"A permanent contribution to the history of our times."Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchillsby Mary Soames
Winston and Clementine Churchill wrote to each other constantly throughout the fifty-seven years of their life together, from the passionate and charming exchanges of their courtship until the year before Winston's death in 1965. Their letters provide rare and revealing insights into both the great political and social events of a turbulent century and the intimate… See more details below
Winston and Clementine Churchill wrote to each other constantly throughout the fifty-seven years of their life together, from the passionate and charming exchanges of their courtship until the year before Winston's death in 1965. Their letters provide rare and revealing insights into both the great political and social events of a turbulent century and the intimate world of an extraordinary partnership. Mary Soames, the only surviving child of this remarkable couple, has brought her parents to life as no biographer could. In moving detail we hear of Churchill's dramatic career and his final, deeply felt reflections on the fading of his enormous powers. And we hear Clementine, responding with her love and advice, and her belief in his destiny. Bringing these letters together for the first time, WINSTON AND CLEMENTIME is a surprising portrait of one of history's most significant figures.
New York Times
Winston Churchill is primarily known as the man who warned the world against (as he refers to him in these letters) "that gangster" Hitler, led the battle against the Nazis, and cut a charming figure as the cigar-smoking, top-coat-and-tails Prime Minister of England. Yet what is immediately striking about these letters is how, unburdened from the "proper complete detachment" of his public persona, Churchill reveals such vulnerability and tenderness. Beginning each letter to his wife with "my darling" and signing off with "ever devoted," he constantly expresses his love, need, and admiration in language that would put a poet to shame. And in another twist on stereotypes, Clementine is less doting nurturer than clever strategist. Avidly interested in politics, she expresses her own strong views and often challenges her husband's decisions, even going so far as to refuse to pass on a letter Winston wrote to Prime Minister Asquith because she believes it will bring her husband political doom. Her perceptive predictions about people and events are almost always borne out to be correct. One can understand why Churchill graciously admits: "I cannot tell you how much I treasure and count on your aid and counsel."
While Winston and Clementine were two of the most celebrated figures in England, they chose to lead a life which was less about power and wealth, and more about curiosity and adventure. First Lady Clementine has little time for place-settings and home decor, and instead sets off on numerous brave journeys -- chasing lizards in Indonesia, reporting on social conditions in the West Indies, and heading up a Red Cross center in Russia. Winston's dispatches also come from far beyond 10 Downing Street: He reads Pride and Prejudice in Marrakech, dines with Eisenhower in Tunisia, and meets up with President Roosevelt in Morocco. And while he reports his strategic meetings with men such as Mussolini and Stalin, his observations on famous non-political types are often his most amusing and witty. He finds the American media magnate Randolph Hearst to be "a grave simple child playing with the most nasty toys." After watching the glamorous French designer catch 50 salmon, he writes that "Coco Chanel is really a great and strong being fit to rule a man or an empire."
While these letters contain a trove of historical gems, they are most fascinating for their revelations of the 'secrets' of a truly equal and passionate marriage. Through the eyes of this poetic and perceptive couple, who never sink into arrogance or cruelty, we gain insight into great events and into the power of an enduring and faithful love.
Margot Towne is a freelance writer living in New York City.
The New York Times Book Review
The American Spectator
Julie Still, Rutgers University, Camden, NJ
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE
12 Bolton Street, W.
16 April 1908
I am back here for a night and a day in order to `kiss hands' on appointment, & I seize this fleeting hour of leisure to write & tell you how much I liked our long talk on Sunday, and what a comfort & pleasure it was to me to meet a girl with so much intellectual quality & such strong reserves of noble sentiment. I hope we shall meet again and come to know each other better and like each other more: and I see no reason why this should not be so. Time passes quickly and the six weeks you are to be abroad will soon be over. Write therefore and tell me what your plans are, how your days are occupied, & above all when you are coming home. Meanwhile I will let you know from time to time how I am getting on here in the storm; and we may lay the foundations of a frank & clear-eyed friendship which I certainly should value and cherish with many serious feelings of respect.
So far the Manchester contest has been quite Napoleonic in its openings & development. The three days I have been in the city have produced a most happy change in the spirits of my friends, & not less satisfactory adjustments of the various political forces. Jews, Irish, Unionist Free Traders the three doubtful elements wh were all alleged to be estranged, have come or are coming back into line, & I have little fear of their not voting solidly for me on Friday.
