Who was Clementine Churchill?
Born in 1885, Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill (née Hozier) was far more than just Winston’s wife. She was a keen promoter of social and humanitarian causes, often in defiance of Winston, including women’s rights. Unafraid of her husband’s powerful allies or enemies, she espoused liberal values, and served as a cross-bench life peeress in her own right.
Like Winston, Clementine’s family boasted aristocratic blood, although by the time she was born the family were financially broke, and her early life was far from happy.
After her parents’ divorce, Clementine’s mother was left virtually penniless, and much of her childhood was spent moving to avoid creditors. She also suffered the loss of her elder sister, who died from typhoid, and a harsh, and sometimes violent, upbringing.
In spite of being bright enough, her family could not afford to send her to university.
Although they met briefly four years earlier, Clementine and Winston really became acquainted in 1908, when they were sat next to each other at a dinner party. Ten years older than her, Winston was immediately struck by Clementine’s beauty and intellect. He proposed after just a month.
The couple wed that September, and had five children over the course of the 56 years of their marriage, which ended with Winston’s death, in 1965. A private and reserved person, Clementine was far from timid, and was never afraid to stand up to Churchill.
In spite of her powerful temper, the Churchill’s marriage remained a loving one, with pet names for each other: she was Kat; he was Pug.
Although typically hidden in her husband’s shadow, Winston was happy to state that Clementine had made “my life and any work I have done possible”.
A shrewd political spouse, it was Clementine who told Churchill he should serve in the trenches after the Gallipoli debacle of 1915-1916. As First Lord of the Admiralty, he bore much responsibility for the campaign’s failure, and serving as a frontline soldier was enormously important for his political rehabilitation.
Clementine worked tirelessly for numerous humanitarian causes during both the First and Second World Wars, and received many honours and awards for her work.
As Churchill’s closest confident, his companion and the love of his life, it is hard to underestimate Clementine’s importance.
Without her support, it is quite likely that Winston would have found the strain of being Prime Minister during the Second World War unendurable. As such, it is entirely plausible to state that Allied victory was in part thanks to Clementine.
She died at the age of 92, in 1977, outliving Winston by almost 13 years.