From the Publisher
"One might wonder whether anything fresh remains to be said about Winston Churchill; but Roy Jenkins uniquely combines the skills of a master biographer with the insights of a practical politician and draws a fresh portrait of the great Englishman with authority, elegance and wit. This is far and away Churchill's best one-volume biography."—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
"Roy Jenkins is a premier historian in our time. Thus, his wonderful work on Gladstone and, especially for Americans, his greatly engaging account of the life of Harry Truman and his wholly unexpected achievements. And much else and now Churchill. No public figure has been so amply and (by himself) so devoutly covered as Churchill. And none more in need of the amplification, revision and correction here offered. That this should be done by a writer and international public citizen who is also a talented political leader and a university chancellor is truly a gift of our time."—John Kenneth Galbraith
"[A] beautifully written book . . . [If it] has no fresh evidence or interpretation, it has something more valuable in a biographyan instinctive feel for the subject . . . Politics and history were at the centre of [Churchill's] concerns for the best part of a century; the same is almost true of Lord Jenkins . . . Jenkins comes closer than any of the previous . . . biographers to capturing the essence of Churchill . . . Political experience at the highest levels qualifies Jenkins to write a magisterial biography peppered with useful insights, but this is not the only quality that makes it worth reading. Age provides a perspective. Jenkins is particularly good at spotting the element of urgency in Churchill's early career . . . [I]n 1940 events transmuted Churchill's defects into gold . . . In 1940, he was the essential man . . . Lord Jenkins ... is a great believer in rankings, so it would be appropriate to finish by awarding this biography an alpha-straight or minus . . . Macaulay himself could not have done a better job."—John Charmley, The Guardian (UK)
"Like his subject, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead is an outstanding biographer, autobiographer and journalist . . . Liveliness and wit are common to both men, but Jenkins has a subtle irony, often at his own expense, which is not much in Churchill's style. To have written this book at all in a little over two years must f0be judged an astonishing tour de force. Though Jenkins completed his eighth decade before completing it, it does not read as the work of an old man; it has the narrative power, sweep and sparkle of the author in his prime. Inside knowledge of politics is everywhere in evidence and the book is full of intriguing allusions to history before and after the Churchillian period . . . The tone is . . . warmly admiring and sympathetic but definitely not hagiographic."—John Grigg, The Times (London)
"What new light can Jenkins's biography of Churchill shed on a subject that might already seem overresearched, overwritten and overpublished? The answer does not lie in the evidence as such . . . What is superior about this biography is the insight it brings to the sources . . . [Jenkins'] probing ruminations . . . are erudite, subtle and revealing. He has a gift for posing fruitfully unexpected questions, often displaying a degree of empathy with his subject bred by common experience . . . The imperatives of party politics and political manoeuvre are always remembered and deftly brought out . . . The distinctive second string to Jenkins' bow is . . . his ability to span the worlds of politics and literature like no other significant British politician since Churchill himself."—Peter Clarke, The Sunday Times (London)
"[A] first-class, well-sustained work of history and a masterpiece of biography . . . almost every single one of these 912 pages boasts a sagacious judgement or a fine epithet . . . as much a work of literature as of history . . . The 12 chapters on the Second World War occupy less than a quarter of the book, but could easily be published on their own. Jenkins makes the military issues easily intelligible, with good phraseology and vivid imagery . . . To have written this splendid book at the age of 80 in only a little over two years is a simply astonishing achievement . . . the greatest political story of the 20th century is presented in a more elegant, engaging and consistently fair way than ever before. Of all the very many biographies of Winston Churchill that have been written, this one is the best."—Andrew Roberts, Sunday Telegraph (London)
"Jenkins ... is at his inimitable best on Churchill's relations with the vast variety of people he had to live and work with ... rich in agreeable stories and digressions."—Geoffrey Best, The Evening Standard (London)