The Socialist candidate is not making much progress as he is deserted by the Labour party. He will however deprive me of a good many votes, and this is the most disquieting feature in a situation otherwise good and rapidly improving. Even with the risk that a contrary result may be proclaimed before this letter overtakes you, I must say I feel confident of a substantial success. Lady Dorothy' arrived of her own accord alone & independent. I teased her by refusing to give a decided answer about women's votes, she left at once for the North in a most obstinate temper. However on reading my answers given in public, back she came and is fighting away like Diana for the Greeks a vy remarkable lady in every respect. But my eye what a tyrant! Mind of marble calm, unerring, precise, ruthless in its logic devoid of flexibility a thing to admire, but not to bruise yourself against. Yet a dear!
I never put too much trust in formulas & classifications. The human mind & still more human speech are vy inadequate to do justice to the infinite variety & complexity of phenomena. Women so rarely realise this. When they begin to think they are so frightfully cock-sure. Now nature never deals in black or white. It is always some shade of grey. She never draws a line without smudging it. And there must be a certain element of give & play even about the most profound & assured convictions. But perhaps you will say this is only the sophistry of a political opportunist. Will you? Well I shall not mind, so that you say it in a nice letter to
Yours vy sincerely
Winston S. Churchill
Thursday 23 [April 1908]
Your letter found me here only yesterday Seemingly, our maid at home thought there was no hurry in forwarding letters if it were not for the excitement of reading about Manchester every day in the belated newspapers I should feel as if I were living in another world than the delightful one we inhabited together for a day at Salisbury Hall
All day long here, people are struggling to get well Many with absolute success as in the case of Nellie whom Mother & I carry off to Milan on the 30th. Most of the time there will have to be devoted to getting clothes for Nellie who after 9 months here looks like a suffragette after a hot scrimmage ...
I feel so envious of Dorothy Howard It must be very exciting to feel one has the power of influencing people, ever so little. One more day & we shall know the result of the Election I feel as much excited as if I were a candidate.
Lately I have felt as if I wanted something to keep the mind about which you say kind things to me, steady & balanced, so I studied every word of Lord Cromer to the very end But now I have begun your book so instinct with life & vitality This letter will reach you after the storm & stress of Manchester is over, otherwise I would not take up a minute of your time
I don't know if wishing & hoping can influence human affairs if so poor Joynson-Hicks!
Yours very sincerely
27 April 
I was under the dull clouds of reaction on Saturday after all the effort & excitement of that tiresome election, and my pen did not run smoothly or easily. This morning however I am again buoyant, and refreshed by a quiet & cheery Sunday here, I set myself to write you a few lines.
It was a real pleasure to me to get your letter & telegram. I am glad to think you watched the battle from afar with eye sympathetic to my fortunes. It was a vy hard contest & but for those sulky Irish Catholics changing sides at the last moment under priestly pressure, the result would have been different. Now I have to begin all over again probably another long & exhausting election. Is it not provoking!
The Liberal party is I must say a good party to fight with. Such loyalty & kindness in misfortune I never saw. I might have won them a great victory from the way they treat me. Eight or nine safe seats have been placed at my disposal already. From my own point of view indeed the election may well prove a blessing in disguise. It is an awful hindrance to anyone in my position to be always forced to fight for his life & always having to make his opinions on national politics conform to local exigencies. If I had won Manchester now, I should probably have lost it at the general election. Losing it now I shall I hope get a seat wh will make me secure for many years. Still I don't pretend not to be vexed. Defeat however consoled explained or discounted is odious. Such howls of triumph from the Tory Press; such grief of my poor friends & helpers; such injury to many important affairs. There is only one salve everything in human power was done.
We are having hateful weather here blizzards, frost, raw wind perfectly vile to everyone: ... How I wish I could get away to Florence & the sun. But here I am bound upon the wheel of things.
Lady Dorothy fought like Joan of Arc before Orleans. The dirtiest slum, the roughest crowd, the ugliest street corner. She is a wonderful woman tireless, fearless, convinced, inflexible yet preserving all her womanliness.
How I should have liked you to have been there. You would have enjoyed it I think. We had a jolly party and it was a whirling week. Life for all its incompleteness is rather fun sometimes.
Write to me again I am a solitary creature in the midst of crowds.
Be kind to me.
Yours vy sincerely
Sunday 3 May 
Your letter reached me just before we left Nordrach. Manchester was a horrible disappointment. But I am not surprised that the Liberal Party treated you as if you had won them a victory, for I am sure they felt that no one but you would have lost so few votes under the circumstances.
