Clementine: The Life Of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia PurnellClementine: The Life Of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell

Clementine: The Life Of Mrs. Winston Churchill

bySonia Purnell

Paperback | October 25, 2016

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A long over-due tribute to the extraordinary woman who was Winston Churchill’s closest confidante, fiercest critic and shrewdest advisor that captures the intimate dynamic of one of history’s most fateful marriages, as seen on The Crown and Darkest Hour—“Engrossing…the first formal biography of a woman who has heretofore been relegated to the sidelines.” –The New York Times

Late in life, Winston Churchill claimed that victory in the Second World War would have been “impossible” without the woman who stood by his side for fifty-seven turbulent years. Why, then, do we know so little about her? In this landmark biography, a finalist for the Plutarch prize, Sonia Purnell finally gives Clementine Churchill her due.

Born into impecunious aristocracy, the young Clementine Hozier was the target of cruel snobbery. Many wondered why Winston married her, when the prime minister’s daughter was desperate for his attention. Yet their marriage proved to be an exceptional partnership. "You know,"Winston confided to FDR, "I tell Clemmie everything."
Through the ups and downs of his tumultuous career, in the tense days when he stood against Chamberlain and the many months when he helped inspire his fellow countrymen and women to keep strong and carry on, Clementine made her husband’s career her mission, at the expense of her family, her health and, fatefully, of her children. Any real consideration of Winston Churchill is incomplete without an understanding of their relationship. Clementine is both the first real biography of this remarkable woman and a fascinating look inside their private world.
"Sonia Purnell has at long last given Clementine Churchill the biography she deserves. Sensitive yet clear-eyed, Clementine tells the fascinating story of a complex woman struggling to maintain her own identity while serving as the conscience and principal adviser to one of the most important figures in history. I was enthralled all the way through." –Lynn Olson, bestselling author of Citizens of London 

Sonia Purnell is a biographer and journalist who has worked at The Telegraph and Sunday Times. Her first book, Just Boris, a candid portrait of London mayor and Brexit champion Boris Johnson, was longlisted for the Orwell prize. Clementine (published as First Lady in the UK) was chosen as a Book of the Year by The Telegraph and Indepen...
Title:Clementine: The Life Of Mrs. Winston ChurchillFormat:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 8.36 × 5.54 × 0.95 inPublished:October 25, 2016Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0143128914

ISBN - 13:9780143128915

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from A long overdue tribute to a remarkable woman. This book should be on the required reading list of every Women's Studies Course in the country. There is no question after reading this book of the importance of "the woman behind the man". Sonia Purnell lays out a complete and thorough unbiased account on the life of this remarkable woman. It is a story that needed to be told to the world and has been done so with distinction. Well done Sonia Purnell! This is not just a good book, it is a phenomenal study of a woman we all owe so much to.
Date published: 2016-08-02

