Family Man

Family was always important to Winston Churchill. In his own words, he ‘married and lived happily ever after’ (My Early Life). He married Clementine Hozier on 12 September 1908, after proposing to her in the Temple of Diana at Blenheim Palace. The wedding took place at St Margaret’s Church Westminster, opposite the Houses of Parliament. They had five children; Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold and Mary. Marigold died in infancy. He was nowhere happier than at his country house, Chartwell, in Kent surrounded by his family and by his animals; dogs, cats, swans, fish, pigs, sheep and even a budgerigar named Toby. He could have been buried in London, but chose to lie alongside his parents in St Martin’s churchyard at Bladon, within sight of his birthplace at Blenheim Palace. This section will tell you more about his family life.

‘There is no doubt that it is around the family and the home that all the greatest virtues, the most dominating virtues of human society, are created, strengthened and maintained.’
Churchill, 16 November 1948, on the birth of Prince Charles

‘The family and the home’ The lion no longer had his roar

Churchill had been determined to have a happy family – to maintain those ‘dominating virtues of human society’ – but he lived so many other lives – as a politician, as a war leader, and had so many passionate interests (writing, painting, holidays) – that his family was, to a greater or lesser degree, squeezed in among these other busy lives. There were painful consequences, of course, but Clementine had always accepted that her husband must come first (and ‘second and third’) and worked tirelessly to support him. And his children, however, they responded to the pressures of being the great man’s children, appreciated, and were proud of, all he had done for them and for the country.

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Churchill the Grandfather Chartwell was full of grandchildren

Churchill was a devoted grandfather. He lived to have ten grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and both he and Clementine took great pleasure in being surrounded by their family, with the swimming pool and croquet lawn as great attractions.The Churchill family today continues to be very active in the fields in which Winston distinguished himself. Among Winston and Clementine’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren are family members who have achieved distinction in their own right as biographers and authors, in journalism and in art, and in serving their country in politics, government and the armed forces, and who carry forward the many aspects of the Churchillian legacy with pride.

‘Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and to millions tragic and terrible years?’
Letter from Churchill to Clementine, 23 January 1935, quoted in Official Biography by Gilbert

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Difficult Times Ageing was difficult for both Winston and his wife

But it wasn’t always an easy marriage. Apart from their political disagreements and heated arguments – and spinach throwing episodes – both Winston and Clementine were prone to periods of depression – Churchill with his ‘black dog’ and Clementine with all her worries and concerns about life with the great man and the children – and both were also increasingly frail and unwell. When the War was over and Churchill had been voted out of office, life was miserable. With Churchill exhausted and increasingly depressed by his enforced inactivity, the children continuing to cause concern and distress and Clementine herself suffering from ill-health, there was considerable friction in the Churchill household. They had always holidayed separately, since 1918. Now tensions at home were eased by increasing time spent apart – Churchill began to spend more and more time abroad for his health, and his painting, with Clementine staying at home, relishing the peace and quiet and recuperating from her own ailments – and these separations served to remind them of their dependence upon each other; throughout these lengthy periods of separation, they continued to write each other affectionate letters. They did, however, travel together to France in 1958, to Lord Beaverbrook’s villa, La Capponcina, at Cap D’Ail where they celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

‘I cannot explain how it is but in our misery we seem, instead of clinging to each other to be always having scenes. I’m sure it’s all my fault, but I’m finding life more than I can bear. He is so unhappy & that makes him very difficult… I can’t see any future.’
Clementine to Mary, 26 August 1945, quoted in Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill

The Churchill Family in War All of the Churchill children served during WWII

All the Churchills supported their father. The children, to varying degrees, served him – and their country – in the Second World War, too. Diana served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), Sarah with the Photographic Interpretation Unit of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and Mary served in the armed forces in mixed anti-aircraft (AA) batteries with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Mary also attended the Quebec conference of 1943 as an aide to her father, while Sarah played a similar role at Teheran in 1943 and Yalta in 1945. Randolph served as an Intelligence Officer in the Middle East, was attached to the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS), and undertook missions in the Libyan desert and in Yugoslavia.

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Family Life and Politics Churchill relied heavily on his wife's council

Despite Churchill’s belief in the importance of family and family life, he was also a relentlessly ambitious man and politics and government naturally took up huge amounts of his time, regularly taking him away from his family. He was often away from home – ‘more urgently occupied’, as Mary later wrote – either fighting wars or fighting elections. Clementine was politically astute and well-informed and, not content to sit on the sidelines, played an influential part in his political life. Like most women of her day, Clementine accepted that her own interests must always come second to those of her husband, but she acted as his political agent in London while he was serving in the trenches in the First World War (after he was sacked from the Admiralty and then resigned from government in 1915). She offered advice and met up with political leaders in London, determined to protect his political reputation in his absence.

‘I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know … There is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues & subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner … I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be … I cannot bear that those who serve the Country & yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you.’
Clementine in a letter to Churchill, 27 June 1940, in Soames, Speaking for Themselves

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Family Loss The Churchills endured many family deaths

Churchill’s marriage to Clementine remained the cornerstone of his private life but his family life had its share of personal sadness. Aside from the distress caused by his children’s wayward lives, he lived long enough to witness the death of many of those close to him. His mother, the beautiful and glamorous Jennie, died aged only sixty-seven, in June 1921 (she had tripped, wearing high heels, down a staircase and broke her ankle; it didn’t heal and, suffering from gangrene, she eventually had the foot amputated; after enduring several weeks of pain, she died suddenly of a massive haemorrhage). Only months later, the Churchills’ beloved ‘Duckadilly’ died, aged only two and nine months. Churchill’s oldest friend and companion, his younger brother Jack, died in February 1947, six years after the death of ‘Goonie’ (Gwendoline, Jack’s wife), in 1941. Churchill was devastated at the loss and wrote to Hugh Cecil, ‘I feel lonely now that he is not here after 67 years of brotherly love’ (Gilbert, Never Despair). And of course, his daughter Diana died before he did, aged only fifty-four, in 1963.