I hate to think of you having the fatigue and worry of another election.
We have not had any newspapers for 2 days so I don't know what is happening in Dundee or anywhere else. I have lost the thread. I do hope all is going as you wish
We have been here three days and after the bitter cold of Nordrach, it feels like Heaven. As a matter of fact the town is modern and not very interesting but the sun makes everything beautiful and happy Everywhere are the most gorgeous azaleas in full bloom....
Mother has a mania for buying animals wherever she goes It is most inconvenient when travelling In Paris she bought 2 Java sparrows from a boy in the street It was only by saying that she must choose between me & the sparrows that she consented to leave them behind Yesterday she wanted a little Italian mongrel, called a `lupetto' Fortunately the quarantine prevented that Today love-birds are the danger I have not yet thought of a good objection to them
Thursday we go to Florence. I do hope you will have a record majority
Yours very sincerely
After his rejection by the voters of North West Manchester, Winston soon found himself another seat Dundee, in Scotland where in early May he fought his third by-election, and this time won by a sizeable majority. He was to represent Dundee for fourteen years.
During June and July Winston and Clementine saw one another several times, but since in those days unmarried girls did not dine or lunch alone with men their meetings were confined to social occasions. They both had pre-arranged plans for the early part of the summer recess, but arranged to meet at Salisbury Hall in the middle of August. Meanwhile Clementine went to stay near Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, where she was a somewhat distrait guest at various balls and entertainments. Before the marriage of his younger brother Jack Churchill to Lady Gwendeline Berrie (always called `Goonie'), Winston went to stay at Burley-on-the-Hill at Oakham in Rutland, which had been rented by his cousins Freddie Guest and Henry Guest. In the early hours of 6 August a fire broke out after everyone had retired to bed, and a whole wing of the house was burned to the ground. Clementine, at Cowes, heard garbled reports about the fire and was frantic with worry until she read a full account of the event in The Times. Greatly relieved at the knowledge that Winston was unharmed (although he had played a leading part in rescuing pictures and other valuables from the conflagration), she cast discretion to the winds and telegraphed him her relief and joy.
7 August 1908
This is only to be a line to tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing you on Monday. But I have a change of plan to propose wh I hope you will like. Let us all go to Blenheim for Monday & Tuesday & then go on, on Wednesday to Salisbury Hall. Sunny [9th Duke of Marlborough, WSC's cousin] wants us all to come & my mother will look after you & so will I. I want so much to show you that beautiful place & in its gardens we shall find lots of places to talk in, & lots of things to talk about. My mother will have already wired you & Sunny will do so tomorrow. There will be no one else there except perhaps F. E. Smith and his wife.
Jack has been married to-day civilly. The service is tomorrow at Oxford: but we all swooped down in motor-cars upon the little town of Abingdon and did the deed before the Registrar for all the world as if it was an elopement with irate parents panting on the path. Afterwards we were shown over the Town hall & its relics & treasures quite considerable for so small a place & then back go bride & bridegroom to their respective houses until tomorrow. Both were `entirely composed' & the business was despatched with a celerity and ease that was almost appalling.
I was delighted to get your telegram this morning & to find that you had not forgotten me. The fire was great fun & we all enjoyed it thoroughly. It is a pity such jolly entertainments are so costly. Alas for the archives. They soared to glory in about ten minutes. The pictures were of small value, & many, with all the tapestries & about 1/2 the good furniture were saved. I must tell you all about it when we meet. My eyes smart still & writing is tiring.
It is a strange thing to be locked in deadly grapple with that cruel element. I had no conception except from reading of the power & majesty of a great conflagration. Whole rooms sprang into flame as by enchantment. Chairs & tables burnt up like matches. Floors collapsed & ceilings crashed down. The roof descended in a molten shower. Every window spouted fire, & from the centre of the house a volcano roared skyward in a whirlwind of sparks.... It is only the archives that must be mourned inconsolably. Poor Eddie Marsh lost everything (including many of my papers) through not packing up when I told him to. I saved all my things by making Reynolds [his manservant] throw them out of the window. It was lucky that the fire was discovered before we had all gone to sleep or more life might have been lost than one canary bird; & even as it was there were moments of danger for some.
Your telegram to my mother has just arrived.
It is my fault that the plan has changed. I thought it would be so nice to go to Blenheim, & I proposed it myself to Sunny. If you have a serious reason for not wishing to go there, I will telegraph to him in the morning & try to stop arrangements; but I fear he will already have asked F. E. Smith & his wife to balance us.