Read from the Book

Clementine sat bolt upright in the Strangers’ Gallery, eyes fixed on her husband in the Commons Chamber below. For years the house had mocked Winston and his bellicose warnings about the Nazi threat. Now that his predictions had come true she saw how the house was finally uniting with him in a “temper for war.” At dawn that fateful morning—September  1, 1939—Germany had attacked Poland with brutal force. As the news grew worse by the hour, Neville Chamberlain  had finally made a somber and weary admission to Parliament: “The time has come when action rather than speech is required.” MPs waited feverishly for Winston to intervene, but he left without saying a word.   The following day—a Saturday—Clementine  was there again. Britain had at long last mobilized its forces; children were being evacuated from  London, and anxious crowds were gathering in the streets. Some seven hundred miles to the east, the Wehrmacht was smashing the valiant but ill-equipped Polish army and laying waste to towns and villages. Britain was honor-bound by treaty to defend Poland. Yet still the glacial Chamberlain failed to make a move. He finally rose to his feet at 7:44 p.m., nearly forty hours after the start of the Polish invasion. His brief, almost nonchalant statement about the government’s “somewhat difficult position” prompted such bed- lam in the House of Commons that two distraught MPs actually vomited. Once again Winston walked out of the chamber without speaking.   At 10:30 that evening at Morpeth Mansions he and Clementine played host to a stream of grave-faced members of Parliament including Anthony Eden, Bob Boothby, Diana’s second husband, Duncan Sandys, Alfred Duff Cooper and Brendan Bracken. Duff Cooper noticed how all those present were in a state of “bewildered rage” but also that Clementine was “more violent in her denunciation of the Prime Minister even than Winston.” Chamberlain had led them all to believe he was finally going to take a stand against Hitler, but still no word had come and it was now clear that he was once more back- tracking on his pledge. As rain pummeled the sixth-floor windows and thunder crashed angrily around the Westminster rooftops, the assembled men begged Winston to take a lead. At last he sat down to write, bluntly warning Chamberlain of the “injury” done to the “spirit of national unity by the apparent weakening of [Britain’s] re- solve.” Then a number of the MPs walked through the storm to Downing Street to deliver the letter in person.   By daybreak the skies had cleared and the air had cooled. Now finally the prime minister issued an ultimatum to Germany to halt its hostilities against Poland within two hours. As he famously broad- cast soon afterward, “no such undertaking” was received. At eleven a.m. on September 3, 1939, Britain declared war on Germany and that same day France, Australia, India and New Zealand followed suit.   After listening to Chamberlain on the radio Clementine joined Winston on their roof terrace at Morpeth Mansions. As they watched the first blimps rising slowly over the roofs and spires of London, they thought of the horrors to come. Yet they were far from down- cast. Yesterday’s finished man today stood at the threshold of a new beginning, and as Winston told a Commons sitting that afternoon the prospect of the “call of honour” thrilled his “being.”  He noted privately that Clementine was equally “braced” for whatever the future held.   Within minutes of Chamberlain’s announcement, the wailing of the first air-raid siren began outside their flat. Joking about German “promptitude and precision,” Clementine grabbed a bottle of brandy and “other appropriate medical comforts” before heading down the street with Winston to the makeshift shelter. A German refugee, sensing he would not be welcomed by the jocular crowd, hovered anxiously on the pavement outside. Clementine insisted he should come in—although it soon transpired it was a false alarm.   Winston’s newfound status as visionary man of action was such that Chamberlain could not possibly exclude him from the newly formed War Cabinet. Later that day the prime minister summoned him to Downing Street and, while Clementine waited in the car out- side, appointed him first lord of the Admiralty—a politically pragmatic decision (not one of the great offices of state but important nonetheless) that seems to have surprised Winston as much as his colleagues. He reported to his old desk at six that evening, and orders instantly came thick and fast—radar was to be fitted to naval ships, merchant ships were to be armed, the Prof was to run a new statistical department. Winston himself set about a quick-fire tour of naval bases, accompanied by Clementine as in the previous war. It was an early indication of how they would work during the years ahead.   