DESCENDANT OF DUKES
Winston Churchill, three times Prime Minister of England, was born at Blenheim Palace, the Churchill family home which lies in the heart of England, eight miles from the City of Oxford. It was a fitting birthplace for one who was to make English history, with traditions going back long before the Churchills came.
Here, in ancient times stood the palace of Woodstock, with the bower built for Fair Rosamond by King Henry II. It gave the name to one of Sir Walter Scott's romances of which Fair Rosamond's well was a reminder long after the medieval palace had crumbled into ruins. A new tradition began when the place was granted by Queen Anne to her illustrious commander, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, to be the house of his heirs forever. Parliament added a sum of just under a half-million pounds for the building of the grandiose mansion that stands amid a park thirteen miles round.
Here down the generations, seven dukes passed their lives with varying degrees of credit to themselves and service to the state. Here Lord Randolph, son of the seventh Duke brought his bride, the American beauty, to make her home with her mother-in-law. And here Lord Randolph's heir was born.
He was impetuous at birth, impatient to begin the business of living, by the calendar a seven-and-a-half-month child. His mother was taken unawares. There was a small party that evening at which Lady Randolph was dancing, when she found it necessary to withdraw. Her room was many stately apartments and corridors distant and she had no time to reach it. The baby was born in a small cloak room on the ground floor amid the coats and cloaks of the women dancers.
"Most unconventional" remarked the Duchess, which we, with after knowledge would change to "most characteristic," for this was the arrival of one who would disdain the common path and would never wait upon time. So to the world of fashion The Times of London made the announcement: "On the 30th of November at Blenheim Palace, the Lady Randolph Churchill, of a son." The bells rang out a peal from Woodstock Church and there was rejoicing that the line of Marlborough was provided for to the third generation. The child received the names of Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill each of which, together with the hyphen, told of his ancestral past.
Consider first the "Churchill", the name that will ring down the corridors of the ages. They were a West-of-England family, associated with the village in East Somerset that lies at the foot of the Mendip hills. Sir Winston Churchill was first introduced to history in the person of a Dorset lawyer who fought for King Charles in the civil wars and was knighted for his services. This poor Cavalier placed posterity in his debt by fathering two children- a daughter Arabella and a son, John. The boy was to rise to a dukedom, but let not the daughter be forgotten. The Churchills, like several other ducal houses, owed their initial fortunes to a woman's fall. Arabella a maid-of-honor in the Court of Charles II, was no beauty- a tall, pale-faced creature, we are told, nothing but skin and bone. She was out riding one day, and being of an indolent nature, was sitting her horse so ill that the King's brother, the Duke of York, turned his horse beside hers to chide her for her bad seat. Then came the fall, deliciously described for us by old Grammont.
"Her countenenance had almost completed the Duke's disgust when her horse set off in a gallop whereat she lost her seat, screamed out and fell. A fall in so quick a pace must have been violent; and yet it proved favourable to her in every respect; for, without receiving any hurt, she gave the lie to all unfavourable suppositions that had been formed of her person, in judging from her face. The Duke alighted in order to help her; she was so greatly stunned, that her thoughts were otherwise employed than about decency on the present occasion; and those who first crowded around her found her in rather a negligent posture: they could hardly believe that limbs of such exquisite beauty could belong to Miss Churchill's face. After this accident, it was remarked that the Duke's tenderness and affection for her increased every day; and towards the end of the winter, it appeared that she tyrannised not over his passions, nor made him languish with impatience."
Through the Duke of York's favor, by whom she bore three children (one of them the Duke of Berwick), her brother John was given his chance. Rising in the royal service, he gained under Queen Anne the victories over the French of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, made his fame as a military genius of the age, and, by the indulgence of his sovereign and parliament, established himself with the title of Duke in the mansion in the parish of Woodstock that commemorates the name of the first of his famous victories. He bad brains and his wife, the celebrated Sarah, had character, being for years the dominating force over the Queen whom her husband served at the wars.
