Churchill, Clementine (1885–1977)

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Churchill, Clementine (1885–1977)

Political partner and wife of British prime minister Winston S. Churchill, remembered for her courage, compassion, and service during the dark hours of World War II. Name variations: Lady Clementine Churchill; Baroness Spencer-Churchill; (nickname) Clemmie. Born Clementine Ogilvy Hozier on April 1, 1885, in London, England; died at her home in London on December 12, 1977; daughter of Colonel (Sir) Henry Montague Hozier (a career military officer) and Lady Henrietta Blanche Ogilvy (daughter of the 10th earl of Airlie); educated at home, Berkhamsted Girls' School, and Sorbonne, Paris; married Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, on September 12, 1908; children: Diana (1909–1963); Randolph (1911–1968); Sarah (1914–1982); Marigold (died at age three); Mary (b. 1922).

Honored for World War I service by King George V (1918); lived with Winston at No. 10 Downing Street while he was prime minister (1940–45); appointed chair British Red Cross Aid to Russia (1939); elevated to rank of Dame, Grand Cross Order of the British Empire (1946); lived at No. 10 Downing Street as wife of the prime minister (1951–55); widowed (1965); created Baroness Spencer-Churchill (1966).

When Clementine Hozier was introduced to Winston S. Churchill at a dance, she was nonplussed: he stared at her without saying a word. Four years later, they married, and she became his ever-present partner in elections, conferences, ceremonies, and public appearances in the centers of world power. Her life with Winston was often difficult as he struggled in the political wilderness of the 1930s only to emerge as the century's greatest statesman. The perfect consort to deal with her husband's tempestuous career, energetic spirit, deep depressions, and fragile health, she was his "Clemmie," and she directed his home, advised him on his speeches, campaigned beside him, and lectured him on his health and work schedules as though he were a schoolboy. Winston would later write that he married Clemmie and lived happily ever after.

My marriage was the most fortunate and joyous event which happened to me in the whole of my life, for what can be more glorious than to be united in one's walk through life with a being incapable of an ignoble thought.

—Winston S. Churchill

Clementine Ogilvy Hozier was born on April l, 1885, at her parents' home on Grosvenor Street, Mayfair, London. She was the second daughter of Sir Henry Montague Hozier and Lady Blanche Ogilvy Hozier . Her father, a retired dragoon colonel, was the third son of the lord of Newlands and Mauldslie Castle, Scotland. Lady Blanche was a daughter of the 10th earl of Airlie. When Clementine was nine, her father resigned his commission to accept a position at Lloyd's; he also separated from his wife. Lady Blanche was left to care for Clementine and her three other children on a small allowance from her relatives. Clementine was educated at home by governesses and then attended Berkhamsted Girls' School in Hertfordshire and the Sorbonne in Paris. She was well read in English and fluent in both German and French. After her return from France, she lived with her mother in a rental house in Kensington and gave French lessons to supplement the family income.

Clementine's mother knew the Churchill family, including Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston's father. It was her friendship with Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie Jerome Churchill ) that led to the introduction of Clementine to the silent Winston at that dance in 1904. Four years later, they met again at a dinner party, struck up a friendship, and began an exchange of letters. Winston, a member of the Liberal Party, was seeking a new seat in Parliament to confirm his Cabinet appointment as president of the Board of Trade. Since he was seeking the seat in nearby Dundee, Scotland, the Hozier family provided support for his campaign. The correspondence continued, and Winston openly courted Clementine that summer. During a visit to Blenheim Palace, the Churchill ancestral home, he proposed to her in a Greek Temple during a rainstorm in August 1908. Both Jennie Churchill and Blanche Hozier were pleased with the match.

Their wedding, the social event of the season, took place at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, on September 12, 1908. Clementine wore a white ivory satin dress and a lace de Venise veil, which was held in place by a coronet of fresh orange blossoms loaned to her by Jennie. Over one thousand guests filled the church, including many dignitaries and members of the British Cabinet. The newlyweds honeymooned at Blenheim Palace and later at Lake Maggiore in Italy.

When the Churchills returned to London, they established their first residence at Eccleston Square, Westminster. Winston was nearly 34, and Clementine was 23. Their marriage, which endured for 57 years, produced five children: one son and four daughters. The early months of their marriage were distinguished by austerity and a distinct shortage of money that made them appear middle class to their friends. Both had been unhappy as children, and they now found happiness in their own private world. Winston received the love from Clementine so long denied to him from his often distant mother and relatives. Clementine found the dedication and love that she had missed from her absent father. She dedicated herself to both Winston and his career.

Clementine immediately accepted an active role in Winston's political life. Seldom far from her husband's side, she involved herself in his constituency and accepted the turbulence and excitement of election campaigns. She found time to hear him rehearse his important speeches and rarely missed being present when he delivered them in the House of Commons. Clementine did not hesitate to criticize him or rap his knuckles with a fork for sulking at the dinner table, and Winston would often turn to her after one of his eloquent oratories to ask if it was all right.

