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Of Love and Madness: The Marriage of Winston and Clementine Churchill

Updated on September 10, 2019
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Mona is a life coach, editor, writer and columnist in the Philippines. She coaches foreigners through Skype and writes for Enrich Magazine.

“Clementine: Let them see your true qualities, your lack of vanity.

Winston: My poor judgment and my lying will.

Clementine: Your sense of humor.

Winston: Hohoho

Clementine Hozier Churchill

Love that lasted, despite mental disorders

It is well known that Winston Churchill suffered from depression, which he called his “Black dog”. What is less known is that his wife, Clementine Ogilvy Hozier Churchill, suffered from anxiety, wrestled at one time with depression, and experienced postpartum psychosis after giving birth to their first child. And yet, they stayed married for 57 years, faithful to one another, and (with Clementine advising him from behind the scenes), kept England and the allies together, encouraged them when heroism was needed, and defeated Hitler, forever changing the world map at that time. This article takes a personal journey into the lives of Clementine and her husband, and their five children.

CLEMENTINE CHURCHILL’S CHILDHOOD

Clementine's parents, Henry Montague Hozier, 10th Earl of Airlie, and Lady Blanche Hozier, Countess of Airlie, were aristocrats of high social standing. However, their marriage was full of scandal and rumor. So abhorrent was their marriage, that there were speculations that none of Lady Blanche's children were fathered by Hozier. Lady Blanche was notoriously unfaithful. She was also a flagrant gambler which took its toll on the family wealth.

When Clementine was six years old, her parents separated. According to Sonia Purnell, author of the book First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill, Clementine's childhood and the better part of her life was lived in loneliness and neglect, more so with the separation of her parents, and the life of relative poverty that followed.

Plus, there was the loss of her 16-year-old sister, Kitty, to typhoid fever. Clementine's things were hastily packed, and she was sent to live with an aunt, having no idea at all that her sister was dying.

And then there was the embarrassment of realizing she lacked the social standing to have a debut, as for sure, no one would come to it. However, with the help of a wealthy aunt, her debut was held and was well attended.

All of the above, according to her daughter, Mary Soames, caused her mother's lifetime anxiety and loss of self confidence.

Winston Churchill's childhood

Winston Spencer – Churchill, like Clementine, lived a reclusive childhood. His father, British Lord Randolph Churchill, was the son of John, the 7th Duke of Marlborough. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was American-born, and the daughter of financier father, Leonard Jerome.

Winston's parents were cool and remote. Winston spent much of his life at school. The book, Jennie Churchill by Anne Seba, features many letters that Winston wrote to his mother. He described his prep school as “sadistic” and pleaded to go home, or at least, for them to visit him. Ironically, on the back of this emotional letter from her son, was a list of names that Jennie wrote down, whom she intended to invite to a dinner party.

Winston's parents' style of parenting was cool and aloof. He was closest, during his childhood, to his nanny. Later, he would always be in debt, tending to spend lavishly. In adulthood, he was both famous and controversial. His widely known war exploits landed him in Parliament.

Winston and Clementine Meet

Clementine was 19 years old when she met Winston at a dance in 1904. Churchill was 10 years older, at 29. It was not a coup de foudre. Winston by then was well known for his hair-raising escape from prison in the Second Boer War, and he was now a representative of Parliament. Of that time, Clementine said “Winston just stared. He never uttered one word and was very gauche,” according to Purnell in her book.

In 1908, four years after, Clementine and Winston met again at a party. It may well have been a coup de foudre. After a few months of courtship, they married that same year. One year later, in 1909, she literally saved her husband's life from the whip of a militant suffragette.

The attack was totally unexpected. The Churchills had just arrived in Bristol for a routine political stop, when a militant suffragist abruptly whipped Winston and shoved him in the direction of a moving train. Pushing luggage aside, Clementine grabbed Winston's coattails and saved his life.