Much has been written of late about the ancestral link between thc eighteenth-century soldier and the twentieth-century statesman. I would wager that a stronger hereditary influence was that of Duchess Sarah, a woman of charm and high spirits, determined, imperions, domineering. John and Sarah were the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents of Sir Winston.
So much for the Churchill. Next for the "Spencer" in Winston's name, and the hyphen. Properly speaking he should be known to fame as Winston Spencer rather than by the more familiar style. As the first Duke of Marlborough left no son to follow hi, his title passed in the female line through his daughters -first Henrietta (wife of Lord Godolphin) and second Anne, wife of Charles, Lord Spencer. It was through the line of Anne and the Spencers that the Marlborough dukedom has descended to our own times. Spencers they have been, and are. The hyphen came in with George, fourth Duke of Marlborough, who lived in the reign of King George III. He received the royal license to join the name of Churchill with his own, thus bringing in the Spencer-Churchills.
It was this Duke's further distinction to indulge his taste for gambling to the extent that he reduced himself to poverty so that he had to sell his art treasures and live in "complete but not reputable" selusion in a corner of Blenheim Palace. The seventh Duke, "sensible, honorable and industrious" according to the national biographer, was one of those reliable figures in politics, who did duty to complete, with men of greater ability, the Cabinets of Queen Victoria.
Through the Spencer connection, Winston Churchill was an ancestrally linked with famous figures in British politics, one of them Chief Minister to King George I. Through his grandmother, the Duchess of Marlborough he could trace his descent from a line of Marquises. Popularly known as "Fanny by the Grace of God," the Duchess was Lady Frances Anne Emily, daughter of the third Marquis of Londonderry, another family rich in associations with England's history. The Londonderrys trace their descent from the Vanes, the most famous of whom is remembered by Cromwell's outburst: "Sir Harry Vane, Sir Harry Vane - the Lord deliver me from Sir Harry Vane."
But it is enough. The Churchill baby was well enough connected. Through Marlborough, Londonderry and Spencer, duke, marquis and earl and their ramifications, he was related to half the peers in the kingdom. His ancestral tree was ripe with distinguished figures of the past. There were rich strains that contributed to the making of him. But hereditary riches are not enough, The same strains went to the production of his brother John who made no stir in the world at all. Provide the strains as well as you may and there is still something needed, the individual spirit to spark off genius.
Let us offer the bow of respect to beauty in the person of Winston's mother. She was one of the leading beauties in a society of beauties. Professional beauties they were called, such women as Lillie Langtry. "the jersey Lily," whom to see the crowds mounted the seats in Hyde Park. Today, I suppose, they would serve as pin-up girls and their statistics would be known to millions. In their own generation the reticences were still preserved and what was not measured won the more devoted admiration. To beauty Lady Randolph added charm, and distinction. She fascinated her son who wrote of her, "My mother made a brilliant impression upon my childhood's life. She shone for me like an evening star. I loved her dearly but at a distance. She always seemed to me a fairy princess."
To supplement his own tribute, Winston quoted the description given of Lady Randolph by Lord D'Abernon. A diplomat of the old school who served as Ambassador to Berlin, D'Abernon had known everybody worth knowing and the outstanding personages he portrayed in his recollections so vividly that they spring to life from his pages. Of Lady Randolph he wrote:
"I have the clearest recollection of seeing her for the first time. It was at the Vice-Regal Lodge at Dublin. She stood on one side to the left of the entrance. The Viceroy was on a dais at the further end of the room surrounded by a brilliant staff, but eyes were not turned on him or on his consort, but on a dark, lithe figure, standing somewhat apart and appearing to be of another texture to those around her, radiant, translucent, intense. A diamond star in her hair, her favourite ornament - its lustre dimmed by the flashing glory of her eyes. More of the panther than of the woman in her look, but with a cultivated intelligence unknown to the jungle. Her courage not less great than that of her husband- fit mother for the descendants of the great Duke."