"[M]agnificent ... Jenkins ... a creature of the system that nurtured Palmerston and Disraeli, Gladstone, Asquith and Lloyd George ... now nearly 81, is utterly at home in a landscape that other biographers might find intimidating, even incomprehensible ... The book's enduring strength lies in the breadth of its sympathy ... Churchill is a life brilliantly reflected in the mirror of its author's personality and experience. Having warned his readers of his conviction that 'great men have strong elements of comicality in them', he presents his subject - part self-centered celebrity, part workaholic journalist, part political chatterbox - as both a character obsessed, even maddened, by the sense of his own destiny, and also as a writer-orator who would sacrifice almost anything for an eye-catching phrase or a crowd-pleasing period ... Jenkins's effortless selection of the choicest timber from acres of historiographical forest gives his portrait great freshness and originality ... The year 1937, in other respects, is a low point for Churchill. Out of office, in trouble with his constituency, visibly ageing ...and deeply at odds with ... public opinion, he seemed to be what in fact he had become, ...a has-been. And yet, within two years, by the most extraordinary chain of events, he had emerged to lead his country through its battle with Nazism and himself to his rendezvous with destiny ... Jenkins gets the balance of the Second World War just right ... By the time Jenkins writes 'finis' to this astounding performance, he has triumphantly vindicated his closing verdict that Churchill was the 'greatest Prime Minister of the twentieth century ... This is the biography of the year."—Robert McCrum, The Observer
"This is a splendid addition to Churchillian lore, a chronicle chock-full of revealing personal anecdotes, delightful wartime vignettes and fascinating new insights into the critical 1939-45 years. . . . Jenkins skillfully pulls together the varied strands of Churchill's career, giving us a sweeping and penetrating portrait."—Paul Duke, The Baltimore Sun
"Churchill is such a protean personality that his life still yields wonders on every page . . . hugely entertaining and instructive."—John Campbell, The Independent Weekend Review
"Jenkins gives a gripping account of the Crisis Cabinet meetings of May 1940 . . . There are moments when Jenkins makes Churchill sound almost contemporary, claiming that he had 'the gift of communicable emotion' (more Clinton than Bush). But overall the book shows that even in the Forties Churchill was a throwback to an earlier age."—Mick Hume, Play
"A rich, wonderful and compulsively readable book . . . [a] marvellous study."—Ben Pimlott, Financial Times
"Not much room for doubt about which is the political biography of the year-Roy Jenkins's Churchill carried all before it."—Anthony Howard
"I'm halfway through Roy Jenkins's Churchill0 —even better than his Asquith."—Peter Hall, The Observer Review, "Books of the Year"
"My most enjoyable literary experience of 2001 was the 10 days or so I spent in the company of Roy Jenkins's Churchill—a biographical dream-ticket if there ever was one. It combines academic authority with some very good jokes, first-hand political experience with a sympathetic imagination, and grand strategy with intimate domestic detail. I also, as a general principle, warmly approve of writers who produce their best books at the age of 80, on the grounds that they provide hope for the rest of us."—Robert Harris, The Observer Review, "Books of the Year"
Winston Churchill became a historical icon by virtue of his strength and courage as Great Britain's leader during World War II. From childhood, he prepared himself for the day when he would play a dynamic role in his nation's history. How did he achieve that amazing goal? Eminent British historian Roy Jenkins has written a marvelous biography of the man who most famously said, "Never, never, never, never give up."
Roy Jenkins's quirky but mostly admiring life of Winston Churchill serves up the vanity with the glory, and the fudge with the facts.
Los Angeles Times
Roy Jenkins's Churchill is thorough and straightforward, overlong but authoritative.
Eleven years ago I began sharing with the readers of this space my insights on some of the books I read during summer "vacation." Summers have expanded because of my somewhat lighter load of FORBES traveling, speaking and columns. In short, "summer" reading now goes on most of the year, particularly during long flights to Asia, of which there are still several each year.
First I call your attention to 2001's Churchill, a Biography--by Roy Jenkins (paperback: Plume, $18). Of all the works on Winston Churchill (and the list of books about him is approaching the length of the list of Abraham Lincoln biographies), I would nominate Jenkins' biography as one of the best--although William Manchester's unfinished study is great, too.
Jenkins, who performed similar services for prime ministers William Ewart Gladstone, Herbert Henry Asquith and Stanley Baldwin, as well as for others of historic significance, was superbly gifted with experi-ence (50 years at or near the top of British and European politics) and had the opportunity to observe Churchill during the 16 years they served together in the House of Commons. Jenkins' recent death has deprived us of the further biographies we were all anticipating.
