Who was Clementine Churchill?
- Expert curated
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, including women’s rights. Despite her husband’s strong political allegiances, which were to the Conservative Party for the majority of his career, she embraced liberal values, and served as a crossbench 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.
Photograph of Clementine Churchill as a child
Although they’d briefly met 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 their 56-year marriage, which ended with Winston’s death, in 1965. Clementine was a private person but was far from timid, and was never afraid to stand up to her husband if the pair disagreed.
Despite both Winston and Clementine being strong-willed, disagreements never lasted and the Churchill’s marriage was a long and happy one, with pet names for each other: she was Cat; he was Pug.
Although Clementine’s role was often eclipsed by that of her husband, Winston acknowledged 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, Clementine Churchill undoubtedly made her mark on history.
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.
This article contains contributions from Eamonn Gearon, University of Oxford. Eamonn is a researcher from University of Oxford who is researching the history of Clementine Churchill.
A Trusted Source article created in partnership with the University of Oxford.
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