraordinary figures of her era.
Though a tabloid fixture in her own times, Sarah Churchill is little known today. Amongst modern audiences who are familiar with her story, her life is often condensed into a few short and unjustly unforgiving biographical lines: Sarah Millicent Hermione, the third child of Winston and Clementine Churchill, was born in October 1914, two months after the First World War commenced. She became a moderately successful actress on the stage and screen, was thrice married (with two of her husbands being entirely unsuitable), and at times grappled tragically with alcoholism and financial difficulties, particularly towards the end of her life.
By Sonia Purnell Sonia Purnell is the author of First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill (2015). All quotations in this article are taken from the book.
Winston Churchill was not at all the sort of husband that Lady Blanche Hozier had had in mind for her unusual daughter Clementine. He had no small talk and was not—to be frank— conventionally good-looking or athletic. He also lacked a title, a stately residence, and, above all, a suitably aristocratic pot of money. Lady Blanche came to realise, however, that despite these serious shortcomings, he was a practically perfect match.
Lady Blanche had given birth in some haste to Clementine Ogilvy Hozier on the drawing room floor of her London townhouse in Grosvenor Street on 1 April 1885 (eleven years after Churchill’s equally precocious arrival at Blenheim Palace). Clementine was her second daughter, and the grand-daughter of a Scottish earl, and was apparently blessed with the usual trappings of her blue-blooded lineage. But all was not as it seemed in the Hozier household or Clementine’s young life generally.
Fred Glueckstein is the author of Churchill and Colonist II (2014) and a frequent contributor to Finest Hour.
In Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills (1999), Mary Soames wrote of her father: “Winston was never a ‘ladies’ man,’ yet he greatly admired beautiful, spirited women, and over these last years formed several attachments. His first great love was Pamela Plowden, daughter of the Resident at Hyderabad, whom he had met as a young subaltern in India.”1 Although he proposed marriage to her that she did not accept, Churchill’s friendship with Pamela Plowden, later Countess of Lytton, continued for the rest of his life.
As a junior officer with the Fourth Hussars stationed in Bangalore, Churchill first met the India-born Pamela Frances Audrey Plowden in November 1896. Her father was the diplomatic representative of the British government in Hyderabad.
Jonathan Sandys and Wallace Henley, God & Churchill, Tyndale Momentum, 2015, 352 pages, $26.99. ISBN 978-1496406026
When St Martin’s Church, Bladon decided to install a stained glass window to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Churchill’s death, the most thorny question was how to commemorate—in a Church—a man who, whilst undoubtedly the saviour of Christian civilisation, was in no intellectually honest sense a Christian. In trying to grapple with that question, the authors of this book make two radical, but ultimately unconvincing, arguments.
First, the authors appear to argue that Churchill was—sort of—a Christian. It was just that he did not realise it himself. Sandys develops this argument more candidly on his blog (which you can find here) where he makes the startling claim, “Churchill not only believed in God and the words in the Bible…his faith was foundational to his character and leadership.” Thus, Churchill quoted the Bible because it formed part of his psychological foundation. Perhaps it did, but he also quoted Shakespeare and Tennyson; because he loved literature. Further, it is counterintuitive to suggest that Churchill’s opposition to Nazism was because of Mrs. Everest’s Biblical lessons, rather than a long-established humanity and geopolitical understanding. Churchill simply valued the morality that underpinned Western life and recognised that as stemming from Christianity. But that did not make him a Christian, be that as a “religious pietist” or otherwise. Read More >
In April, Winston came down with “an awful toothache” and wrote to his nanny Mrs. Everest to make an appointment with the dentist, which she promptly did. He wrote to his mother that his face was “swelled up double its natural size” and signed the letter, “Your tooth tormented—but affectionate—son.” His mother’s reply indicated this was not the first time Winston’s dental hygiene—or lack thereof—had been addressed by her. “I am so sorry,” she wrote on 29 April 1891, “to hear you have a toothache….I don’t want to lecture on the subject—but I am sure if you wd take a little more care of yr teeth you wd not suffer so much. Quite apart from the ‘pigginess’ of not brushing them!!”
Winston wrote his mother on 19 May that he and four of his Harrow classmates “have just been in a deuce of a row for breaking some windows at a factory…& only 2 of us were discovered. I was found, with my usual luck, to be one of those 2.” Lord Randolph was on his way to South Africa in May and, in a long, chatty letter to him, Winston surprisingly elaborated on what he had told his mother about the factory incident: Read More >
Lord Randolph Churchill died in January 1895 at the age of forty-five. His son Winston Churchill claimed thirty-five years later in his autobiographical volume My Early Life that Lord Randolph had died “at the moment when his new fortune almost exactly equaled his debts.”1 Ever since historians have usually accepted this verdict.2
It is true that Winston’s parents had struggled with money all their married lives. The Churchill and Jerome families had contributed enough assets to the young couple’s marriage settlement to put them in the top percentile of Britain’s income earners at £3,000 a year; in addition, Lord Randolph’s father, the seventh Duke of Marlborough, gave them an extra £10,000 with which to buy a London house.3
Yet this start had never been enough to satisfy the expensive tastes that Lord Randolph and Jennie Jerome had acquired in their youth: Jennie could no more give up buying her clothes from expensive designers in Paris than Lord Randolph could cast off the male Churchills’ fondness for gambling. 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.