Churchill is, on the whole, admiring, but it is certainly no hagiography. The last sentences disclose the fairness and the fullness of this great biography: "When I started writing this book I thought that Gladstone was, by a narrow margin, the greater man, certainly the more remarkable specimen of humanity. In the course of writing it I have changed my mind. I now put Churchill, with all his idiosyncrasies, his indulgences, his occasional childishness, but also his genius, histenacity and his persistent ability, right or wrong, successful or unsuccessful, to be larger than life, as the greatest human being ever to occupy 10 Downing Street."
Next I want to call attention to two books that have two things in common: both are by Buckleys--father and son, respectively--and are therefore distinguished by first-rate writing, great narrative skill and a splendid appreciation of the historic and the comic.
Getting It Right--by William F. Buckley Jr. (Regnery, $24.95)--continues Bill Buckley's series of turn-ing the history (perhaps too narrow a canvas here) of 20th-century American politics into exciting novels. And, of course, the author himself is a participant in many of the incidents. In Getting It Right we see what Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, and the impressive, puzzling and enormously influential (for a short time) Ayn Rand were really like. Rand's novels about the beginning of the conservative movement rivaled the Harry Potter novels in sales. Now it's hard to know quite why, as Rand's writing was unexceptional. Probably her loss of fame is be-cause conservative thought and philosophies--so unusual at the time--have become so much a part of the conventional wisdom that her writings have lost their shock value. Welch and Rand had offshoots that had to be exorcised and dealt with before conservatism could be accepted. Buckley was the major force behind making conservatism appealing, un-derstandable and respectable.
Washington Schlepped Here--by Christopher Buckley (Crown Journeys, $16)--is an incredibly good guidebook to our nation's capital. Even the most ancient of Washington's cave dwellers who are reputed to know every-thing will have a lot to learn about their city from young Buckley. Christopher, a comparative newcomer, has mined the sources assid-uously, without ever losing his extra-ordinary comic talents. There are few--if any--better descriptions of the Freer Gallery of Art's Peacock Room. And I'd be surprised if many Lincoln scholars are familiar with Lincoln's cas-ual dismissal of criticism of the Gettysburg Address: "Men are not flattered by being shown that there has been a differ-ence of purpose between the Almighty and them." When it comes time for your children or grandchildren's school class to visit Washington, the best preparation they or anyone could have would be to read this book.
Then I read two too short books with similar themes: An Italian Affair--by Laura Fraser (Vintage Books, $12) and A Thousand Days in Venice--by Marlena de Blasi (Ballantine Books, $12.95). In both of these books an American woman, each an excellent book, has her dreams of romance in Italy come true--at least for a time. Ms. Fraser's book is far superior, probably because of a general lightheartedness and her obvious joy in her love affair. In both books, the local color and the descriptions of the mouthwatering Italian dishes are superb. These books are among the best recruiting weapons Italy's tourism authority could wish for.
And last I read a truly small, delightful book for dog lovers: Why Dogs Do That--by Tom Davis (Wil-low Creek Press, $13.95). An earlier Davis work, Just Goldens, chronicles the lives and skills of golden retriev-ers. Why Dogs Do That answers several puzzling questions, such as why dogs bury bones; why dogs insist on sleeping in bed with their masters; and why some dogs howl. (Sadly there's no reasonable explanation for the blood-curdling noises emitted occasionally--usually around midnight--by my golden retriever.) This book is a splendid addi-tion to dog lore. It should enable you to understand at least some of your dog's puzzling, but always lovable, behavior.