Clementine could well have been a politician on her own, if she weren't a woman. Instead, she focused her energy on her husband's career. Winston himself admitted that his success was largely due to her influence.

They remained married for 57 years. During this time:

Clementine: A Force to Reckon With

  1. She fully supported Winston's candidacy as Prime Minister, even though it meant risking almost everything they had.

  2. During World War I, Winston volunteered as a soldier. He did this to make amends for his horrible mistake in championing the tragedy in Gallipoli. Clementine supported him, despite knowing that he might die. Plus, she urged him to stay long, and not to rush back home.

  3. Many times, Clementine advised Winston on political affairs, and she made it a point to be warm and friendly with his allies.

  4. Clementine determinedly raised the confidence of her husband during his seemingly endless rounds of depression.

Considering that Clementine was dealing with her own anxiety and experienced postpartum disorder, it is pretty amazing that she managed her husband so well and was a large participant on his road to greatness. However, on her own Clementine was also a force to reckon with. For example:

In the First World War, Clementine was engaged with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), where she organized canteens for the soldiers.

  1. In the Second World War, Clementine was President of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA).

  2. Also in the Second World War, Clementine was Chairperson of the Red Cross.

  3. In 1946, the Queen made her a Dame of the British Empire.

In sum, both Winston Churchill and his wife changed the world in a major way, and at the same time, remained married and committed to each other despite their mental illnesses. That didn't mean that they had a peaceful home. Mary, the youngest daughter, recalls, “My mother had the will and the capacity to stand up to my father, to confront him and to argue with him, and the fact that she had that capacity is more important than whether she was always right.” She adds, “I’ve always thought my father married an equal in temperament and in spirit.” However, how were they as parents?

The Churchills as Parents

Winston and Clementine had five children. However, Clementine's devotion to Winston's career meant that both parents spent very little time with them. Also, Purnell wrote in her book that “Clementine appears to have been constitutionally unable to deal with her children, sending them away for long periods and needing time away from the household when they were young.”

It was also not uncommon at this time for parents to leave their children in the care of nannies, and when the parents were home, the children stayed in the playroom. This is what happened to their children:

Diana. Diana was the eldest child, born in 1909. After her birth Clementine suffered from what may be postpartum depression. She fled her home immediately after giving birth, had a nervous breakdown, leaving Diana in the care of a nanny. Diana was born at a time when it was not uncommon for children to be raised by nannies, and when the parents were at home, the children stayed in the play room. In the Second World War Diana joined the Women's Royal Naval Service. She was also involved in her father's election campaigns as well as the political campaigns of her brother Randolph. Diana had a number of nervous breakdowns with the start of the 1950s. She was treated for these episodes in many ways, including electroshock therapy. She married twice. Her second marriage was to Duncan Sandys, a Conservative politician. They married in 1935 and had three children named Julian, Duncan John, and Lucy. The marriage lasted for 25 years, but they divorced in 1960. Two years later, Duncan married Marie-Claire Schmitt. That same year Diana legally changed her name back to Diana Churchill. In October, 1963 she committed suicide through a drug overdose.

Diana Churchill

Randolph Churchill

Randolph. Winston hoped Randolph would be his political successor, and he indulged his son with special privileges when he was young. However, his sister Diane felt that Randolph was “spoiled”. Clementine was cool to her son, feeling that he was arrogant and overindulged. In Clementine's biography it was said that “Randolph was for decades a recurrent embarrassment to both his parents.”