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The Child of Consolation Youngest daughter Mary was born in 1922

The following September, in 1922, the Churchills’ fifth and final child, Mary, was born. Mary later wrote, in the prelude to A Daughter’s Tale, that she was ‘perhaps … for my parents, the child of consolation’.

Unlike her elder siblings, she didn’t cause her parents any significant worries. She supported both her mother and father throughout their lives and, during the Second World War, worked for the Red Cross and the Women’s Voluntary Service from 1939 to 1941 and served in mixed anti-aircraft (AA) batteries with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), serving in London, Belgium and Germany, rising to the rank of Junior Commander and being awarded the MBE (Military).

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The Younger Daughters The Churchills never got over the death of little Marygold

Sarah (born in October 1914 in the first months of the First World War) and Marigold (born just after the end of the War, in November 1918) were Churchill’s younger daughters. Life for them was to prove troubled and, in the case of Marigold, sadly very brief.

‘Many years later my father told me that when Marigold died, Clementine gave a succession of wild shrieks like an animal in mortal pain. My mother never got over Marigold’s death.’
Mary Soames, Prelude to A Daughter’s Tale

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Father and Son Randolph and his father had a loving but often contentious relationship

Randolph perhaps epitomises the difficulty of being the son of a famous father. In his twenties, he veered between adoration of his father and bitter accusations of being treated as a ‘wayward and untrustworthy child’, interspersed with periods of excess drinking and ill-considered political initiatives.

Randolph duly stood for parliament in the 1930s but despite the obvious advantage of his father’s support, he was defeated each time, being seen – in true Churchill style – as a political maverick. He was elected as MP for Preston in 1940 but lost his seat at the 1945 General Election. While he had his father’s weaknesses (notably, obstinacy, arrogance and bad temper), he did also inherit some of his strengths, including a gift for writing and considerable personal bravery, serving with the newly formed Special Air Service (SAS) and conducting dangerous missions in the Libyan Desert and Yugoslavia. Yet, ultimately, he lacked his father’s political skills, charm and charisma.

Churchill no doubt loved his son, but sometimes despaired of him. Their strong personalities would often clash.

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Family Life life was a balance of the good and the bad

At various times Diana, Randolph and Sarah all caused their parents considerable worry and distress, their lives variously marked by depression, unhappy marriages and dependency on alcohol. Only Mary, the youngest daughter, escaped unscathed. As with all families, though, the bad times need to be balanced against the good. It is clear from the memoirs that there were plenty of fun times at Chartwell, and it must have been a source of pride to Churchill that all four of his surviving children served in uniform during the Second World War. The family would also rally round whenever he was ill or in need of support. For an interview with Mary Soames, click here. But despite Churchill’s desire for a happy, contented family life, it rarely ran smoothly for the Churchills and was not without its heartache and pain.

‘As children we soon became aware that our parents’ main interest and time were consumed by immensely important tasks, beside which our own demands and concerns were trivial. We never expected either of them to attend our school plays, prize-givings or sports days. We knew they were both more urgently occupied.’
Mary Soames, Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage

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Churchill the Father Churchill was determined to be a good parent

Churchill’s relationship with his parents was difficult. They were remote and inaccessible, often preoccupied – his beautiful heiress mother, with her social life and her numerous affairs with young men, and his father, with his politics. Churchill doted on his mother and idolised his father and as a child was constantly seeking their attention and praise (not often forthcoming). He was determined to do things differently with his own children. Winston and Clementine had five children; Diana (1909), Randolph (1911), Sarah (1914), Marigold (1918) and Mary (1922). He vowed that, unlike his father, he would spend time with them and was an affectionate and devoted parent, building a tree house at Chartwell for the older three and, utilising his bricklaying skills, a little summer house for the youngest, Mary. With Churchill spoiling his children with affection, Clementine ended up doing most of the disciplining, but she was busy supporting her husband’s political life and work – she always put Winston first – and the children were really brought up by a succession of governesses and nannies. Like their father before them, the three older children, in particular, may have suffered as all three had difficult adult lives.

‘Time passes swiftly, but is it not joyous to see how great and growing is the treasure we have gathered together, amid the storms and stresses of so many eventful and to millions tragic and terrible years?’
Letter from Churchill to Clementine, 23 January 1935, quoted in Official Biography by Gilbert

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Home Life The Churchills started a family not long after they were married

The Churchills were, for the first years of their marriage, an itinerant family, frequently moving house depending on their circumstances. The very first year of their married life was spent at Churchill’s bachelor ‘pad’ in Bolton Street, Mayfair. They then moved to a larger house in Eccleston Square where Diana and Randolph were born (in 1909 and 1911), with Clementine and the children spending holidays near the sea, at Cromer, in Pear Tree Cottage, with ‘Goonie’ and her children nearby.

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A Partnership 'For better and worse'

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.

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Winston and Clementine The Churchills were married in 1908

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

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The Engagement Churchill proposed to Clementine at Blenheim Palace

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.

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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill 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.