In his multi-volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, published from 1933 to 1938 as Marlborough: His Life and Times, Winston Churchill described the creation of the ancestral seat.
The background: during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), King Louis XIV of France and the Elector of Bavaria sought to knock Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I out of the war by seizing Vienna in the summer of 1704 and gaining a favorable peace settlement. This plan ended in failure in August with the catastrophic defeat of French and Bavarian forces at the Battle of Blenheim at the hands of British and Austrian armies led by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. The battle altered the course of the war, which nevertheless continued to rage for another decade.
Following his spectacular victory at Blenheim, Marlborough returned home from Bavaria in the autumn as “The Conquering Hero” of Queen Anne’s realm. For the moment he was showered with honors, but the protracted conflict later turned political opinion against him. Here follows Winston Churchill’s account of the Duke’s homecoming. Read More >
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 >
Churchill with his squadron of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Douglas S. Russell
Douglas Russell is author of Winston S. Churchill: Soldier, The Military Life of a Gentleman at War (2005).
From the time of the first Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722) each succeeding generation of Spencers, Churchills, and Marlboroughs was active in the military service of Great Britain, and Blenheim Palace has been a part of that tradition. Each duke from the first in the seventeenth century to the eleventh in the twenty-first century held an officer’s commission.
The Spencer-Churchill family began its long and active role in the Oxford Yeomanry in 1803 when Lord Francis Spencer, brother of the fifth duke, raised the Woodstock squadron of cavalry only five years after the regiment was formed.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Oxford Yeomanry had reached regimental strength and was one of thirty-eight Imperial Yeomanry cavalry units. It was known as the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, a title granted by Queen Adelaide—the wife of King William IV—in 1835. Commonly referred to as the Q.O.O.H., the regiment was organized in four squadrons located at Henley, Oxford, Woodstock, and Banbury, with its headquarters at Oxford. 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.
Martin Gilbert and Larry P. Arnn, eds., The Churchill Documents, volume 22, Leader of the Opposition, August 1945 to October 1951, Hillsdale College Press, 2019, 2328 pages, $60. ISBN 978–0916308407
With hindsight, the years 1945–51 seem like an interlude between Winston Churchill’s two premierships, while Clement Attlee and the Labour party held power. But Churchill had a remarkable capacity for making history out of office, as well as in office. What might be termed his second wilderness years are a case in point—as this latest volume of documents vividly shows.
Far from being the “anti-climax” Churchill initially dreaded, he used the time to prodigious effect. Aided by his “Syndicate” of assistants and financed in style by his publishers, he completed five of the eventual six volumes of war memoirs. We can read his progress reports to Clementine, his queries about delicate issues such as the Dieppe Raid or the bombing of Dresden, his unconcealed pride when telling his King that 250,000 copies of Their Finest Hour had been sold in a single day, and his regular complaints about the workload: “Volume IV is a worse tyrant than Attlee.” Read More >
Adrian Phillips, Fighting Churchill, Appeasing Hitler: Neville Chamberlain, Sir Horace Wilson, and Britain’s Plight of Appeasement, 1937–1939, Pegasus Books, 2019, 368 pages, $29.95. ISBN 978–1643132211
Mark Klobas teaches history at Scottsdale College.
The eightieth anniversary of the start of the Second World War was accompanied by a predictable flurry of works about British efforts to appease Germany up to September 1939. Adrian Phillips’ book is the latest of this kind and follows close upon similar studies by Tim Bouverie (reviewed FH 187) and Robert Crowcroft (reviewed FH 184). Whereas Bouverie and Crowcroft summarized broadly the efforts to avert war by accommodating Adolf Hitler’s demands, Phillips focuses more specifically on the role of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s chief advisor Sir Horace Wilson in promoting appeasement.
Phillips’s focus is welcome, since Wilson remains one of the most understudied figures of the period. A child of lower-middle class parents, he rose rapidly from the Second Class of the British Civil Service to its heights by virtue of hard work and ability. Chosen as Permanent Secretary of the nascent Ministry of Labour, Wilson showed skill in resolving industrial disputes, making him an indispensable figure for the governments of the interwar period. Read More >
Secretary of the State Dean Acheson addressing the North Atlantic Treaty signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., April 1949
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Klaus Larres
Throughout his long political life Churchill frequently was confronted with the “German Question.” In fact, even prior to the First World War, dealing with Germany became a major preoccupation for him. From the 1930s to his retirement from politics in 1955, it was the German Question that dominated Churchill’s political life and turned him into one of the world’s most successful and most famous politicians.1
Churchill’s first serious encounter with the German Question came just before the cataclysm of 1914 when, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he had to deal with the German-British naval race. At that time he grew so worried about the escalating tension between the world’s foremost empire and the globe’s most aggressive rising power that the young politician reached out to Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and Foreign Minister Edward Grey with the suggestion that he should be given permission to approach formally the German naval minister, the formidable Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, to convene a high-level meeting. Churchill wanted to overcome the naval race through personal negotiations. Read More >
A sitting of the Potsdam Conference in Berlin, July 1945
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Kevin Ruane
Kevin Ruane is Professor of Modern History at Canterbury Christ Church University, an Archives By-Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, and author of Churchill and the Bomb in War and Cold War (Bloomsbury, 2016), a BBC History “Book of the Year.”