Through his mother, Winston could claim brotherhood with the Americans. Jennie Jerome by name, she was descended through five generations of Americans, men and women who played their part with the pioneers. They sprang from a Huguenot ancestor who, leaving France to avoid persecution, found freedom for himself and fortune for his descendants. One of these, Leonard Jerome, Jennie's father, was a gentleman of force, ability and character. At the time of his daughter's marriage to Lord Randolph, Mr. Jerome was proprietor and editor of The New York Times. He had already lost one fortune and made another. One of the "fathers of the turf" in America. he founded the first two race courses in the United States. His forcefulness was attested during the Civil War where mobs attacked the office of his paper. He had taken the precaution of arming his staff with rifles and had even purchased a battery of cannon. He had no hesitation in ordering the arms to be turned on the mob, who were beaten off, not without bloodshed.
The web of destiny was cast over the Atlantic. The Jeromes and the Churchills were brought to meet in the persons of their two most brilliant representatives. It was the month of August in the year 1873. Society had gathered at Cowes for the yachting festival Lord Randolph Churchill among the rest. Mrs. Jerome had brought her two elder daughters to join in the gaieties of the regatta. They were presented to the Prince of Wales at the Royal Yacht Squadron Ball. It was delightful.
Then, in that romantic setting, Jennie and Randolph met. She was nineteen, he was twenty-three. It was a case of love at first sight. On the second night of their acquaintance each confided to a friend that their fates had been decided. On the third day Lord Randolph -but the happy tale is told by their son himself, who described the match in the biography of his father:
Next day they met again "by accident" -so runs the account 1 have received- and went for a walk. That night -the third of their acquaintance- was a beautiful night, warm and still with the lights of the yachts shining on the water and the sky bright with Stars. After dinner they found themselves alone together in the garden and -brief courtship notwithstanding- he proposed and was accepted.
The course of true love did not run smooth and I should like to tell you of how the plighted lovers overcame parental and ducal obstacles. But this is the life of Winston, not of his parents; and if you want to read this very Victorian and charming love story, you must find it in the son's admirable biography.
Their trials at last over, Lord Randolph and Jennie were married on April 15,1874, at the British Embassy in Paris, the bride being then resident in Paris with her mother. The following November young Winston came hurrying into the world.
Of Winston's father, Lord Randolph, I need only say here that he was a political meteor who flashed brilliantly upon the scene about the year 1880. He was termed, not inaptly, a "great elemental force in British politics." He gained for himself the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer and was on the point of challenging the authority of Lord Salisbury as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Then, meteorlike, he fell and as he fell he was smitten by illness that robbed him slowly of his mental powers and then of life itself.
Lady Randolph outlived her husband by a quarter of a century. When she had been five years a widow, she married Cornwallis West, from whom she obtained a divorce in 1913. Then in the evening of her life she became the wife of a former colonial administrator. She died in 1921.
Of Winston Churchill's genius there was little evidence in his childhood days. Had those capabilities, indeed, been more apparent, his career would have been in the law and he might have sat in wig and ermine upon the judge's bench. But Fate decided otherwise and tin soldiers were in this case Fate's instrument.
Tin soldiers were the chief amusement of Winston's boyhood. He commanded one army, and his brother Jack another. They were forces on a continental scale, fifteen hundred men in all, organized as an infantry division with a cavalry brigade. By a treaty for the limitation of armaments, his brother Jack was only allowed colored troops. Even these were not given artillery - a very important point, since Winston's army could muster eighteen field guns, besides fortress pieces.
One day Lord Randolph came, like a field marshal, on a visit of inspection. All the troops were drawn up ready for immediate attack. Lord Randolph spent twenty minutes studying the scene. He then turned toward Winston and asked him if he would like to become a soldier. The boy thought it would be splendid to command an army, so he said "yes" at once. It was a fateful answer. His father took him at his word and Winston henceforth was committed to an army career.
How strangely the minor and the major things are linked across the years -the small chances of the individual's life and the turning points in the lives of nations. Had Paul who was called Saul never ridden one day to Damascus, had Hitler never gone as a housepainter to Vienna, how different history would have been.