Back in London Clementine immediately set about bringing together Winston’s supporters—around a dining table, of course. The day after he took office, she arranged a lunch for twenty-four. Alas, Winston had to rush off to deal with a crisis and the meal was abandoned after ten minutes. So began a life with “less schedule than a forest fire and less peace than a hurricane,” in the words of their bodyguard Walter Thompson. He confessed to wondering “a thousand times” how Clementine could “endure the almost unvarying smash-up” of all her plans. Never would there be “one meal without a phone call; even one good-morning kiss not witnessed by waiting courtiers. The mere matter of menus [was] the most awful madness! But Mrs Churchill never showed that she was troubled.”   And so, for the second time, Winston Churchill was galvanizing the Admiralty for war with his wife at his side. He worked up to six- teen hours a day, seven days a week, and was soon immersed in every detail of naval operations. He also expected his department to function around the clock—a shock for many senior Whitehall staff, who were unaccustomed to starting at their desks before eleven a.m. Unfortunately, only a fraction of Winston’s fizzing energy would be put to good use. Although war had been declared, Downing Street vetoed most of his more audacious plans lest they antagonize the Germans. Some within the government were still intent on finding a peaceful solution. Winston was adamant that the navy under his command should ruthlessly hunt down German submarines and battleships, but when he ordered their sinking—“not without relish”— many in the government felt ill at ease. The torpor of appeasement still hung over Whitehall.   It was a virus from which Winston’s Admiralty was free, but his stock suffered when Britain’s early naval engagements failed to go his way. The sinking on October 14, 1939, of the old battleship HMS Royal Oak, while anchored at the navy’s chief base, Scapa Flow, in the Ork- ney Islands, cost 833 lives.  It also handed the Nazis a public relations coup by demonstrating that even supposedly “impregnable” harbors were vulnerable to U-boats. Over the course of the next month,   60,000 tons of British shipping were sunk by magnetic mines alone. Billboards may have proclaimed, “Talk Victory,” but Clementine wrote to Nellie on September 20, 1939, that the news was “grim be- yond words,” saying “One must fortify oneself by remembering that whereas the Germans are (we hope) at their peak, we have only just begun.” Fortunately the evening of December 17 brought better tidings, with the scuttling of the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee off the River Plate estuary in South America following a ferocious sea battle with three British cruisers.   Yet despite this mixed record, many now believed that Winston’s fanatical drive made him the only politician capable of leading Britain through the darkness of another war to victory. Crucially, word of his prescience in peacetime and exuberant determination in war had reached the White House and on September 11, the US president Franklin D. Roosevelt had cabled him at Morpeth Mansions asking to be kept “in touch personally” about events. In doing so, he broke all the normal protocols, bypassing the prime minister, the Foreign Office and even his own ambassador.   In public President Roosevelt was denying that he had any intention of sending Americans to fight foreign wars, but in private he had now established a direct connection to the one man in Europe he thought capable of resisting Hitler. The beginnings of this relation- ship were not auspicious. Winston had snubbed Roosevelt at that London dinner in 1918 and was known across the Atlantic both as “hostile” to America (from his time as chancellor in the 1920s) and as a “drunken sot.” On the Churchills’ side, Randolph had declared himself “anti FDR” after meeting the president in 1936 during Roosevelt’s campaign for a second term. Randolph had been invited to tea at Hyde Park, the Roosevelts’ estate in upstate New York, when he went over to try to save Sarah from Vic Oliver. He had reported back that the American could not match Lloyd George for magnetism or charm. Now, of course, such equivocation would need to be put firmly in the past.   