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.
As Secretary of State for India, Lord Randolph Churchill became increasingly irritated as Queen Victoria lobbied to have her son, the Duke of Connaught, appointed to the Bombay Command. Winston later reported that Lord Randolph “resisted the appointment with an obstinate determination.” What the son could not reveal, for obvious reasons, was that his father had developed an active distrust of the Royal Family. In Randolph’s view, “in actual hostilities Royal Dukes are a source of great embarrassment, discontent and danger.” This dispute occasioned Lord Randolph’s first resignation from Lord Salisbury’s Cabinet, but it was quickly withdrawn. A more important issue was the question of Home Rule for Ireland. Churchill thought it impossible but agreed to meet the Irish half way. When they declined to reciprocate, he kept his own counsel and said little publicly on the issue.
“I cannot think why you did not come to see me … I was very disappointed, but I suppose you were too busy.”
In the November General Election, Lord Randolph was defeated by John Bright in Birmingham despite the active involvement of Lady Randolph and the Duchess of Marlborough. One voter told Lady Randolph, “I like your husband and I like what he says. But I can’t throw off John Bright like an old coat.” Churchill was elected in South Paddington the next day. Read More >
Winston’s term report from Brighton indicated that he was making very satisfactory progress. In most of his subjects he stood in the middle of his class, but in conduct he ranked last out of 29 students. He continued to plead with his father for autographs to show friends, noting that he was willing to settle for a scribbled signature at the end of a letter. There was no parental response. But Lord Randolph’s letters to the rest of his family were a delight. After observing Hindu cremations, he wrote that any Hindu whose ashes are thrown into the Ganges “goes right up to heaven without stopping, no matter how great a rascal he may have been. I think the G.O.M. (Gladstone) ought to come here; it is his best chance!”
On his return from India Winston’s father addressed a Primrose League Banquet. After fulminating against Gladstone’s Liberals, he described England’s role in India as “a sheet of oil spread over a surface of, and keeping calm and quiet and unruffled by storms, an immense and profound ocean of humanity … to give peace, individual security and general prosperity to 250 million people . . . to weld them by the influence of our knowledge, our law and our higher civilization … and to offer the West the advantages of tranquility and progress in the East. ”
Winston continued his improvement in the Misses Thomson’s school in Brighton. His report indicated that “if he continues to improve in steadiness and application, as during this term, he will do very well indeed.” He was first in his class in classics and in the top half in all subjects except drawing. But in conduct, he was still last out of 30 students. He became an accomplished rider and, as the weather improved, developed an active interest in cricket. His letters show a maturing writing style and a growing interest in world affairs. He asked his mother to send The Times‘ account of the funeral of Victor Hugo.
For part of the summer holidays, he was sent to Chesterfield Lodge in Cromer. The weather was agreeable but he missed the family and found the governess “very unkind, so strict and stiff.”
Winston prospered in his new school at Brighton. He wrote Lady Randolph that he was quite happy and other family members commented on his improved demeanor. His grand- mother, Mrs. Leonard Jerome, wrote that his Aunt Clara had informed her that he was “such a nice, charming boy.” But Winston obviously perceived his behavior somewhat differently. After his Christmas visit home he wrote his mother, “You must be happy without me, no screams from Jack or complaints. It must be heaven on earth.”
“You must be happy without me, no screams from Jack or complaints. It must be heaven on earth.”
He wrote his mother frequently. She did not often reply but she did visit his school in February. He also attempted to open a correspondence with his father who was visiting India. None of the letters were answered. His letters show a growing fascination with his father’s prospering political career and a beginning of a lifetime interest of his own in the Indian subcontinent. One letter compared India’s warmth with the winter cold at home, requested information on a tiger hunt, and asked whether or not the Indians were “very funny.” He wishes his father well in the land of ants and mosquitoes. AU members of the Churchill family were fascinated with their famous relative. Leonard Jerome wrote Jennie from New York that “I have watched with wonder Randolph’s rise in the political world.” With similar wonder, fascination and with much love, young Winston followed his father’s career and shared it with his school friends. Such was Lord Randolph’s popularity that his son informed him that everybody wanted his signature and would he please send a few for Winston to pass among his friends. Read More >
Perhaps because Mrs. Everest had seen the results of the birchings, young Winston was removed from St. George’s to a Brighton school run by the sisters Kate and Charlotte Thomson. His memories of Brighton were happier: “There was an element of kindness and of sympathy. ..I was allowed to learn things which interested me: French, History, and lots of Poetry by heart, and above all Riding and Swimming.”
Winston’s memories notwithstanding, his initial report card did not indicate a successful beginning. Indeed in most subjects he was at or near the bottom of the class. But the ever-supportive and positive schoolmistress was not concerned. She noted “a decided improvement in attention to work towards the latter part of the term” and advised his parents that the marks “are almost valueless as frequent absence from the schoolroom made competition with other boys very difficult.”
