The father of Winston

Lord Randolph /

Lord Randolph /

Lord Randolph H.S. Churchill was born in 1849, the third son of the then Duke of Marlborough. In character more similar to his grandson Randolph than his son Winston, he got into the House of Commons for the family borough (and almost fief) of Woodstock in 1874. I say ‘fief’ because near Woodstock stands Blenheim Palace, presented to John Churchill Ist Duke of Marlborough by a grateful Queen and Nation after his military successes. The building was designed by a retired playwright called John Vanbrugh, and the massive park was designed by Vanbrugh himself aided by Queen Anne’s gardener Henry Wise, with later additions by ‘Capability’ Brown.

Hardly was Randolph installed as MP before he was attacking Gladstone (q.v.), and mocking the unusually inept Conservative leadership in the House of Commons. He founded The Primrose League in 1883. The primrose was Disraeli’s favourite flower and the League was formed to promote ‘Tory Democracy’ by mobilizing (for the first time) working-class support for the Conservative Party under the direction of the landed gentry.

Randolph opposed home rule for Ireland but supported the notion of self-government there. He advised Parnell that he would oppose coercion in return for Irish support in the 1885 election. Thus the Conservative Party gained power briefly but then Randolph’s bugbear Gladstone pledged the Liberal Party to home rule. Randolph immediately showed he was a Churchill by inventing a slogan – “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right!” This soon became a popular saying in Ireland.

In Lord Salisbury’s cabinet he became Secretary of State for India and as such was held responsible for the Anglo-Burmese War in 1885. Britain annexed Upper Burma as a result. In 1886 Churchill was Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the Commons but his colleagues found him impossible, interfering in foreign policy and even making loud declarations in public speeches without consulting the PM.


Jennie Churchill, Winston's American mother

Jennie Churchill, Winston’s American mother

After only five months in office he thought he would make a good career move by offering his resignation unless cuts were made in army and navy budgets. Salisbury was only too delighted and accepted the resignation as final. It was the end of what had seemed at one time a promising career in politics, spoiled by the Spencer pride and the Churchill ambition. Randolph’s mind and body deteriorated quickly and he died a broken man with secondary syphilis at the age of only 46, in 1895 – but not before getting married to an American lady, Jennie Jerome, and producing Winston Spencer Churchill, which could be said to be his one outstanding contribution to British history.

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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