Clementine masterminded the move from Morpeth Mansions into Winston’s beloved Admiralty House. In this new age of wartime austerity, the Office of Works had converted the attics into a modest flat for the first lord’s use, so she no longer needed to worry about the cost of running the staterooms. Clementine decided to keep the curtains with red and blue seahorses hung by Lady Diana Cooper when Duff had been at the Admiralty, but few other remnants of naval foppery survived. When Diana visited, she mourned the disappearance of her bed that “rose sixteen feet from a shoal of gold dolphins and tridents,” its blue satin curtains held up by ropes. In its place Clementine had installed a monastic single bunk for Winston and she had covered the walls with battle charts in pastel shades (bright colors gave him headaches).7   Under her orders, the first lord’s office was transformed into a no-nonsense modern command center. She arranged his desk at an angle so that he would not be distracted by views of the park, and made sure his chair was practical and uncushioned. But she also had two armchairs, upholstered in comforting red leather, positioned beside the coal-burning fire and placed a constantly replenished cookie tin and soda siphon for his whiskies on a nearby table. She did every- thing she could to ease her husband’s burden—he was not to be bothered by domestic cares.   Winston’s war had begun “from the first hour” with the sinking of the passenger liner SS Athenia by a German U-boat on the evening of September 3. It had become immediately obvious that the navy faced a monumental challenge in protecting British merchant ship- ping from marauding enemy submarines. Winston’s days were long and arduous, but he made a point of joining Clementine—and their guests—for both lunch and dinner. He also kept her constantly in- formed. If news—good  or bad—came in of a battle he would often rush over to tell her. She joined him on the quayside at Plymouth when victorious ships sailed in and she would accompany him to speak to the relatives of those who had lost their lives. It was her idea, when battle survivors were being honored, to set up a special enclosure on Horse Guards Parade for the families of the bereaved in order to show them respect and consideration. More than twenty years since she had last launched a ship, she was invited back to do the honors for the aircraft carrier Indomitable. A photograph of Clementine joyfully waving the vessel away became a favorite of Winston’s and the inspiration for a portrait.   Winston’s appointment as first lord paid £5,000 a year and even more important provided a defense against creditors, who were suddenly reluctant to be seen pursuing a figure so vital to the war. Moving into Admiralty House allowed the Churchills to sell Morpeth Mansions for much-needed cash. They were thus—for now at least— financially secure. The outbreak of hostilities had not only energized Clementine, it had liberated her from one of the constant strains of Winston’s wilderness years.   Not that she was solely occupied with the ceremonial and the domestic: she threw herself into all aspects of the war effort and it visibly thrilled her. Clementine was “more beautiful now than in early life” and was as “fearless and indefatigable” as her husband, noted Lady Diana Cooper in March 1940. “She makes us all knit jerseys as thick as sheep’s fleeces for which the minesweepers must bless her.”8 Clementine also raised money for those minesweepers (mainly civilian trawler crews whose boats had been commandeered and converted). The way she helped run Fulmer Chase maternity hospital for officers’ wives in Buckinghamshire (where she made a point of visit- ing almost every expectant mother herself ) was deemed “ beyond praise” by a midwifery magazine.9 Sadly her attempts to press Chart- well into service proved less successful. Initially she offered the house up for the use of evacuees, whereupon two mothers with seven children duly traveled down from London to take residence—only to leave after three weeks, having found the countryside boring. She then suggested it should be used as another maternity home or hospital, but the medics considered the house unappealing and impractical and turned her down. Eventually the main building was shut up completely; only Orchard Cottage was kept open for family use. Out of sight did not mean out of mind; her diary records as many as fifty visits to inspect for dampness during the war.   Conscious of the need to set an example to the nation, Clementine expected  all members of the family to do their duty. Mary, just out of school, worked in a canteen and for the Red Cross, and so as to avoid creating an unserious impression she was, temporarily at least, forbidden to attend dances. Sarah continued acting for a while but was keen to distance herself from Oliver (he charged her with desertion in 1941 and they divorced at the end of the war). She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and was assigned to the Photographic Interpretation Unit, where she became a “quick and versatile” analyst of aerial surveys at RAF Medmenham in Buckinghamshire, to the northwest of London. Only Diana, now the mother of two children (and, from 1943, a third) by her second husband, Dun- can Sandys, struggled to find a significant role: she became an officer with the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS) but resigned her commission for “family reasons” (although later she became an air- raid warden). Diana never accompanied her father on his foreign travels, as Sarah and Mary later did. Both of his younger daughters carried out  their duties as aides-de-camp  with efficiency and aplomb—and in doing so influenced for the better Winston’s views of women’s capabilities.   