Lord Randolph was meanwhile embroiled again in political controversy, most notably riots at Aston Park in Birmingham. Both he and Lady Randolph were escorted from danger when
Lord Randolph’s reelection as Chairman of the Council of the National Union of the Conservative Party forced the realization on the Party’s parliamentary leadership that they must now compromise with him. But it was not without some trepidation. Northcote wrote Salisbury that “Randolph is going in boldly and will ride Tory Democracy pretty hard.”
To patch up the quarrel, Lord Randolph agreed to work harmoniously with Lord Salisbury who, in turn, would treat the supporters of Churchill with the fullest confidence; the Central Committee of the Party was to be abolished; Lord Randolph was to relinquish the Chairmanship of the National Union; the Primrose League was to be officially recognized; and Lord Salisbury agreed to give a dinner to celebrate the reunification of the Tory Party. Clearly, Lord Randolph would be offered and would accept a post in the expected Tory government after the next election.
Meanwhile, Winston was improving somewhat at school. History and Geography were, as always, very good and his language subjects were showing improvement. His diligence and general conduct were improved a little but he was still occasionally causing a great deal of trouble. His headmaster, noting that he would be promoted, hoped that he would make a good start in the new division: “He might always do well if he choses.” This hope would never be fulfilled at that school. Lord and Lady Randolph removed their son from St. George’s School, Ascot, at the end of the Summer Term. Read More >
A few days after the ‘chips’ speech, Lord Randolph announced that he would carry the banner of Tory Democracy in the next general election in Birmingham —the bastion of Liberal radicals John Bright and Joseph Chamberlain. The entire country, including St. George’s School, was abuzz with the challenge. Winston wrote his mother: “Mrs. Kynnersley went to Birmingham this week. And she heard that they were betting two to one that Papa would get in for Birmingham.”
Meanwhile, Lord Randolph was continuing his attempt to obtain the Chairmanship of the National Union of Conservative Associations, and to increase its power at the expense of the Central Committee. The latter body. controlled finances and policy and was dominated by the Party leadership.
One ploy frequently used by Lord Randolph in his political battles was the threat of resignation. This time it was a successful tactic. He submitted his resignation as Chairman of the National Union but the response of the numerous deputations from within the Party resulted in his re-election.
During the first term of 1884 young Winston finally exhibited an improved performance at St. George’s School. His Division Master was “more satisfied with him than I have ever been,” but cautioned that there was still much room for improvement. His Head Master commented that perhaps Winston was “beginning to realize that school means work and discipline,” but complained that Winston was “rathe.r greedy at meals.” Many years later WSC’s son and biographer defended his father’s culinary behavior with some rather caustic judgments of the food at English public (private) schools.
Meanwhile, Lord Randolph Churchill’s withdrawal from public life proved unpermanent. At Blenheim he plotted an attack on the Central Committee of the Conservative Party formed chiefly, according to WSC, “of members of the Carlton Club.” The first step was to gain control of the Council of the National Union of Conservative Associations. But Lord Randolph maintained cordial relations with Lord Salisbury and Sir Stafford Northcote, the Conservative leaders in the Lords and Commons respectively, and concentrated his attacks on Liberal leader William Gladstone. The most famous occasion was the “chips speech,” alluding to Gladstone’s hobby of cutting trees, leaving only wooden chips: “To all who leaned upon Mr. Gladstone, who trusted in him, and who hoped for something from him — chips, nothing but chips — hard, dry, unnourishing, indigestible chips!” Read More >
Following the death of his father, Lord Randolph toured Europe with Jennie. On their return he was reluctant to reenter political life and his brother, the new Duke, persuaded him to activate the Harriers. For weeks he spent hours at the kennels and also became interested in the proposed Oxford-Woodstock railway. Many wondered whether his loss of interest in politics was permanent but because he was easily the most popular Tory speaker, he received numerous invitations to speak. He finally consented to deliver three speeches in Edinburgh in December.
He had not been neglecting the Tory Democratic movement nor the party machine. While at Blenheim he made plans to obtain control of the National Union of Conservative Associations from the influential Conservative MPs and the Cariton Club. At the Conservative Conference at Birmingham, he declared war on the Central Committee of the party because it was not responsible to the general body. He said he hoped “before long to see Tory working men in Parliament,” and that the Conservatives would never gain power until they “gained the confidence of the working classes.”
Winston, meanwhile, said the master at St. George’s, “began well but latterly has been very naughty! On the whole he has made progress . . . though at times he is still troublesome.” His composition was “very variable” and once again, history was his best subject. He wrote his mother of a school excursion to “hampton cort palace” and began to show an early awareness of his father’s profession with a reference to Charles Bradlaugh, a radical MP.
Despite the defection of Arthur Balfour, the Fourth Party continued to be a significant influence in British politics. Lord Randolph Churchill was viewed as one of the few parliamentary equals of Gladstone. Indeed, he was warned that his attacks might kill the Prime Minister. “Oh no!” he replied. “He will long survive me. I often tell my wife what a beautiful letter he will write to her, proposing my burial in Westminster Abbey.”
