Biography of Clementine Churchill, Britain's First Lady

The wife of Winston Churchill worked hard in her own right

Clementine Churchill
Clementine Churchill (1885 - 1977), Baroness Spencer-Churchill, the widow of Sir Winston Churchill, 20th April 1971.

 Fox Photos / Getty Images

Born Clementine Ogilvy Hozier, Clementine Churchill (April 1, 1885 – December 12, 1977) was a British noblewoman and the wife of prime minister Winston Churchill. Although she lived a relatively quiet life, she was honored in later life with a Dame Grand Cross and a life peerage in her own right.

Fast Facts: Clementine Churchill

  • Full Name: Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill, Baroness Spencer-Churchill
  • Born: April 1, 1885 in London, England
  • Died: December 12, 1977 in London, England
  • Known For: Born to a minor noble family, Clementine Churchill came to prominence as the wife of prime minister Winston Churchill, receiving several honors in her own right for her charity work.
  • Spouse: Winston Churchill (m. 1908-1965)
  • Children: Diana (1909-1963), Randolph (1911-1968), Sarah (1914-1982), Marigold (1918-1921), Mary (1922-2014)

Early Life and Family

Officially, Clementine Churchill was the daughter of Sir Henry Hozier and his wife, Lady Blanche Hozier, who was a daughter of David Ogilvy, 10th Earl of Airlie. However, Lady Blanche was infamous for her many affairs. She reportedly claimed that Churchill’s real father was Capt. William George "Bay" Middleton, a horseman and equerry to Earl Spencer, while others believe that Sir Henry was totally infertile and that all of her children were actually fathered by her brother-in-law Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, Baron Redesdale.

Churchill’s parents divorced when she was six, in 1891, due in large part to both of their ongoing and numerous affairs. When she was fourteen, her mother moved the family to Dieppe, a town off the coast in northern France. Their idyllic time there was cut tragically short, though, within a year, when the eldest daughter, Kitty, fell ill with typhoid fever. Churchill and her sister Nellie were sent away to Scotland for their safety, and Kitty died in 1900.

Clementine Churchill
1908: Clementine Ogilvy Hozier before her marriage to Sir Winston Churchill.  Hulton Archive / Getty Images

As a girl, Churchill began her education at home under the care of a governess, as many girls of her social class did. Afterwards, she attended the Berkhamsted School for Girls in Hertfordshire, England. She became secretly engaged—two separate times—to Sir Sidney Peel, a grandson of Queen Victoria’s famous prime minister Sir Robert Peel; Peel was fifteen years her senior and the relationship never worked out.

Marriage to Winston Churchill

In 1904, Clementine and Winston Churchill first met at a ball held by mutual acquaintances, the Earl and Countess of Crewe. It would be another four years before their paths crossed again, when they were seated next to each other at a dinner party held by a distant cousin of Clementine’s. They developed a rapport very quickly and continued seeing each other and corresponding over the next several months, and by August 1908, they were engaged.

Only one month later, on September 12, 1908, the Churchills were married in St. Margaret's, Westminster. They took their honeymoon in Baveno, Venice, and Moravia, then returned home to settle down in London. Within a year, they welcomed their first child, their daughter Diana. In total, the couple had five children: Diana, Randolph, Sarah, Marigold, and Mary; all but Marigold survived to adulthood.

Clementine, Winston and Sarah Churchill
British statesman Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965) his wife Clementine (1885 - 1977) and their daughter Sarah, leaving for an appointment at Buckingham Palace, 11th May 1933.  Keystone / Getty Images

Wars and Between Wars

During World War I, Clementine Churchill organized canteens for munitions workers, working with the Young Men's Christian Association of the North East Metropolitan Area of London. This assistance to the war effort earned her an appointment as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1918.

In the 1930s, Churchill spent some time traveling without her husband. She traveled on Baron Moyne’s yacht on an island cruise. There were rumors that she had an affair with a younger man, art dealer Terence Philip, but they were never confirmed; there were also rumors that Philip was gay. Her trip with the Moynes ended abruptly after an incident in which another guest insulted Winston and the Moynes failed to smooth things over.

Winston Churchill became prime minister in 1940, as World War II was breaking out. During the war years, Clementine Churchill again took on roles in aid societies, now with a much higher profile as the wife of the prime minister. She was the chairman of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, the president of the Young Women's Christian Association War Time Appeal, and the chairman of Maternity Hospital for the Wives of Officers.

Clementine Churchill surveying a line graph of the Aid to Russia Fund
Clementine Churchill surveys a graph of her Aid to Russia Fund in 1944. J. Wilds / Getty Images

She was honored again for her efforts, and this time, she was not only honored in her own country. During a tour of Russia at the end of the war, she was awarded a Soviet honor, the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. Back home, in 1946, she was appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, and her formal title became Dame Clementine Churchill GBE. Over the years, she also received several honorary degrees from the University of Glasgow, the University of Bristol, and Oxford.

Widowhood and Later Years

In 1965, Winston Churchill died at the age of 90, leaving Clementine as a widow after 56 years of marriage. That year, she was created a life peer, with the title Baroness Spencer-Churchill, of Chartwell in the County of Kent. She remained independent from major party affiliations, but ultimately, her declining health (particularly hearing loss) prevented her from having much of a presence in Parliament. Her two oldest children both predeceased her: Diana in 1963, and Randolph in 1968.

Churchill’s final years were marred by financial difficulties, and she had to sell some of her husband’s paintings. On December 12, 1977, Clementine Churchill died at age 92 after suffering a heart attack. She was buried alongside her husband and children at St. Martin's Church, Bladon in Oxfordshire.

Sources

  • Blakemore, Erin. “Meet the Woman Behind Winston Churchill.” History, 5 December 2017, https://www.history.com/news/meet-the-woman-behind-winston-churchill.
  • Purnell, Sonia. First Lady: The Private Wars of Clementine Churchill. Aurum Press Limited, 2015.
  • Soames, Mary. Clementine Churchill. Doubleday, 2002.