In 2013, a short fragment from a British Royal Family home-movie came to light. Dating from October 1952, the silent footage shows the young Queen Elizabeth II enjoying a family fishing expedition at Balmoral in Scotland. Also prominent is the unmistakable figure of Winston Churchill, returned as Britain’s Prime Minister the year before; he can be seen sitting on the riverbank chatting to Prince Charles.1 He is relaxed, but he is not off-duty. His thoughts, we now know, were focused on the Montebello Islands, a barren outpost of the Commonwealth eighty miles off the north-west coast of Australia. It was there that the United Kingdom’s first atomic bomb, a plutonium weapon, was about to be tested.
Much rested on the success of “Hurricane,” as the test was codenamed, not least the future of Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent. “Pop or flop?” an anxious Churchill asked his scientific experts as the test neared. “Pop” came the reassuring reply.2 And pop it was. On 3 October 1952, Churchill, still at Balmoral, learned that the “Hurricane” device had detonated with a destructiveness equivalent to twenty-five kilotons of TNT, a yield which surpassed the A-bombs used against Japan in 1945.
Churchill and Truman meet in the White House during Churchill’s visit to Washington in 1952.
Finest Hour 186, Fourth Quarter 2019
By Alan P. Dobson
Alan P. Dobson teaches at Swansea University and is editor of International History Review. He is co-author with Steve Marsh of US Foreign Policy since 1945 (2007).
Winston Churchill presided over Britain’s finest hour in 1940 and celebrated victory over the Axis Powers in 1945, but was then unceremoniously turned out of office by the British electorate. In opposition, he was only able to watch as victory gave way to Cold War, and his much-vaunted Special Relationship with the US declined in intimacy and substance. Thus, when opportunity beckoned with success in the General Election in the autumn of 1951, he determined to inject new purpose into British foreign policy and was quick to tend to the “intimate relationship with the United States, which had been a keynote of his policy in the war….” For Churchill that meant above all establishing a close relationship with President Harry S. Truman in order to emulate the successful and rewarding personal relationship that he had experienced with Roosevelt.
Churchill and Truman had little in common by background; Churchill born into a historic and privileged family, Truman born in a simple farmhouse, and their life experiences were also so different, culminating in Churchill being hailed as the greatest man of his age and Truman as the accidental president. Even so, in 1946 when Churchill travelled with the President to Fulton Missouri for his famous Iron Curtain Speech aboard FDR’s old armored railroad car the Ferdinand Magellan, they got on well and established a firm friendship. That was despite Churchill losing over $200 playing poker until the early hours with Truman and his card-playing cronies. Truman and Churchill were now on first-name terms, though Truman confessed to finding that difficult at first because of Churchill’s standing. Sometime later, in July 1948, Truman in the throes of his re-election campaign wrote to Churchill: Read More >
In July 1945, while on a fishing holiday on Minnesota’s North Star Lake, Westminster College President Franc L. McCluer, had a casual conversation with his wife Ida Belle. Though the scene was tranquil, McCluer— known by the nickname “Bullet” for his rapid-fire debating style—was consumed with thoughts about the college’s John Findley Green Foundation Lectureship. After a three-year hiatus, when the all-male college saw reduced enrollment due to the war effort, McCluer hoped to revive the fledgling but promising lecture series that previously had brought international luminaries to his Fulton, Missouri campus.
The endowed lectureship was established in 1937 by Mrs. Eleanor I. Green of St. Louis to honor the memory of her husband, a Westminster alumnus. The aim of the Green Foundation Lectureship was then, and remains today, to present lectures that would promote “a better understanding of economic and social problems which are international in their concern.” Read More >
Thirty years ago the Berlin Wall “came tumblin’ down.” The largely peaceful end to the Cold War came “quite suddenly and quite unexpectedly,” as Churchill once described the end of the First World War, to the relief of a world that had long lived in fear of nuclear war.
Churchill did not begin the Cold War— as early as 1943 Stalin was directing his armies with an eye towards building his Iron Curtain— but it was Churchill’s famous speech at Fulton, Missouri in March 1946 that alerted the world to the situation that had developed. Timothy Riley tells the story of how Churchill’s remarks at Westminster College were subsequently complemented by those of Mikhail Gorbachev in the aftermath of the Cold War. Edwina Sandys then explains how she conceived the idea for her sculpture Breakthrough that now stands near where her grandfather first outlined the “Sinews of Peace.”