At Sandroyd School, Wiltshire, the headmaster reported that Randolph was “very combative. Afterwards Randolph attended Eton College. He was said to be “Lazy and unsuccessful both at work and at games....and (was) an unpopular boy.” By age 15 his headmasters said Randolph was “idle” and “boring”. Because he did poorly in school, he spent more time at parties with well-connected schoolmates. Also, the relationship of father and son was often disagreeable, and Winston waxed and waned from spoiling his son one moment, to feeling exasperated by his son the next. At school, he was often the object of complaint of schoolmasters. At age 18 Randolph drank heavily, preferring double brandies. Randolph later went to Oxford, but rather than finish his studies, he went on a speaking tour engagement in the United States for which he was paid $12,000.00. Plus, his parents gave him a monthly allowance of some $500.00. Despite this, he ran up a debt of $2,000 from his father's friend, financier Bernard Baruch. It was only repaid after 30 years. Randolph liked living extravagantly, gambling, drinking heavily, and womanizing. He also endured bouts with suicide.

By 1940 – 1945 Randolph served in the British Parliament as a Conservative. He was also a journalist and writer. He spent the 1950s as a writer of several books and articles. He married twice and had two children, one from each marriage. In 1964 he had bronchopneumonia. He also had a tumor which was surgically removed from his lung. Although his health was deteriorating, his death in 1968, at age 57 from a heart attack, came as a surprise.

Randolph Churchill

Sarah Churchill

Sarah. Born in 1914, the second daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill married three times, but had no children. The first two marriages didn't meet her parents' approval, but the third wedding to Thomas Percy Henry Touchet-Jesson, 23rd Baron Audley, did. Sadly, touchet-Jesson died within one year of the marriage, in 1963.

Sarah became an actress, but her flamboyant lifestyle overplayed her acting. In her 1981 autobiography, Keep On Dancing, she writes about her work on Broadway and in London as the ''wild period'' of her life, filled with bouts of liquor and unbridled parties. She also mentions drunken public scenes and briefly staying in Holloway Prison. Her friends felt that she had a self-destructive streak.

All this was in between Broadway and London stages, three marriages, and nine films (including one where she played the romantic interest of Fred Astaire). She also had her own television show. In 1961 she played Rosalind in the Shakespeare play, “As you like it”. Winston Churchill attended the program. At one point he was clearly seen on the front row, sleeping.

Sarah's drinking led to a decline in her acting career. In her 1981 autobiogaphy, Keep on Dancing, Sarah wrote about her drinking habit, her causing public scenes, and once spending a brief time in the Holloway Prison. The following year, 1982, Sarah died due to illness at the age of 67.

Sarah Churchill and Father

Marigold Churchill

Mary Churchill

Marigold and Mary Churchill

Marigold. Marigold was born in 1918, four days after World War I ended. She died at the age of two years and nine months, from a disease that affected her immune system. Her death traumatized her parents, and made them decide to change their style of parenting.

Mary. Mary Churchill describes her childhood as “idyllic”. In their home, Chartwell, Mary domesticated fox cubs, raised lambs, and played in a house of bricks that her father built. Charlie Chaplin impersonated Napoleon to her great amusement, and T.E. Lawrence, i.e. Lawrence of Arabia, wore princely robes from Arabia which amazed her. At one family party, Noel Coward sang Mad Dogs and Englishmen.

Mary wed Christopher Soames (later Ambassador Soames), and together they had four children. She determined to be a mother first, rather than a political wife. After a long illness, the Ambassador died in 1987.

Mary, was the recipient of many honorary doctorates and fellowships. In 2005 she became Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter. Mary is the only Churchill child who did not live with tragedy and scandal. As Lady Soames, she died in 2014, at the age of 91, outliving her older siblings by decades.

Great Contemporaries: Churchill Reflects on FDR, Hitler, Kipling, Chaplin, Balfour, and Other Giants of His Age
Great Contemporaries: Churchill Reflects on FDR, Hitler, Kipling, Chaplin, Balfour, and Other Giants of His Age

Winston is a historical icon. To hear what he has to say about other historical icons and events produce great insight. This is a great book for history buffs and people interested in Churchill's unique personality.

 

What if?

Clementine and Winston's marriage was full of love and madness. But what if it never happened? Perhaps Britain would have in 1940 reached a convenient agreement with Hitler, which would have rearranged the map of the world. Instead, under Churchill's leadership, Britain stood up to Hitler and many allies came to join them, particularly the United States and Russia.