Winner of the Whitbread Prize for Gladstone (1997), Jenkins offers a bloated yet idiosyncratic and accessible life of England's greatest modern prime minister. Jenkins's wry wit and judgments of great men, untainted by awe, partly offset the fact that, as he admits, he has few new facts to add to an already exhaustively recorded life. Jenkins has a propensity for unnecessary French and curious adverbs (unfriendlily), adjectives (spistolatory) and nouns (peripherist) and is at his best exploring Churchill's three out-of-office "wilderness" periods and his writing jobs (requiring a staff of loyal, ill-paid researchers and secretaries to take his clangorous dictation), which helped support his expensive lifestyle. ("I lived in fact from mouth to hand," Churchill confessed.) But as the statesman's many decades wind down, the biographer himself seems to tire, resorting to a litany of itineraries. American audiences may be drawn to Jenkins's revisionist views of Churchill's relationships with Roosevelt, with whom he sees "more a partnership of circumstance and convenience than a friendship of individuals," and with Eisenhower, a "political general" who was "always a little cold for Churchill's taste, with the famous smile barely skin-deep." Jenkins is hard on Churchill for being soft on alleged mountebanks like Lord Beaverbrook. He dwells only briefly on Churchill's family affairs, aside from expressing skepticism about his reputedly warm marriage to Clementine; she often advised her husband wisely, but "managed to be absent at nearly all the most important moments of Churchill's life." Jenkins's judgments and the fact that he has boiled this eventful life down to a single volume will attractmany readers to this entertaining, though often exasperating study. 32 pages of photos and maps not seen by PW. (Nov.) Forecast: A main selection of both BOMC and the History Book Club, with a respected author, who will tour New York and Washington, D.C., and an iconic subject, the biography is guaranteed media attention and sales. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A British politician and author of over a dozen books, Jenkins (Gladstone) begins with an important question: given the extensive literature on Winston Churchill, is there anything left to add? Although Jenkins admits that he has not discovered any new factual information, this does not disqualify him from supplying useful insights into Churchill's career. As a veteran politician and administrator, Jenkins is well placed to evaluate Churchill's strengths and weaknesses as a cabinet-level official. For example, Jenkins asserts that Churchill's micro-management at the admiralty during the early months of World War I contributed to disaster, while his leadership at the Ministry of Munitions near the end of the war helped maintain a high level of production. Jenkins's coverage of World War II eschews facile generalizations and provides a detailed picture of Churchill's role as wartime leader, in particular his ability to hold things together during the period of 1940-41, when less confident men would have given up. Churchill fans will enjoy reading this book, while academics will likely stick to Norman Rose's Winston Churchill: The Unruly Giant (LJ 6/15/95). Recommended for larger libraries. Fred Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A thoughtful, comprehensive portrait of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's remarkable life. Lord Jenkins (Gladstone, 1997, etc.) adds to his reputation as England's foremost political biographer with this portrayal of Churchill's mercurial character and career. He carefully avoids the hero worship or demonization affected by many historians in favor of a balanced assessment of Churchill's work in literature and politics. The perennial statesman's authorial aspirations, Jenkins asserts, in addition to eventually winning him the Nobel Prize for Literature, also laid the rhetorical foundation for many of the last century's most memorable speeches. At the same time, his genius for oratory assured Churchill political positions in which he would have a profound impact on Great Britain's foreign and domestic policies. These twin ambitions, Jenkins argues, prepared Churchill for and eventually catapulted him into his most famous role as Britain's wartime prime minister after Neville Chamberlain's notorious appeasement of Adolf Hitler. In the aftermath of WWII, Churchill fell from power along with Britain's need for such a larger-than-life leader. The author devotes substantial space to Churchill's selfish attempts to hold onto the international prestige he had earned as England's wartime leader. His evenhanded analysis demonstrates the damage Churchill's political ambition wreaked on both his party and his own reputation. Even in light of Jenkins's inclusion of the politician's almost childlike idiosyncrasies, Churchill's infectious exuberance and tenacious spirit shine through, insuring that his legacy remains that of Britain's most impressive modern leader. While too many authors havechronicled Churchill's rich life for this to be considered truly definitive, Jenkins's inside perspective on British politics makes his work essential reading for those interested in Churchill's life and times. (32 pages b&w photos, maps) Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club main selection
Read an Excerpt
A Doubtful Provenance
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Churchill's provenance was aristocratic, indeed ducal, and some have seen this as the most important key to his whole career. That is unconvincing. Churchill was far too many faceted, idiosyncratic and unpredictable a character to allow himself to be imprisoned by the circumstances of his birth. His devotion to his career and his conviction that he was a man of destiny were far stronger than any class or tribal loyalty. There have been politicians of high duty and honour Edward Halifax and Alec Douglas-Home immediately spring to mind who did see life through spectacles much bounded by their landed background. But Churchill was emphatically not among them. Apart from anything else, he never had any land beyond his shaky ownership (and later only occupation) of the 300 acres surrounding Chartwell, the West Kent house only twenty-four miles from London which he bought in 1922 and just managed, with financial subventions from friends, to cling on to for the remaining four decades of his life.