Diana’s meek domesticity held no interest for her father and was anathema to her mother, who could not abide the way Diana spoke more about her children, and even the idea of sending them to the safety of America, than about the war effort itself. Clementine believed the war came first; when she discovered one of Winston’s great-nieces—Sally Churchill—was about to be evacuated to Canada, she personally ordered the girl’s passport to be withheld and had an official stop her from boarding the boat train to Southampton. Her action provoked tears and reports in the national press, but like any modern spin doctor Clementine understood the need for all Chur- chills, no matter how young, to stay in the country and remain outwardly resolute. Diana had no option but to follow suit.   Meanwhile, Randolph had been spraying around marriage proposals to well-bred “gels” across London in his quest to father an heir in case he was killed in combat. Most recently he had been trying his luck with a Lady Mary Dunn, but upon receipt of a better offer she had fobbed him off on a friend from the country. “I’ve got a red- headed tart up my sleeve,” she told another chum. “She will do for Randolph.” And indeed she did. Randolph invited the pony-loving Pamela, the eldest daughter of Lord and Lady Digby, to dinner at Quaglino’s in St. James’s and three days later asked for her hand in marriage. She was the ninth woman to whom he had proposed in the space of a fortnight, and the first to accept.   Nineteen-year-old  Pamela found  the prospect of marrying a Churchill irresistibly exciting. She had grown up in a manorial hall at Minterne in Dorset, where her childhood had been one of dull routine interrupted only by occasional visits from Americans whose different worldview fascinated her. Known as the “dairy maid,” she was voluptuous, sexy, and wore high heels and tight skirts. Considered “fast” but not “wild,” Pamela’s “erogenous” manner and “eloquent listening” conquered men by the dozen.11   Winston immediately welcomed his prospective daughter-in-law, relishing her flirtatiousness. In turn, Pamela was intensely solicitous of him, soon calling him Papa, lighting his cigar, laughing at his jokes and playing his beloved bezique. He grew as fond of her as if she were his own daughter, one perhaps less complicated than Diana or Sarah, neither of whom warmed to this rival for their father’s affections. Clementine would eventually draw Pamela into the bosom of the family but was at first “correct and reserved.” In truth, she was fret- ting about the marriage, mindful of her son’s capacity for destructive- ness and his lack of money. Winston brushed her concerns aside, exclaiming to her: “Nonsense.  All you need to be married are champagne, a box of cigars and a double bed.”  As Randolph’s regiment, the Fourth Hussars, might be posted abroad at any moment, the wed- ding was hastily arranged for October 4 at St. John’s church, in Smith Square. Pamela wore a deep-blue coat trimmed with dyed fox fur and she placed a jaunty velvet beret with a quill over her auburn curls. The groom wore his uniform and as her biographer Christopher Ogden neatly put it: “Both looked plump. Pamela would become more attractive; Randolph less.”13   As Clementine had feared, it was not a happy union. Pamela did her conjugal duty by quickly becoming pregnant; he failed miserably in his. He lost money they did not have by gambling with rich friends, drank more than ever and was frequently abusive. Pamela’s disillusionment with her husband created a natural source of intimacy with his mother. The two women exchanged surprisingly personal de- tails, leading Pamela to understand that lovemaking did not enter the Churchills’ lives “a great deal.” Her own sex life with Randolph also left much to be desired. “He was a womaniser, but in the sense of wanting to dominate women,” Pamela later told her biographer. “When it came to sex, Randolph, like other Churchill men, did not seem all that interested.” He also snored and farted with gusto.   Drawing on her own handling of Winston whenever he had been “objectionable,” Clementine counseled Pamela on how to deal with Randolph: “Darling, go away. Don’t say where you’re going. Just dis- appear. I . . . would go off to a hotel for three days and he wouldn’t hear from me.” She also seems to have sided with Pamela against her son—once telling Winston in front of her daughter-in-law, “Randolph is treating our Pamela very badly.” Clementine “would have liked to have been closer to” Randolph, recalled Pamela, “but she was always scared, and with good reason, that he would embarrass his father.”

