November 30, 1874— Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s legendary wartime Prime Minister, was born on this day. Surprisingly, considering his rich, aristocratic ancestry – his father, Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill, was the youngest son of the Duke of Marlborough.
A great statesman arrived in this world on a table in a cloakroom. Winston’s heavily pregnant and fun-loving mother had, according to her sister, been dancing at a ball held in Blenheim Palace, the Marlborough ancestral home, when her contractions started. There was no time to take her to a bedroom so she was helped into a nearby room that was being used as a temporary cloakroom.
Lady Randolph, originally Jennie Jerome, was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1854. Her father, Leonard Jerome, was an extremely wealthy financier and speculator, but he and his wife Clarissa were “new money” and not wholly accepted by the ultra-conservative elite of New York. As a result, Clarissa took Jennie and her two sisters to a more accommodating Europe. The friends that Jennie then made in high society included the Prince of Wales.
She was one of the early “Dollar Princesses”, also known as the “Buccaneers” – rich, savvy American women who sailed across the Atlantic and forged relationships with the British aristocracy.
So it was that in 1873 Jennie met the 24-year-old Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill. It was clearly love at first sight because three days later they were engaged, leading to their marriage at the British Embassy in Paris in April, 1874 – seven months before Winston’s birth. The Duke of Marlborough had reservations about the marriage, but was persuaded by the Prince of Wales to give it his blessing.
Jennie was a beautiful and vivacious woman and Winston became devoted to her. He was just as proud of being half-American as he was of belonging to the Marlborough family.
Asked, later in life, about the circumstances of his birth, Churchill replied with a smile: “Although present on that occasion, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it.”
Published: April 24, 2016
Why Famous: Regularly regarded as one of the greatest British prime ministers, Churchill led Britain to victory against the Axis Powers during World War II, and served a second term in office from 1951 to 1955.
Prior to being Prime Minister, Churchill served in several high offices, including Ministries of Defence, Munitions, Air, War and Chancellor of the Exchequer. As First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, he conceived and executed the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign which caused his temporary departure from government.
When Neville Chamberlain resigned after the outbreak of World War II, Churchill was asked by the King to form the next government. During the war, he became famous for his rallying speeches, including ‘we shall fight on the beaches’ and ‘this was their finest hour’. As the war progressed, Churchill was crucial in boosting British morale and inspiring resistance to Nazi Germany.
After Germany’s defeat in 1945, he was voted out of office the same year despite being recognized as a great wartime leader. He was replaced by Clement Attlee. Churchill remained Leader of the Opposition and became prime minister again in 1951, before resigning on health grounds in 1955. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Churchill was also the first honorary citizen of the United States; his funeral in 1965 attracted one of the largest assemblages of world statesmen ever seen.