The second reason was that the Marlborough heritage was not one which stood very high in esteem, record of public service or secure affluence. The family had a memorable swashbuckling founder in John Churchill, the victor in the first decade of the eighteenth century of the battles of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenaarde and Malplaquet, who acquired a fine mansion among other rewards. But even this first Duke, although he inspired Winston Churchill to write four resonant volumes of praise (and of refutation of the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay's criticism) just over 200 years after his death, was as famous for ruthless self-advancement as he was for martial prowess; and the house, as its name of Blenheim Palace implies and as its size-enhancing Vanburgh architecture was dedicated to achieving, was showy even by the standards of the time.
Subsequent holders of the dukedom contributed little distinction and much profligacy. In 1882, when the seventh in the line had been reached, Gladstone, who in general had an excessive respect for dukes, claimed that none of the Marlboroughs had shown either morals or principles. Certainly no lustre to the family name was added by the second, third or fourth Dukes. The fifth was a talented gardener, but he seriously dissipated the Marlborough fortune and had to abandon the fine subsidiary estate (now the site of Reading University) where he had exercised his botanical skills. The sixth was almost equally extravagant. The seventh, who was the father of Lord Randolph and hence the grandfather of Winston Churchill, made the nearest approach to respectability and a record of public service. He was an MP for ten years, Lord President of the Council under both Derby and Disraeli in 1867-8, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for the last four years of Disraeli's second government.
As a father this seventh Duke's record was at once more dramatic and more mixed. On the one hand he produced a two-generation dynasty which made the name of Churchill resound throughout Britain's national life in a way that it had not done since the death of the first Duke in 1722. On the other, the resonance, in the case of Lord Randolph, had a distinctly meretricious note to it. And Lord Randolph's elder brother was, in the words of an eminent modern historian, 'one of the most disreputable men ever to have debased the highest rank in the British peerage'. He appropriately bore the name of Blandford, the title of the Marlborough heir, for most of his relatively short life, during which he was expelled from Eton, got caught up in two sexual scandals, one of which involved him in a violent quarrel with the Prince of Wales (in which quarrel the fault may not have been unilateral), and sold off, as a short-term staunching operation, the formidable Marlborough picture collection. About his only constructive act was to install electric light and a rudimentary form of central heating at Blenheim. That was paid for by his second wife, who as a rich American provided sustaining dollars and began a strong Churchill family tradition of looking matrimonially westward. This example was followed by both his son, the ninth Duke, Winston Churchill's cousin and near contemporary, who married two transatlantic heiresses, and by his younger brother (Lord Randolph Churchill), who married one (Winston Churchill's mother). The fortune of the father of Lady Randolph was however a little precarious. Furthermore he was unwilling to contribute much of it to the sustenance of the Churchill family.
Since the eighth Duke there have been another three Marlboroughs. Of these subsequent three, while they rose somewhat above the level of the eighth Duke, it is difficult to find much that is positive to say. Winston Churchill's family background, while nominally of the highest aristocracy, was subtly inferior to that of a Cavendish, a Russell, a Cecil or a Stanley.