Life with Winston was difficult, and Clementine needed all her firmness of character and keen intelligence to cope with his fiery temperament, impetuous actions, and disregard for his own physical well-being. He resented the incompetence of others, criticism of his own policies, and lack of foresight in contemporary leaders. One of Clementine's greatest challenges was contending with his periods of deep depression that he called "the black dog." She would be largely responsible for keeping up his spirits during

the 1930s when he was virtually a prophet without honor as he warned about the threat of Fascism. Rather than argue with him, she often wrote notes explaining her views on the matter. She also had to deal with his unashamed propensity toward tardiness, often setting his bedside clock ahead to get him to places on time. Like a naughty boy, he found great delight in catching her advancing the clock.

Clementine was quite tall, fine featured, aristocratic and dressed with classic taste. Extremely athletic, she had played tennis at championship level during school days, loved horseback riding, croquet, hiking, and took up skiing at age 40. She was a talented organizer, capable administrator, gracious host, and competent public speaker. Her wit was extremely sharp, and she could be both caustic and warm in her public responses. She did not approve of all of Winston's friends, partly because she was reserved, and gave her friendship and trust carefully. She also felt that many of them, such as Lord Beaverbrook, did not have Winston's best interests at heart.

During the pre-World War I era, in addition to running the home and raising their young family, Clementine had often made non-political speeches for charities, fund-raising events, and public dedications. During the First World War, she organized and chaired, under the auspices of the Young Mens' Christian Association, canteens for the munitions workers in London. For her service, she was created a Commander Order of the British Empire by King George V. She solidly supported and shared the anguish Winston felt following his resignation as lord of the admiralty after the failure of the Dardanelles campaign. Singly, she maintained their home while her husband served as an officer on the front lines in France.

Winston returned to the Cabinet before war's end as munitions minister, but, following a change of political tide in England and appendicitis during the 1922 campaign, he was out of Parliament for two years. During this time, he used the proceeds from his lucrative writing to purchase Chartwell Manor, near Westerham, Kent. Although Winston loved Chartwell until his death, Clementine was never fond of the sprawling estate. During the period between the two wars, the Churchills were financially strapped, making Clementine's management of the large and expensive Chartwell very difficult.

Clementine was at heart a staunch and sincere liberal in politics. Although disappointed when Winston rejoined the Conservative Party in 1924, she remained unwaveringly at his side publicly. While she worked for him in his district, she never gave up her independent views. But, no matter how critical or outspoken she was to him in private, she put her loyalty to Winston above all else. From the beginning, she was a dedicated mother, but she delegated the care and education of her children to others so that Winston could receive her full attention.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Clementine, now wife of the first lord of the admiralty, once again took up volunteer work for the war effort. From 1940 to 1946, she served as chair of the Council of the Fullmer Chase Maternity Hospital for the Wives of Junior Officers. From 1941 to 1947, she was president of the Young Women's Christian Association War Time Fund. She was also a member of the advisory committee of the British War Relief Society of America in 1942 and director of the Knitted Garments for the Royal Navy Organization. Her major volunteer contribution during the war was as chair of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund. Popularly known as "Mrs. Churchill's Fund," the organization under her leadership raised nearly £8 million. In 1945, Clementine journeyed to Moscow as a guest of the Russian Red Cross to visit several of the hospitals aided by her work. During her visit, she traveled extensively to Stalingrad, Leningrad, and other cities with the Red Cross, was received by Premier Joseph Stalin, delivered a message from Winston to Stalin over Moscow Radio, and on May 7 was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour by N.M. Shverkin on behalf of the Supreme Soviet. While there, she learned of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Germany's surrender.

Clementine had moved to No. 10 Downing Street in May 1940 when Winston accepted the burden of leadership as wartime prime minister. In addition to her numerous volunteer efforts, she had the responsibilities of Britain's political "first lady." She brought to her new residence her serene charm, outstanding courage, and years of experience as a hostess. She accompanied Winston on his inspection tours of bombed British cities and once, when bombs were falling, told a friend to simply ignore them. While looking after the prime minister's health, she accompanied him on many of his important wartime trips, including the 1942 trip to the Quebec conference to meet with Roosevelt, and subsequent missions to Washington, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.

In the July 1945 general election, Winston's Epping district was partitioned, and he sought re-election to Parliament in the division of Wanstead and Woodford. Clementine enthusiastically toured the constituency, often holding an umbrella over her husband's head, and delivered six speeches on behalf of Winston on the eve of the election. Winston won his seat by a large margin, but the nation provided a landslide for the Labour Party, which replaced him with Clement Attlee as prime minister. Although Winston was deeply disappointed, Clementine privately felt that his health would benefit from the removal of such heavy burdens of office.

Clementine's general health had also suffered during the war. Winston, now leader of the Opposition, continued to place many demands on her. They were also celebrities who were admired not only by the British but throughout the world. On the King's Birthday Honor List announced June 12, 1946, Clementine was elevated to the title of Dame, Grand Cross Order of the British Empire, and characteristically asked the monarch if she could still be known as Mrs. Churchill. During the same month, she was awarded an honorary LL.D. from Glasgow University and the honorary D.C.L. from Oxford.