Editorial Reviews

"An astute, pacey account of a woman who hardly ever emerged from the shadows. It is a sharp analysis of what it meant to be a politician's wife. . . that shows how much we can learn about Winston Churchill from his wife and marriage."–The Wall Street Journal “An acute and sympathetic biography which brings Clementine Churchill out of the shade into which her illustrious and domineering husband has cast her and shows how key she was to his success.  Sonia Purnell makes us ask how Clementine endured life with Winston, and provides the answers.” –Margaret MacMillan, author of Paris 1919 and The War that Ended Peace  “Thorough and engaging. . . Purnell’s extensive and insightful biography offers a much welcome portrait of Clementine Churchill, a woman whose remarkable life has long been overshadowed by her famous husband.” —Washington Post “Fascinating… [Purnell's] book may leave you thinking Clementine is one of the most underrated, complex women in British history.” –The Daily Beast “A fascinating and well-written account of a woman who played a key role in many pivotal moments of early-20th-century British and world politics.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune “The extensive research shines a deserved spotlight on Britain’s first lady through wartime and beyond." —Fort Worth Star-Telegram “Sonia Purnell has restored Clementine Churchill to her rightful place in history. Behind every great man there is a great woman–and this was especially true of Winston Churchill.Clementine is a fascinating portrait of a highly complex woman who only ever showed a brave and elegant face to the world. At last, thanks to Sonia Purnell’s excellent book, we see her  true nature.” –Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire "Until this biography, Clementine’s influence had been completely overlooked and undervalued by Winston's biographers. Clementine was a complicated, mercurial figure, and Purnell does a wonderful job painting a full picture of a woman who was an excellent wife, a mediocre at best mother, and privy to some of the most profound moments of the modern era.—Jessica Grose, Lenny Letter “At last Sonia Purnell has given us the first political biography of  Clementine Churchill, a woman of power and progressive vision.  Although she was her husband's best guide and most astute advisor during the worst of times, her essential role is generally unacknowledged.   Boldly written and illuminating, this is a generative restoration of a fascinating woman who transcended family grief and marital agonies to lead her husband and the nation with grace, commitment and persistence.”  –Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt   "In this wonderful book Sonia Purnell has at long last given Clementine Churchill the biography she deserves. Sensitive yet clear-eyed, Clementine tells the fascinating story of a complex woman struggling to maintain her own identity while serving as the conscience and principal adviser to one of the most important figures in history. Purnell succeeds brilliantly at an almost impossible task: providing fresh and thought-provoking insights into Winston Churchill in the course of examining his complicated marriage. I was enthralled all the way through."–Lynn Olson, bestselling author of Citizens of London   “An excellent book…Both scrupulous and fair-minded, Sonia Purnell has done her subject proud in this eye-opening and engrossing account of the strong-willed and ambitious woman without whom Winston Churchill’s political career would have been a washout.” –Miranda Seymour, The Telegraph “It seems extraordinary that no one has given this remarkable woman proper biographical treatment before. . . She sacrificed her children and her health in the greater service of her husband, but she also kept him buoyant. This book is a salutary reminder that the Churchills were always a team.” –The Times (UK)   “Compellingly readable. . . Sonia Purnell’s biography of Winston’s wife Clementine brings her out from behind the shadow cast by the Great Man. She became her husband’s wise counselor, discreetly offering sound advice, re-writing his speeches, toning down his foolish or angry letters, preventing him from making certain terrible political mistakes. . . Her wheeling and dealing was done behind a veil of gracious femininity.” –The Independent (UK)   “Eye-opening. . . A bold biography of a bold woman; at last Purnell has put Clementine Churchill at the center of her own extraordinary story, rather than in the shadow of her husband’s.” –Mail on Sunday (UK)   “In our own era of sturdy individualism, it is remarkable to read of Clementine’s resolve to subordinate her own desires and her children’s happiness to her husband’s cause. . . An intriguing study of a character both deeply flawed and, in her way, magnificent.” –The Evening Standard (UK)   “Sonia Purnell’s fine biography. . . brings out of the shadows this formidable woman who was much more than strictly a spouse.” —Newsday   “A sharply drawn, absorbing portrait of Churchill’s elegant, strong-willed wife, who was also his adviser, supporter, protector, and manager. . . Purnell argues persuasively for Clementine's importance to history: she functioned as her husband's astute political strategist; insisted that he consider her feminist views; vetted his speeches; and campaigned for his successes. . . A riveting, illuminating life of a remarkable woman. –Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review) “This exemplary biography illustrates how Clementine’s intelligence, hard work, and perseverance in often difficult circumstances made her every bit a match for her remarkable, intimidating husband, and a fascinating figure in her own right.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)   “Purnell does a remarkable job of proving that Clementine had a large impact on Winston’s life. . . He seems to have known immediately upon meeting her that she would be the one who could support his great ambitions and moderate his mood swings and gambling. . . She edited his writing, advised him on political decisions, and volunteered in many ways throughout both world wars. Her significance, in many way, can be compared to that of Eleanor Roosevelt.” --Library Journal