He was born on 30 November 1874 and, mainly by accident, at the very core of this slightly doubtful purple in Blenheim Palace, although in a singularly bleak-looking bedroom. The accident arose out of his being two months premature. He should have been born in January in the small but fashionable house in Charles Street, Mayfair which his father had rented to receive him, or more purposefully perhaps to use as a base for the somewhat rackety metropolitan life of which Lord Randolph and his bride of only seven and a half months' standing were equally fond. This house not being ready, they had taken autumn refuge in Blenheim, and, as Lord Randolph put it in a letter to his mother-in-law in Paris, 'She [Lady Randolph] had a fall on Tuesday walking with the shooters, and a rather imprudent and rough drive in a pony carriage brought on the pains on Saturday night. We tried to stop them, but it was no use.' Neither the London obstetrician nor his Oxford auxiliary could arrive in time, although it was over twenty-four hours to the birth from the onset of the labour pains, and the baby was born very early on the Monday morning with the assistance only of the Woodstock country doctor. Both mother and baby survived this paucity of attention perfectly healthily as did the local doctor, who whether as a result or not was able himself to migrate to a London practice a decade or so later.
Everything to do with Winston Churchill's arrival in the world was done in a hurry. Perhaps Lord Randolph's most remembered phrase (and phrases were his strongest suit) was his description of Gladstone as 'an old man in a hurry'. His own style was at least equally that of a young man in a hurry, almost in a constant frenzy of impatience, and perhaps rationally so, for, although thirty-nine years his junior, he predeceased Gladstone by three years. The hurry was pre-eminently true of his courtship of Miss Jennie Jerome. They first met at a Cowes regatta shipboard party on 12 August 1873 and became engaged to be married three days later.
There then intervened the only period of semi-stasis in the saga. The Jerome family were in fact a very suitable American family for a Marlborough alliance. Leonard Jerome was a New York financial buccaneer. Winston Churchill, in his still highly readable although hagiographic 1905 biography of his father, was to describe Jerome as having 'founded and edited the New York Times'. This owed more to family piety than to truth. Jerome had briefly in the course of some financial deals been a part proprietor of the Times. But what he was strong in was not newspaper publishing but horse racing, having founded both the Jerome Park track and the Coney Island Jockey Club. There was a touch of Joseph P. Kennedy about him. There was even a suggestion that he named his second daughter after Jenny Lind, the 'Swedish nightingale' (although the spelling was different), who was his current principal inamorata. He was pleased at the idea of this second daughter marrying an English duke's son (even if he was not the heir), but not to the extent of being willing, in the joke which John F. Kennedy was to make about his father's financing of the 1960 Presidential campaign, 'to pay for a landslide'. The seventh Duke was at first opposed to the whole idea of the union, being unimpressed by the uncontrolled precipitateness of his son's passion, and believing moreover that 'this Mr J. seems to be a sporting, and I should think vulgar kind of man', who was evidently 'of the class of speculators; he has been bankrupt twice; and may be so again'. Over the autumn the Duke was brought reluctantly to overcome these objections of principle by his son's determination. He was the first but by no means the last of the Marlboroughs to have to deal with the fathers of American heiresses and he set a pattern of believing that the least consuegros could do for the honour of such a noble alliance was generously to finance it.
There were however two difficulties. First, Leonard Jerome, true to the Duke's descriptions of the hazards of his occupation, was in a speculative downturn. He had been badly mauled by the plunge of the New York stock exchange of that year (1873). Second, he claimed to hold advanced New World ideas about the financial rights of married women. (This was before the British Married Women's Property Act of I882 gave women any property rights against their husbands.) The Duke assumed that whatever settlement could be obtained would be under the exclusive control of his son. Jerome thought it should be settled on his daughter. This led to a good deal of haggling which went on into the spring of 1874. Eventually a compromise was reached, by which Jerome settled a sum of £50,000 (approximately £2.5 million at present values), producing an income of £2,000 a year, with a half of both capital and income belonging to the husband and a half to the wife. The Duke settled another £1,100 a year for life on Randolph which gave the couple the equivalent of a present-day income of a little more than £150,000 a year, a sum which guaranteed that they would live constantly above their income and be always in debt.
As soon as this settlement was reached they were married, on 15 April 1874. It cannot be said that the wedding took place en beauté. It was not at Woodstock, or in a suitable London church, or a Fifth Avenue equivalent. It was in the British Embassy in Paris. The Jeromes attended and were among the very few witnesses, but neither Marlborough parent did; Blandford represented the family. However there was no ostracism at home. The couple were welcomed at Blenheim and in May were given a public reception in Woodstock, for which small family borough Lord Randolph had been first and fairly narrowly elected a member of Parliament at the general election of February 1874. He was twenty-five years of age at the time both of his election and of the birth of Winston Churchill. Jennie Churchill was twenty.