In the autumn of 1951, Winston led the Conservatives back to power, and he and Clementine returned to the prime minister's residence. Like her husband, she viewed his return to power as a vindication for the 1945 election, but she also viewed his victory with trepidation because of his advanced age and problematic health. When Winston was to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953, he was unable to attend because of the Big Three Conference in Bermuda. Swedish authorities, choosing to disregard protocol, specifically requested that Clementine, rather than the British ambassador, represent Winston at the Stockholm ceremonies. Elegantly dressed with a diamond tiara crowning her white hair, Clementine performed so brilliantly that nearly 1,000 Swedish students serenaded her with the song "Clementine" at the ball following the awards.

Winston Churchill suffered a stroke in June 1953. Although not his first stroke, the severity led many to doubt that he could continue as prime minister. Once again, Clementine consoled him and directed his recovery. After two more years of active politics, he resigned as prime minister on April 5, 1955. The evening before his departure, Clementine and Winston entertained Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Phillip, at Downing Street. Although Winston retained his seat in Parliament until 1964, life for both of them slowed considerably.

Freed from the burdens of leadership, the Churchills spent more time at Chartwell with their grandchildren and extended family—pets and racing horses. Winston pursued his interest in painting, while Clementine began to enjoy Chartwell for the first time. Because Winston had arranged for the estate to become a National Trust for the public, Clementine began to make major improvements so that it would reflect the history and beauty that it represented. Although Winston's health was poor, they traveled to France, the Riviera and took several cruises with their old friends. But the last decade of Winston's life was not congenial for him; his enjoyment had been drained away by his many strokes. Clementine's health was also failing, and she had some hospital stays for her nerves and anxiety. When Winston Churchill died on January 24, 1965, following a severe stroke, he was in his 91st year.

The entire nation rallied to Clementine with a sincere and abiding sympathy. During the great pageantry and ceremony of the state funeral, she presented a figure of tremendous dignity and poise. Everyone admired her resolve to actively continue life as she had lived it before Winston's death. She made the final preparations for Chartwell's National Trust status, sold their Hyde Park Gate apartment, and moved into a smaller apartment in Prince's Gate. With her beloved Winston at rest, her health improved. In May 1965, a lifetime peerage was conferred on Clementine, and she took the title of Baroness Spencer-Churchill of Chartwell. Though Spencer Churchill had been Winston's family name, he had never used the hyphen. She attended the House of Lords' sessions until deafness rendered her attendance pointless. Until the year before her death, she was also a regular participant at Westminster Abbey for the Service of Thanksgiving commemorating the Battle of Britain. As her classic looks were refined with age, she was a striking figure at the Abbey, dressed in black with her row of medals displayed on her dress.

Churchill, Mary (1922—)

Youngest of the Churchill daughters. Name variations: Lady Soames. Born in 1922; youngest daughter of Winston and Clementine Churchill; married British politician, Christopher Soames; children: five.

During World War II, Mary Churchill worked for the Red Cross and the Auxiliary Territorial Service in Britain; she also accompanied her father as an aide on several of his conferences overseas. In 1946, she married Christopher Soames, who was subsequently a Member of Parliament for 16 years. The Soames were then assigned by the British government to posts on the Continent, where Christopher served first as ambassador to Paris and then as vice president of the European Commission in Brussels. Mary was a vice president of the Church Army and served as United Kingdom chair of the International Year of the Child, 1979. The couple have five children and live in Hampshire. Mary Soames wrote of her mother and father in her book Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979).

Clementine Churchill died suddenly of a heart attack at her home on December 12, 1977, at age 93. Of her five children, only two survived her: Sarah Churchill , the actress, who was born in 1914, and Mary , wife of British politician Christopher Soames, born in 1922. A daughter, Marigold, born in 1918, had died of pneumonia at three years of age. Diana Churchill , born in 1909, had died in 1963, and Clementine's only son Randolph, born in 1911, had died in 1968. Special services for Clementine Churchill were held in Westminster Abbey on January 24, 1978, the 13th anniversary of her husband's death. Five weeks earlier, on December 15, 1977, her ashes had been laid to rest in Sir Winston Churchill's grave at Bladon Church near Blenheim Palace.


Fishman, Jack. My Darling Clementine: The Story of Lady Churchill. NY: David McKay, 1963.

Gilbert, Martin. Churchill: A Life. NY: Henry Holt, 1991.

Moran, Lord. Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940–1965. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1966.

Soames, Mary. Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1979.

——. Family Album. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1982.

suggested reading:

Blake, Lord, and C.S. Nicholls, eds. Dictionary of National Biography 1971–1980. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Bonham-Carter, Violet. Winston Churchill: An Intimate Portrait. NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1965.

Candee, Marjorie Dent, ed. Current Biography, 1953. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1954.


Most of Clementine Churchill's papers are in The Baroness Spencer-Churchill Collection owned by the Sunday Times/ Thompson Trust.

Phillip E. Koerper , Professor of History, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama

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Churchill, Clementine (1885–1977)

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