In early July, the Duke of Marlborough died and his shaken son Randolph returned to Blenheim to grieve, canceling all public appearances and refusing to attend Parliament for the remainder of the year. He then took his wife and son for a short holiday to Germany, where they observed Bismarck on his walks and dined with the Kaiser. “We talked banalities,” RSC wrote … “I have reason to believe that the fame of the Fourth Party has not yet reached the ears of this despot.”
Even to his political enemies Lord Randolph Churchill stood out as “perhaps the one man of unblemished promise in his party,” but he excoriated the Tories as much as the Liberals. The state of war escalated when he objected to Lord Northcote’s selection as eulogist for the unveiling of the statues of Disraeli. Against the advice of his friends, Lord Randolph railed against Northcote in The Times letters column, for which he was denounced by almost every Conservative Member and newspaper in London. But the provinces remained loyal to him.
His reputation in the House was completely restored with a speech in reply to Gladstone on the chronic Bradlaugh Question (whether a Member could affirm rather than swear his allegiance in the House). He was seen as the only Tory in the House who was Gladstone’s equal.
In a May article, “Elijah’s Mantle,” Lord Randolph lamented the loss of “Dizzy,” outlining his conception of Tory Democracy and speculating on the next Tory leader. He hoped to be its recipient and many believed this was his destiny. Punch showed a cartoon of “Little Lord R,” standing before Disraeli’s statue, dreaming that “they’ll have to give me a statue-some day!!”
Lord and Lady Randolph’s political and social prospects were improving. Lord Randolph had decided that the Fourth Party should fill a vacuum on the political left and “steal the Radicals’ clothes.” He and Sir John Gorst accelerated their attacks on the Gladstone Liberals, and their own party.
Lady Randolph, recuperating from an illness more serious than she realized, planned the move into 2 Connaught Place, near Marble Arch. On the same site only 40 years before, criminals had been publicly executed; in fact, when alterations were made, a mass grave was found in the cellars! At the time, however, it was better known as one of the first private homes in London to have electric lighting.
The Churchills were gradually being accepted back into a society which had ostracized them because of a dispute involving the Prince of Wales. Some historians have stated that reconciliation took place at this time, and that Winston and Jack were presented to the Prince at a dinner given by Lord and Lady Randolph. According to the official biography the reconciliation did not take place for another year; though Lady Randolph accepted an invitation to attend the Queen at Windsor on 14 March, there is no record of Lord Randolph having accompanied her.
With Lord Randolph’s illness in a remission stage, he was active in the campaign against dual control of the Conservative Party by Salisbury in the Lords and Northcote in the Commons. In December he rested on the Riviera and in Algiers. Jennie remained in London, having contacted what was eventually diagnosed as typhoid.
Winston, meanwhile, had been enrolled in St. George’s School at Ascot. Although he wrote his parents that “I am very happy at school,” he later recalled (in MY EARLY LIFE, Woods A37) “how I hated this school.” He certainly made little progress. In his first term report in December he placed last in his class. His parents were informed that Winston was “a regular pickle” who must treat his work far more seriously.
This unhappy period was presaged by Winston’s rather unpleasant experience the first day he met his Form Master. He was asked to learn the declensions of mensa, the Latin word for “table.” When he had the temerity to ask the meaning and use of the vocative case, he was told he would use it when addressing a table. “But I never do,” he replied. He was then sternly informed: “If you are impertinent, you will be punished, and punished, let me tell you, very severely.”
Lord Randolph Churchill and his family had settled in at 29 St. James’s Place, London. Notwithstanding his narrow return by Woodstock and his low standing with the Prince of Wales, Lord Randolph had begun his meteoric rise within the Tory Party. The Tories, WSC later wrote, were in disarray, “outmatched in debate, outnumbered in division. What political prophet or philosopher surveying the triumphant Liberal array would have predicted that this Parliament, from which so much was hoped, would be indeed the most disastrous and even fatal period in their party history? Who could have foreseen that these dejected Conservatives in scarcely five years, with the growing assent of an immense electorate, would advance to the enjoyment of 20 years of power?”
This was the political background, Randolph Churchill wrote, against which Winston was to live the four sensitive years of his life between the ages of five and nine. St. James’s Place was to be Winston’s home for the next two years; then, after Lord and Lady Randolph had again visited the United States, the family moved to 2 Connaught Place. But it was from Blenheim, in this winter 100 years ago, that came Winston’s first known letter to his mother:
“My dear Mamma: I hope you are quite well I thank you very very much for the beautiful presents those soldiers and Flags and Castle they are so nice it was so kind of you and dear Papa. I send you my love and a great many kisses. Your loving Winston.”
Join or Renew NowPlease join with us to help preserve the memory of Winston Churchill and continue to explore how his life, experiences and leadership are ever-more relevant in today’s chaotic world. BENEFITS >BECOME A MEMBER >
Finest Hour Image
The most recent issues of Finest Hour are available online to members. Join to automatically receive a subscription to BOTH Finest Hour and the Churchill Bulletin.LEARN MORE >VISIT FINEST HOUR ARCHIVE >
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.