And had Winston Churchill never played with tin soldiers he would have gone to the Bar and not to the Army; he would not then have found fame in the Boer War, become a figure in public life before he was thirty, and been First Lord before 1914 came. Even the tin soldiers might not have been the instruments of fate had Lord Randolph had a higher opinion of his son's abilities, but he had considered that Winston was not clever enough for a career at the Bar - and so tin soldiers and the Army.
He reached the Royal Military College at Sandhurst by way of Harrow. Eton was the family tradition; but Winston had a weak chest and it was considered that the school on the hill would be better for him than the rival establishment by the river.
But for the discerning eye of Dr. Weldon, then headmaster, Harrow's doors would have been closed to him after the limitations of his learning had been disclosed by the papers he sent in at the entrance examination. There was the terrible Latin prose paper -a blot, a smudge, and a pair of brackets as the total output for two hours' effort. "It was from these slender indications of scholarship," wrote Winston in his later years, "that Mr. Weldon drew the conclusion that I was worthy to pass into Harrow. It is very much to his credit. It showed that he was a man capable of looking beneath the surface of things: a man not dependent upon paper manifestations. I have always had the greatest regard for him."
Harrow days were not happy days, but days of work that Winston found anything but congenial, an unending spell of worries that did not seem trivial. It was not only that school tasks were difficult- they seemed purposeless. He sighed for something practical. If only he had had to run errands as a messenger boy, or to toil as a bricklayer's mate -that would have been something real. Better to have been the son of a grocer and to have helped dress the front windows of the shop- "it would have taught me more and I should have got to know my father, which would have been a great joy to me."
There is a cry straight from the heart in these words of regret that he did not get to knew his father better, that father of meteoric brilliance who in Winston's school days thrust himself into the front ranks of politics and then threw all away. Winston did get to know his father, but only after his father's death when he came to tell the story of his career. In life he had no more than three or four long, intimate conversations with Lord Randolph, who died when Winston was twenty-one. "All my dreams of comradeship with him, of entering Parliament at his side and in his support were ended. There remained for me only to pursue his aims and vindicate his memory."
Harrow days and Sandhurst days - no release from school for the proper business of life was ever more welcome. The schoolboy who for all his terms was bored to tears because he had hardly ever been asked to learn anything , which seemed to be of the slightest use to him, found life transformed as a cavalry cadet. Now there was use in everything he had to learn.
Gone were the tedium of Latin and Greek. In their place were the enchantments of military studies with a purpose. He had now to learn tactics, fortification, topography, military law, and military administration. In place of the games which failed to amuse, there were gymnastics, and above all riding. There were some curious blanks in the military studies of the nineties. Winston was never taught anything about bombs or hand grenades. These weapons were known to be long obsolete, gone out of use in the eighteenth century, and the military mind could not conceive that they could be useful in modern war.
While he was still at Sandhurst, young Winston made his maiden speech in a public, if not exactly a political, cause. He and his fellow cadets were in the habit, when in London on leave, of visiting the old Empire Theatre in Leicester Square. At that time a purity campaign was being conducted against the music halls, and in particular the promenade of the Empire by a Mrs. Ormiston Chant, member of the London County Council.
The defenders of the liberties of the music hall had the powerful backing of the Daily Telegraph, which ran a "Prudes on the Prowl" campaign. An Entertainments Protection League was formed, of which Winston became a member, and he pawned his gold watch to aid the league's finances. Mrs. Chant, though she did not carry everything before her, was successful in getting a light canvas screen erected between the offending bars at the Empire and the promenade.
On the first Saturday after its appearance, Churchill and his friends visited the theater. Many sympathizers were present. Comment led to action and a crowd of some 200 to 300 persons stormed the barricades and tore them down.
At this moment of triumph young Churchill made his maiden speech. Mounting the debris, he harangued the throng and pointed to the moral of the occasion. "You have Seen us tear down these barricades tonight: see that you pull down those responsible for them at the next election." These words, we are assured, were received with rapturous applause.
Churchill's career at Sandhurst ended in 1894. He graduated eighth in his class of 150. In March of the following year he was appointed to the Fourth Hussars.