Clementine had a way of handling Churchill's self-destructive qualities, and many of his decisions and actions were based on Clementine's advice. Churchill, who was faithful in his marriage told Roosevelt, (who was not), “I tell Clemmie everything.” After the war, Winston and Clementine were very much icons of their time.

In 1965 Winston had a stroke, survived, but was felled by a second stroke that followed soon after. He died that same year. Clementine died in 1977 from a heart attack.

We'd like to end this with a few quotes from Winston Churchill:

  1. “My most brilliant achievement was my ability to be able to persuade my wife to marry me.”

  2. “My wife and I tried to breakfast together, but we had to stop or our marriage would have been wrecked.”

  3. “Immature love says, I love you because I need you, mature love says, I need you because I love you.”

Comments

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    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      2 months ago from Philippines

      I never knew there was a movie about Churchill. I will definitely look it up. Thank you so much, Devika;0

    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      2 months ago from Philippines

      Thank you Jo. yes,their was less than ideal. but they defeated Hitler despite their mental disorders. As a mother I tend to wonder if it was worth it. But one must consider the greater good.What a hard choice that must have been to make.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      2 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I watched the movie Churchill and the couple certainly had health issues. Informative and helpful with the history of the couple's marriage and you enlightened me on more of what I had no idea of.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      2 months ago from Tennessee

      Very interesting, Mona. Many of these items about their life I'd heard, but you presented a lot of facts I had not heard. Their family life did seem to be less than ideal.

    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      3 months ago from Philippines

      Thank you Rochelle for the visit and your kind words.I'm thankful that you enjoyed reading this. Have a wonderful day1

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      3 months ago from California Gold Country

      The facts of Winston's public life are pretty well known. I knew almost nothing about his family. You made a good presentation of his personal life. I enjoyed reading it.

    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      3 months ago from Philippines

      Dear Ms. Dora how lovely to hear from you again! It really is a puzzlement how the Churchills weathered the tragic lives of all their children. It took them four tragedies to learn their lesson as parents.

      Dear Mr. Bill, as always thank you for your kind words. True, their personal lives are so different. But I agree with you, Churchill was a hero in a time when Europe needed one.

      Dear Eric, thank you for your kind words about my writing style. Didn't realize it, but yah, the "what ifs" does give you pause to think.

      Flourish Anyway I agree with you. Their parenting style was not good, and they learned their lessons very late in the day.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for this revealing view of the private life of the Churchill family. How on earth did they survive all those disappointments in their children's lives? Mary seemed to get all the blessing. Still Winston Churchill stands tall on the list of British politicians.

    • grand old lady profile imageAUTHOR

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      3 months ago from Philippines

      Hi Besarian, thank you for noting the error in the date of Clementine's death. It turns out, my math was wrong in saying that she died two years after her husband died. Very grateful that you pointed that out. I also agree that wives of historical figures don't get as much credit as they deserve. Maybe it's because women then were still fighting for their rights. They didn't even have the vote at that time. As for the way they raised their children, I agree that it was pretty much the way children were raised at that time for people of their social station. Thank you for visiting and reading this article:)

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 

      3 months ago from South Florida

      Nice hub! I agree that Clementine, like many wives of important historical figures, doesn't get nearly enough credit. As far as how they were raised and how they raised their children, I think they were fairly ordinary for people of their time, place, and social station. There is a small typo regarding Clementine's death date.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 months ago from Olympia, WA

      He was a remarkable human being, one of the great historical figures, but it was interesting to learn more about him as a husband and father. Well done, Mona, a great read!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. Your writing style is quite easy to read and this is a cool subject. I love the "what if's"

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 months ago from USA

      It’s so tragic what became of their elder children— suicide, drinking, divorces, much unhappiness. Their unhealthy parenting certainly didn’t help set the stage for healthy lives in their children.

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