Clementine Churchill

By Sofia Alvazzi

Clementine Ogilvy Hozier was born on April 1st, 1885, in London, England to a minor noble family. She had an elder sister, Kitty, and younger twin brothers, Bill and Nellie. Her parents were Sir Henry Hozier, who was from a wealthy brewing family, and Lady Blanche Hozier, the daughter of David Ogilvy, the 10th Earl of Airlie. Although her family seemed successful, Clementine did not have a picture-perfect childhood. Her mother was known for many scandalous affairs and claimed that Clementine’s real father was Captain William George “Bay” Middleton, the horseman and equerry to Earl Spencer. Others believed that Sir Henry was infertile and all of his children were fathered by Lady Blanche’s brother-in-law, Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford. Adding to the challenges, Clementine’s family grappled not only with rumors but also financial problems.

Clementine’s parents divorced when she was 6 years old in 1891 largely due to Lady Blanche’s affairs. Her mother, an infamous gambler, was left very poor. As a result, they would keep moving away to avoid creditors during most of Clementine’s childhood. When she was 14 years old, they traveled to Dieppe, a town off the coast of northern France, for the summer. Shortly after moving, Kitty had typhoid fever and Clementine and Nellie were sent to Scotland to stay with their aunt for protection. Tragically, Kitty succumbed to her illness in 1900.

As for her education, Clementine first began schooling at home under a governess, which was not unusual for girls of her social class. She then went on to attend Berkhamsted School for Girls in Hertfordshire, England. Although she was smart enough to go to university, she was unable to go because her family could not afford it. Throughout her childhood, Clementine had a very harsh upbringing, which affected her deeply. In an interview in 2002, Clementine’s daughter, Mary, blamed Clementine’s childhood for the anxiety and lack of confidence that her mother had for the rest of her life.

In 1904, Clementine and Winston Churchill met for the first time at a ball held by mutual acquaintances, the Earl and Countess of Crewe. However, they did not meet again until another 4 years passed, when they were seated next to each other at a dinner party held by Clementine’s distant cousin. Over time, they developed a bond and continued to see each other for months. In August 1908, they got engaged, and on September 12th, 1908, they were married in St. Margaret’s, Westminster. They had their honeymoon in Baveno, Venice and Moravio, and returned home to London after. Only 1 year later, they welcomed their first child, Diana. In her life, Clementine would have 5 children: Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold and Mary. All of them survived to adulthood except for Marigold.

Clementine helped Winston Churchill’s career tremendously by aiding him in political and social affairs. In fact, Winston later notably claimed that she was the reason why his life had been so successful. In 1909, after Winston declared that he was against giving voting rights to women (which Clementine privately opposed), a militant suffragist attacked Winston and pushed him in front of a moving train. Fortunately, Clementine grabbed him by his coattails and saved his life. Clementine was a very clever political wife and continued to support him throughout his political career. In 1914, after the Gallipoli disaster that Winston was involved in, she urged him to serve in the trenches for his political recovery. She continued to advise him on political issues, make friends with his allies, and help raise his spirits when he felt dejected.

In addition to assisting her husband, Clementine did other important work. In World War I, Clementine organized canteens for munitions workers in collaboration with the Young Men’s Christian Association of the North East Metropolitan Area of London. In 1918, she won her appointment as Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Still, Clementine would sometimes need breaks from her husband, and relieved her stress by taking solo vacations for days or weeks. In the 1930s, she traveled on Baron Moyne’s yacht for an island cruise alone. It was rumored that she had an affair with an art dealer, Terence Philip, which was never confirmed and it was also rumored that he was gay. Her trip ended unexpectedly when another guest insulted Winston and Moyne was unable to reconcile them.

In 1940, when World War II began, Winston became the Prime Minister of England. Clementine had many roles in aid societies, with greater importance as the Prime Minister’s wife. She was the Chairman of Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, President of the Young Women’s Christian Association War Time Appeal, and Chairman of Maternity Hospital for Wives of Officers. She would later be honored for the work she had done during this time. While touring Russia at the end of the war, she was awarded the Soviet Honour from the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. In 1964, she was ordained as the Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire. Furthermore, she received various honorary degrees from the University of Glasgow, Bristol and Oxford.

Although Clementine and Winston had many conflicts regarding their differences in political views and he did not always have time to spend with her, they still stayed together, and she continued to support him. During periods of depression and doubt, she would comfort him. In 1943, when Winston had pneumonia and heart problems, Clementine flew to Carthage and nursed him back to health, even when none of the other nurses could.

In 1965, Winston died, leaving Clementine a widow after 56 years of marriage. She became a life peer as Baroness Spencer-Churchill of Chartwell in the County of Kent and stayed away from big party affiliations. Unfortunately, her health, particularly her hearing loss, kept her from having a strong presence in Parliament. In her late life, she experienced some financial difficulties and had to sell some of her husband’s paintings. In addition, two of her children, Diana and Randolph, died before her in 1963 and 1968. Eventually, on December 12, 1977, she died at 92 years old from a heart attack. She was buried next to her husband and children at St. Martin’s Church, Bladon, in Oxfordshire.

Although she is overshadowed by her husband’s career, a biography, First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill written by Sonia Purnell, describes Clementine’s life and the important role she played in preserving her husband’s health.

Why Did I Choose to Research Clementine Churchill?

I chose to research her because when visiting London, I was able to visit Winston Churchill’s bunker that he used during World War II, and I learned more about what he did during that time. I also learned about his wife, Clementine Churchill, and how she was also very important as the Prime Minister’s Wife. I decided to write an article about her because I feel like she did a lot more than she is credited for, and although everybody focuses on Winston’s success, they often don’t realize that without Clementine, he wouldn’t have been able to achieve such a triumphant career.

Works Cited

(2019). Biography of Clementine Churchill, Britain’s First Lady. ThoughtCo.

‌Gearon, E. (2020, June 19). Born in 1885, Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill (née Hozier) was far more than just Winston’s wife. She was. National Trust; National Trust.

Blakemore, E. (2017, December 5). How Winston Churchill’s Wife Helped Him Become a Great Statesman. HISTORY; HISTORY.

‌pixelstorm. (2015, May 21). New Biography of Clementine. International Churchill Society.

This article was published on 2/12/24