Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill KG OM CH TD DL FRS RA (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British statesman who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
Churchill was also an officer in the British Army, a historian, a writer (as Winston S. Churchill), and an artist. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature, and was the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the United States.
Churchill was born into the aristocratic family of the Dukes of Marlborough, a branch of the Spencer family. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a charismatic politician who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer; his mother, Jennie Jerome, was an American socialite.
As a young army officer, he saw action in British India, the Sudan, and the Second Boer War. He gained fame as a war correspondent and wrote books about his campaigns.
At the forefront of politics for fifty years, he held many political and cabinet positions. Before the First World War, he served as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, and First Lord of the Admiralty as part of Asquith’s Liberal government.
During the war, he continued as First Lord of the Admiralty until the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign caused his departure from government.
He then briefly resumed active army service on the Western Front as commander of the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
He returned to government as Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for War, and Secretary of State for Air. In 1921–1922 Churchill served as Secretary of State for the Colonies, then Chancellor of the Exchequer in Baldwin’s Conservative government of 1924–1929, controversially returning the pound sterling in 1925 to the gold standard at its pre-war parity, a move widely seen as creating deflationary pressure on the UK economy.
Also controversial were his opposition to increased home rule for India and his resistance to the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII.
Out of office and politically “in the wilderness” during the 1930s, Churchill took the lead in warning about Nazi Germany and in campaigning for rearmament. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty.
Following the resignation of Neville Chamberlain on 10 May 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister. His steadfast refusal to consider surrender helped inspire British resistance, especially during the difficult early days of the war when the British Commonwealth and Empire stood alone in its active opposition to Adolf Hitler.
Churchill was particularly noted for his speeches and radio broadcasts, which helped inspire the British people. He led Britain as Prime Minister until victory over Nazi Germany had been secured.
After the Conservative Party lost the 1945 election, he became Leader of the Opposition to the Labour Government. He publicly warned of an “Iron Curtain” of Soviet influence in Europe and promoted European unity. After winning the 1951 election, Churchill again became Prime Minister.
His second term was preoccupied by foreign affairs, including the Malayan Emergency, Mau Mau Uprising, Korean War, and a UK-backed coup d’état in Iran.
Domestically his government laid great emphasis on house-building, and introduced safety and sanitation regulations for housing and workplaces.
Churchill suffered a serious stroke in 1953 and retired as Prime Minister in 1955, although he remained a Member of Parliament until 1964. Upon his death aged ninety in 1965, Elizabeth II granted him the honour of a state funeral, which saw one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history.
Named the Greatest Briton of all time in a 2002 poll, Churchill is widely regarded as being among the most influential people in British history, consistently ranking well in opinion polls of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom.
Born into the aristocratic family of the Dukes of Marlborough, a branch of the noble Spencer family, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, like his father, used the surname “Churchill” in public life. His ancestor George Spencer had changed his surname to Spencer-Churchill in 1817 when he became Duke of Marlborough, to highlight his descent from John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.
Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, the third son of John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, was a politician; and his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill (née Jennie Jerome) was the daughter of American millionaire Leonard Jerome. Churchill was born on 30 November 1874, two months prematurely, in a bedroom in Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire.
From age two to six, he lived in Dublin, where his grandfather had been appointed Viceroy and employed Churchill’s father as his private secretary. Churchill’s brother, John Strange Spencer-Churchill, was born during this time in Ireland. It has been claimed that the young Churchill first developed his fascination with military matters from watching the many parades pass by the Vice Regal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland).
Churchill’s earliest exposure to education occurred in Dublin, where a governess tried teaching him reading, writing, and arithmetic (his first reading book was called ‘Reading Without Tears’). With limited contact with his parents, Churchill became very close to his nanny, ‘Mrs’ Elizabeth Ann Everest, whom he called ‘Old Woom’. She served as his confidante, nurse, and mother substitute. The two spent many happy hours playing in Phoenix Park.
Independent and rebellious by nature, Churchill generally had a poor academic record in school, for which he was punished. He was educated at three independent schools: St. George’s School, Ascot, Berkshire; Brunswick School in Hove, near Brighton (the school has since been renamed Stoke Brunswick School and relocated to Ashurst Wood in West Sussex); and at Harrow School from 17 April 1888. Within weeks of his arrival at Harrow, Churchill had joined the Harrow Rifle Corps.
When young Winston started attending Harrow School, he was listed under the S’s as Spencer Churchill. At that time Winston was a stocky boy with red hair who talked with a stutter and a lisp. Winston’s nickname at Harrow was “Copperknob” for his hair colour. Winston did so well in mathematics in his Harrow entrance exam that he was put in the top division for that subject.
In his first year at Harrow he was recognized as being the best in his division for history. Winston entered the school, however, as the boy with the lowest grades in the lowest class, and he remained in that position. Winston never even made it into the upper school because he would not study the classics. Though he did poorly in his schoolwork, he grew to love the English language. He hated Harrow.
His mother rarely visited him, and he wrote letters begging her either to come to the school or to allow him to come home. His relationship with his father was distant; he once remarked that they barely spoke to one another. His father died on 24 January 1895, aged 45, leaving Churchill with the conviction that he too would die young and so should be quick about making his mark on the world.
Winston Churchill was a member of the freemasons and a member of the Loyal Waterloo Lodge of the National Independent Order of Odd Fellows.