Born Clementine Hozier on 1 April 1885, the woman who was to become Winston Churchill’s wife came from straightened circumstances. Her parents seperated when she was young, and she grew up in Britain and France, her mother unable to afford the university education recommended by her teachers. Like Winston, Clementine Churchill had aristocratic blood, though it seems possible that she was illegitimate.
They first met when she was nineteen, and Churchill a twenty-nine year old MP, noted for his radical views and wartime adventures. The occassion was a dance, at which the rather gauche Churchill failed to impress. Four years later they sat together at a dinner, and matters turned out very differently. Clementine had been engaged several times before, always to older men. The romance with Churchill might now be described as ‘whirlwind’: within a month he had proposed, while taking shelter from a rainstorm in a folly at Blenheim Palace.
Even so, the marriage might never have taken place. Clementine was furious when she learnt that Churchill had visited twenty-one year old Violet Asquith in Scotland, to tip her off about their engagement. It seemed that there had been some kind of romance between Churchill and Violet. After learning about Churchill’s engagement, Violet became depressed and unstable.
Clementine balanced a keen political intellect with a love of children and family life and a talent for offering her husband the support he needed. She was never frightened to speak (or write) her mind. When Winston was in the trenches during 1916, the politcal Clementine urged him to stay – it would reflect well on him, while the loving wife craved his return to safety. In 1936 they argued furiously about the abdication of Edward VIII, Clementine recognising that Churchill’s position was hopelessly out of touch with the mood of the nation. She was also totally opposed to another term of office in 1951 – a view which although ignored, was astute and prescient.
As a mother, Clementine was devoted, but at times inflexible. She was to envy her daughter Mary’s warm and relaxed relationship with her own children in years to come. She was also a woman who worried. With Winston, there were always financial concerns, despite his high earnings from writing. Before living at Chartwell they never quite settled either, and she fretted about the move from one house to another. Then there was his drinking and his gambling, and towards the end of his life, his health. Seemingly stoical, all of these challenges took their toll on Clementine.
(Pictured: Clementine Churchill with Eleanor Roosevelt, 11 September 1944).
Clementine Churchill worked hard throughout her life. Modern critics might argue that she sacrificed herself in order to support her husband, though values during her era were different. She ran his household for him, and brought up his children. It was Clementine to whom he would turn when an important dinner party needed to be arranged in a hurry. Later, as the prime minister’s wife, she took on significant public duties, with the ‘Mrs Churchill’s Fund’ being the most famous. Yet as far back as the First World War she had been involved in voluntary work.
There are aspects of Clementine Churchill’s personal life which are less well known. In 1918, perhaps worried about the family budget, she secretly discussed the possibility of giving her new born child to General Hamilton and his wife Jean. Winston was never told about the deal, which came to nothing. Although strong and loyal, she became enfatuated with an art dealer during the 1930’s; some have alleged an affair, but the balance of historic opinion is that the realtionship was platonic.
After her husband’s death in 1965, Clementine Churchill became a cross-bench member of the House of Lords. Increasing deafness meant that she was unable to devote as much time to politics as she had hoped – she had always had strong convictions. She enjoyed a quiet retirement, based on her immediate family, succumbing to a sudden heart attack on 12 December 1977 while at home.
See also article on Randolph Churchill, father to Winston.