She had passed most of her adolescence in Paris, which Mrs Jerome appeared to prefer to New York, was considered a beauty and had already attracted much admiration before she met Lord Randolph. Her looks were undoubtedly striking, but what emerges most clearly from many photographs is that she quickly assumed an appearance which was hard, imperious and increasingly self-indulgent. Her performance as a wife, and indeed as a mother, was at least as mixed as that of the seventh Duke of Marlborough as a father. She and Randolph undoubtedly began upon a basis of mutual passion. Although they both liked a fashionable London life she accepted with calmness and even contentment the three years of virtual exile to Dublin which followed from her husband's 1876 quarrel (over a lady, but on his brother's, not his own, part) with the Prince of Wales. Her second son, Jack, was born in the Irish capital at the beginning of 1880. There has long been a strong suggestion that this boy had a different father from Winston Churchill, although this did not prevent the two brothers being close at various periods of their lives, notably in South Africa at the turn of the century and at the peak of Winston Churchill's career in the Second World War, when he accommodated the widowered Jack in 10 Downing Street. The most romantic candidate for alternative parenthood was Count Charles Kinsky, an Austrian diplomat of high aristocratic connection and of a proud elegance reminiscent of Sargent's portrait of Lord Ribblesdale. Lady Randolph was much taken up with him in the early and mid-1880s but the dates are wrong for giving him a procreative role; he did not arrive in London until 1881. If the legitimacy of Jack Churchill is challenged, a more likely candidate seems to be the Dublin-based Colonel John Strange Jocelyn, who succeeded his nephew as the fifth Earl of Roden later in the year 1880. He was thirty years older than Lady Randolph, but that was no necessary bar.
She looked after her husband rather well during a protracted illness which effectively took him out of politics from the spring to the autumn of 1882, and very well during the last tragic three years or so of disintegration before his death at the beginning of 1895. But the couple were effectively estranged over much of the 1880s, including the years of his short political apogee. She, like Queen Victoria, did not know of his disastrous 1886 resignation from the Chancellorship of the Exchequer until she read it in The Times. During these years she had many suitors, more than a few of them probably lovers. They included apart from those mentioned, the Marquis de Breteuil, Lord Dunraven, the French novelist Paul Bourget and King Milan of Serbia. George Moore, the Anglo-Irish novelist, said she had 200 lovers, but apart from anything else the number is suspiciously round. She claimed to have firmly rejected the overtures of Sir Charles Dilke, which however did not prevent Lord Randolph, who appeared mostly to be more tolerant, from attempting to assault him.
After Lord Randolph's death her choice of partners became more bizarre as well as more public. In 1900, at the age of forty-six, she insisted on marrying George Cornwallis-West, a Scots Guards subaltern who was twenty years her junior. The marriage lasted fourteen years before ending in divorce. Cornwallis-West clearly had considerable drawing power, for he then married Mrs Patrick Campbell. Three years later Lady Randolph made a third marriage to Montague Porch, an hitherto quiet Somerset country gentleman who had been a Colonial Service officer in Nigeria and who was even younger than Cornwallis-West. She died in 1921, aged sixty-seven. Porch survived until 1964.
Was Jennie Churchill a better mother than a wife? Her elder son's most famous comment on their early relationship sounds a note at once admiring and wistful. After citing an adulatory passage (in which the most striking phrase was nonetheless 'more of the panther than of the woman in her look') written by the future Lord D'Abernon after first seeing her during the Irish period, Winston Churchill commented: 'My mother made the same brilliant impression upon my childhood's eye. She shone for me like the Evening Star. I loved her dearly but at a distance.' This was in My Early Life (that is up to 1906) which he published in 1930, and is probably the most engaging of all his books, using a light and sparkling note of detached irony. The fact that these sentences were written and published nearly fifty years after the period to which they refer gives them a greater not a lesser validity.