Churchill accepted the invitation to speak in the Show-me State when he saw that it had been endorsed by Missouri’s most famous son, President Harry S. Truman. Alan P. Dobson looks at how Churchill tried working with Truman to preserve the special relationship, even as the Prime Minister took exception to details in the organization of NATO that he felt diminished British importance. Read More >
Allen Packwood, How Churchill Waged War, Frontline, 2018, 260 pages, £25/$34.95. ISBN 978–1473893894
Reflecting on his reputation after the war, Churchill noted: “People say my speeches after Dunkirk were the thing. That was only a part, not the chief part. They forget that I made all the main military decisions.” Indeed, Churchill did not just lead by inspiration; he waged war—exactly what he said he would do in his first speech to Parliament as Prime Minister. How Churchill went about it is the subject of this gripping new study by Allen Packwood.
For many years Packwood has served as Director of the Churchill Archives Centre at Cambridge. His deep familiarity with the papers of Winston Churchill has resulted in this his first (and, I hope, far from last) book. Every page illustrates his extensive knowledge of the primary documents, for this book uses citations at the bottom of each page and not endnotes following the chapters or buried in the back. A quick glance down shows that Packwood is supporting his arguments with original archival documents. Even his secondary sources are mostly the published versions of primary materials, such as diaries, letters, and memoirs.
Armed with this formidable knowledge, Packwood does not attempt to provide a comprehensive account of Churchill as warlord. Instead he has chosen ten subject areas that interested him in particular as he set out “to try and answer the question what did Churchill do? How did he wage war?” Each chapter is a thoughtful but fast- paced and self-contained study. The chapters give a good chronological spread of the war years, starting in 1940 with Churchill’s decision as Prime Minister to serve also as Minister of Defence and concluding with his determination to run an aggressive campaign in the general election of 1945.
Courage meant a great deal to Winston Churchill. In his 1931 profile of Spain’s King Alfonso XIII titled “Alfonso the Unlucky,” subsequently published as a chapter in Great Contemporaries, Churchill wrote,
Men and kings must be judged in the testing moments of their lives. Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because, as has been said, it is the quality which guarantees all others.
Indeed, courage was a personal quality frequently attributed to Churchill himself. Colonel Thomas (Tommy) Macpherson, a highly decorated Second World War officer, wrote of Churchill’s “extraordinary mixture of emotional sentimentality and steely courage.” Churchill’s, Macpherson elaborated, was “not heedless, reckless, momentary animal courage, but the self-disciplined, durable mental courage knowing all the dangers and still holding course.”
Churchill’s peacetime cabinet (Woolton is front row, second from left)
Finest Hour 183, First Quarter 2019
By Iain Carter
Iain Carter is Political Director of the Conservative Party. He has previously been a special adviser to the Leader of the House of Lords and a member of the Conservative Research Department.
When it came to preparing meals during the Second World War, the British people had to make do with what they were allocated under the ration. Francis Latry, Maitre Chef de Cuisine at the Savoy Hotel, came to the rescue with a recipe for vegetable pie that was then popularized by Lord Woolton, the Minister of Food responsible for overseeing the rationing system. “Woolton Pie,” as the pastry became known, would be forgotten as soon as the end of wartime austerity could be achieved. Making the most of sparse beginnings, however, was something the former Cabinet minister would be called upon to repeat.
In a private conversation following Labour’s landslide victory in the 1945 general election, Winston Churchill remarked, “I shall not be idle. I shall write, I shall speak on the wireless and I shall still be an MP, although I shall never return to Number Ten.”1 The Conservatives had suffered their worst defeat in two generations, yet less than six years later Churchill would return to Number 10 to begin his second premiership at the head of a majority government. He was propelled there in part because of a rejuvenated Conservative Party campaign machine, in addition to the changes in policy and policy making which are more commonly focused on.
Two of Winston Churchill’s longest serving private secretaries were, like the man they worked for, keen and sharp-witted observers, as shown here.
John (known as “Jock”) Colville (1915–87) was as an Assistant Private Secretary to Churchill twice during the Second World War, his service interrupted by time in the RAF. He served Churchill again, as a Joint Principal Private Secretary, in 1951–55. He also worked briefly for Clement Attlee in 1945. When Attlee praised one of his own appointments as someone who “was at Haileybury, my old school,” Colville recorded in his diary that “Churchill, though he sometimes said nice things about me, never included in his recommendations that we were both Old Harrovians. I concluded that the old school tie counted even more in Labour than in Conservative circles.”
Anthony Montague Browne (1923–2013) also served as an RAF pilot during the Second World War and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for actions against the Japanese in Burma. He joined Churchill’s staff when he was chosen to be Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister in September 1952. After Churchill’s retirement in 1955, Montague Browne continued to serve Churchill as Private Secretary until Churchill’s death ten years later. When the behavior of Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden became increasingly difficult to cope with in 1953, Montague Browne remarked to Eden’s Private Office: “The difference between us is that I work for a great historical figure, and you work for a great hysterical one.”
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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.
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