I do hope that your reluctance is only due to not quite understanding the change & fancying there was to be a great function or to very naturally requiring some more formal invitation; & not to any dislike of Sunny or harsh unfavourable judgement wh you have been led perhaps on imperfect information to form of him. He is my greatest friend, & it would pain me vy much if that were so. But I am sure it is not. Write & tell me all about it & about your days at Cowes; & what you have been thinking of; & whether you would have thought of me at all if the newspapers had not jogged your memory! You know the answer that I want to this.
8 August 
My dear I have just come back from throwing an old slipper into Jack's departing motor-car. It was a vy pretty wedding. No swarms of London fly-catchers. No one came who did not really care, & the only spectators were tenants & countryfolk. Only children for bridesmaids & Yeomanry with crossed swords for pomp. The bride looked lovely & her father & mother were sad indeed to lose her. But the triumphant Jack bore her off amid showers of rice & pursuing cheers let us pray to happiness & honour all her life.
I was vy glad to get your telegram this morning that you will come to Blenheim on Monday. There will be no one at all except my mother & the Smiths & Mr Clark my secretary of the Board of Trade, & the duke and his little son just blossomed, or rather poured into Eton jackets. You need have had no apprehensions, for I am as wise as an owl when I try, & never take steps of which I am not sure.
Here at Nuneham we have the debris of the wedding party & also of Burley on the Hill. The Harcourts are most kind & hospitable and are entertaining all sorts of aunts, cousins & nieces collected for the event. Among the former Leonie who brings me news from Cowes of a young lady who made a great impression at a dance four nights ago on all beholders. I wonder who it could have been!...
I shall go over to Blenheim quite early on Monday, & mind you come by the first possible train. It is quite an easy journey from Southampton to Oxford via Didcot. I will meet you at Oxford in a motor-car if you will telegraph to me here what time you arrive.
You have not distinguished yourself very much as a correspondent; for no line of your handwriting has as yet glinted from among my letter-bag. But I suppose you were waiting for me & I was hampered & hindered by Cruel Catastrophe. Alack!
Sunny made a charming speech after the breakfast & showed all his courtly address to the greatest advantage. I hope you will like my friend, & fascinate him with those strange mysterious eyes of yours, whose secret I have been trying so hard to learn. His life has been grievously mutilated, there are many to blame him not altogether without cause. But any clever woman whom he loved could have acquired a supreme influence over his nature & he would have been as happy as he now is sad.
He is quite different from me, understanding women thoroughly, getting into touch with them at once, & absolutely dependent upon feminine influence of some kind for the peace & harmony of his soul. Whereas I am stupid & clumsy in that relation, and naturally quite self-reliant & self contained. Yet by such vy different paths we both arrive at loneliness!
I think you will be amused at Blenheim. It has many glories in the fullness of summer. Pools of water, gardens of roses, a noble lake shrouded by giant trees; tapestries, pictures & monuments within. And on Wednesday we will motor on to Salisbury Hall to humbler if homelier surroundings. For the rest I will do what I can to divert the hours, when better company fails. Till Monday then & may the Fates play fair.
Saturday night 8 [August 1908]
I was so glad to get your delightful letter this morning I retired with it into the garden, but for a long time before opening it I amused myself by wondering what would be inside
I have been able to think of nothing but the fire & the terrible danger you have been in The first news I heard was a rumour that the house was burnt down That was all My dear my heart stood still with terror
All the same I did not need that horrible emotion to `jog my memory'
We all went to the ball the next night which I hated I was extremely odious to several young partners not on purpose, but because they would interrupt my train of thought with irrelevant patter about yachts, racing, the weather, Cowes gossip etc. So I was obliged to feign deafness
Please do not think there is any real reason for my not at first wanting to go to Blenheim. It was only a sudden access of shyness
We all went in a yacht to-day to a lovely place called Bembridge where most of the party played golf. I went on to Portsmouth to see Bill (my brother) who is laid up in hospital with very bad rheumatism I am rather worried about him He looked very pale & lonely....
Farewell till Monday Yours Clementine H.
The house party which assembled at Blenheim on Monday 10 August was composed of Winston and Lady Randolph Churchill, Clementine, the F. E. Smiths and Winston's Private Secretary.