They are moreover borne out by the correspondence of the period. Throughout his two years at his first preparatory school (St George's, Ascot, which appears from the disparately independent testimonies of Churchill himself and of the art critic Roger Fry to have been a place of appalling brutality even by the flogging standards of the age), his subsequent three and a half years at a much gentler Brighton establishment, and then his nearly five years at Harrow, there is a constant hoping for visits which did not take place, of wishing for more attention in the future, and of being shunted around rather than of being automatically welcomed at home for short or long holidays.
The forms of letter address are also interesting. Churchill most frequently began his 'My darling Mummy' and ended more variously. A fairly typical second-year Harrow example was 'Good Bye, my own, with love I remain, Your son Winston S Churchill'. She habitually wrote to him, not too infrequently but mostly shortly, 'Dearest Winston' and ended 'Yr loving Mother JSC'.
There were two competitors for writing to him at least equally or more affectionate letters. The first was the Countess of Wilton, in the relevant years a lady in her mid- to late forties, who wrote often, mostly starting 'Dearest Winston' and ending, more significantly 'With best love, Yr ever affecte, deputy mother, Laura Wilton'. The other was Churchill's nurse, Mrs Everest, who was engaged to look after him (and later his brother Jack) within a month or so of his birth. Elizabeth Everest was from the Medway Towns, and one of her lasting influences was to make Churchill feel that Kent was the best county in England. She would have approved (more than Clementine Churchill did) of his acquiring Chartwell twenty-seven years after her death. Before coming to the Churchills she had looked after the small daughter of a Cumberland clergyman, whom Winston retrieved after twenty years to join him at her graveside.
Mrs Everest obviously possessed among other attributes great descriptive power, for she made life in that northern parsonage so vivid to Churchill that, although vicarious, it was one of his most permanent early memories. There is no evidence that a spousely Mr Everest had ever existed, so that her 'Mrs' was purely honorary, like that of many a housekeeper of the period. Although she had a sister (who was married to a prison warder in the Isle of Wight), to whose house she once took Winston to stay, thus giving him, it has been suggested, his only experience of humble life, she was able to concentrate almost all her affection upon the two Churchill boys. She was the central emotional prop of Winston's childhood, and mutual dependence continued throughout his adolescence. The Randolph Churchills had not kept her on after the end of Jack's childhood, but Winston at least maintained strong contact and visited her several times in her final illness.
Mrs Everest's letters to Churchill typically began (21 January 1891, when he was sixteen) 'My darling Winny' and ended 'Lots of love and kisses Fm your loving old woom'. A typical topping and tailing from him to her (from Harrow, July 1890) was 'My darling Old Woom' and 'Good Bye darling, I hope you will enjoy yourself, with love from Winny'. One other person who used 'Winny' (or 'Winnie') was Count Kinsky. On 5 February 1891 he wrote a letter from the Austro-Hungarian Embassy in Belgrave Square of which the content, as well as the salutations, was not without interest: 'I am sending you all the stamps I could scrape together for the moment. Do you want some more later on? If so say so. How is your old head? I hope all right again. I am off to Sandringham tomorrow until Monday. If I have a good thing racing you shall be on. I am going to lunch with Mama now so must be off. Be a good boy and write if you have nothing better to do ... Yours ever, CK'.
Winston Churchill's non-relationship with his father was even more wistful than was his semi-relationship with his mother. Lord Randolph was too exhilarated by politics during his period of success and too depressed by them (and by his health) during his decline to have much time for parenthood. It is one of the supreme ironies that now, more than a century after his death, he should be best known as a father. In life it was always an intensely personal fame, sought and achieved, which was his forte, just as parenthood or any other form of domestic activity certainly was not. The most poignant comment on Winston Churchill's relations with his father is that which he is reported to have made to his own son, another and by no means wholly satisfactory Randolph, in the late 1930s, when that Randolph was twenty-six or twenty-seven. They had a long and maybe fairly alcoholic dinner together, alone at Chartwell. Towards the end Churchill said: 'We have this evening had a longer period of continuous conversation together than the total which I ever had with my father in the whole course of his life.'
Excerpted from CHURCHILL by Roy Jenkins. Copyright © 2001 by Roy Jenkins. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.