Winston made an assignation with Clementine to walk in the rose garden the following morning after breakfast. He was (predictably) late, and Clementine (predictably) punctual was considerably ruffled by such cavalier behaviour; she seriously considered returning to London. The Duke, interpreting her mood, sent a sharp note upstairs to the dawdling Winston and, deploying all his charm, whirled Clementine off in his buggy for a tour of the park. On their return to the Palace, Winston was anxiously waiting.
That afternoon Winston and Clementine went for a walk and, overtaken by a shower, took refuge in the little Temple of Diana overlooking the Great Lake; there Winston proposed, and was accepted. Clementine enjoined secrecy upon him until she had told her mother, but as they returned to the house they met the Duke and other guests on the lawn; unable to contain his joy, Winston blurted out their happy news.
During the next few days the Blenheim maids and footmen were kept busy bearing notes up and down the long wide corridors.
[12 August 1908]
How are you? I send you my best love to salute you: & I am getting up at once in order if you like to walk to the rose garden after breakfast & pick a bunch before you start. You will have to leave here about 10.30 & I will come with you to Oxford.
Shall I not give you a letter for your Mother?
[12 August 1908]
I am very well Yes please give me a letter to take to Mother
I should love to go to the rose garden.
After both visiting Lady Blanche at her home, 51 Abingdon Villas, in Kensington, and obtaining her consent and blessing, all three travelled back to Blenheim the same afternoon.
Once more love notes flew along the corridors.
[undated, probably 13 August 1908]
My dearest I hope you have slept like a stone. I did not get to bed till 1 o'clock; for Sunny kept me long in discussion about his affairs wh go less prosperously than ours. But from 1 onwards I slept the sleep of the just, & this morning am fresh & fit. Tell me how you feel & whether you mean to get up for breakfast. The purpose of this letter is also to send you heaps of love and four kisses
Your always devoted
[undated, probably 13 August 1908]
I never slept so well & I had the most heavenly dreams
I am coming down presently Mother is quite worn out as we have been talking for the last 2 hours
Je t'aime passionément I feel less shy in French.
The engagement was announced on Saturday 15 August, and Winston and Clementine spent that weekend at Salisbury Hall, with Lady Randolph Churchill.
My beloved Get up! I want so much to see you. Let us go for a walk before lunch. I slept till 10.30! Several interesting letters have arrived wh I will show you. The sun shines bright, & my heart throbs to see you again -- sweet precious
Darling I am surrounded by millions of letters which I am trying to answer. I will be down in about an hour or a little more
I love you
12 Bolton Street
My dearest & most truly beloved
I send you the King's telegram wh I have dutifully answered.
There are no words to convey to you the feelings of love & joy by wh my being is possessed. May God who has given to me so much more than I ever knew how to ask keep you safe & sound.
[undated, probably August 1908]
I do long for you so much
I wonder how I have lived 23 years without you Everything that happened before about 5 months ago seems unreal I had a very tedious morning writing & writing till my fingers were cramped & inky After luncheon Uncle Berry [Mitford] said I needed some fresh air, so he took me & Uncle Algernon in his motor to Stratford where there were numberless Americans looking at Shakespeare's birthplace etc I fidgeted inwardly as I thought I should miss the post. However I am just in time to catch it and to tell you that I love you, but how much I shan't tell you you must guess.
Uncle Algernon likes you but is vexed to find how easily I have become a Liberal. He put me thro' a searching political catechism
Goodbye my dearest one.
51 Abingdon Villas
Thinking about you has been the only pleasant thing today.
I have tried on so many garments (all of which I am told are indispensable)....
My tailor told me he approved of you & had paid 10/6d to hear you make a speech about the war at Birmingham After that I felt I could not bargain with him any more....
I said nothing pleasant happened to-day but I was wrong Nellie came home. We were very glad to see each other again.
Dearest I was so happy driving with you last night to the station
I long to see you again Wednesday Thursday Friday 3 long days
Goodbye my darling I feel there is no room for anyone but you in my heart you fill every corner
Winston and Clementine were married at St Margaret's, Westminster, on 12 September 1908. Although it was the time of year when many people were away from London, the church was packed, and there was a large and enthusiastic crowd outside. The Bishop of St Asaph conducted the service, and the address was given by Bishop Welldon, Dean of Manchester Winston's former Headmaster at Harrow. The old bishop must have been something of a prophet; in his address he said:
There must be in the statesman's life many times when he depends upon the love, the insight, the penetrating sympathy and devotion of his wife. The influence which the wives of our statesmen have exercised for good upon their husbands' lives is an unwritten chapter of English history ...
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