Few people have any other mind’s eye image of Winston Churchill than that of a very old man, with a big cigar and perhaps an even bigger ego.
But Winston too had a father, and not an insignificant one either. He was Lord Randolph Henry Spencer, third son of the Duke of Marlborough, who lived in the great palace of Blenheim, given to the family ‘by a grateful nation’ of the first Duke, with grateful thanks for his outstanding military qualities, shown across Europe in battles at Donnauwórth, Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde. John Churchill won all these, after defeated the rebellious bastard son of Charles II – The Duke of Monmouth. He had a split personality too, which he demonstrated by betraying his one-time friend, the brother of King Charles II – James II. It was Marlborough and others who orchestrated the de-throning and voluntary banishment of James, who had pronounced Catholic tendencies disliked by Marborough and other magnates.
The nearest town to Blenheim is Woodstock, and father Randolph was its sitting Member of Parliament, best known for constant attacks on Gladstone the Prime Minister, and anything that struck him as ‘inept’ or sickeningly ‘Tory’. But Randolph was a Conservative himself, and true advocate of what he called ‘the Tory Democracy. He founded ‘the Primrose League’ in 1883, wanting to widen the base for Tory support, and this was an excellent idea but remained just an idea because Randolph would not give way to working-class demands, thus losing, not gaining a wider political base.
When his bète noir Gladstone pledged the Liberals to Home Rule for Ireland, Randolph declared “Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right”, which soon became a popular slogan in Northern Ireland. Lord Salisbury made him Secretary of State for India (1885), and Britain soon enlarged an already swollen Empire by the annexation of Upper Burma. To a great extent, therefore, Randolph was the man responsible for the Anglo-Burmese War, a characteristically one-sided affair. With Salisbury as his boss, Lord Randolph became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons, where he interfered in foreign policy, made powerful speeches without consultation with the PM, and made himself unpopular, hardly tolerated by his colleagues. Meanwhile he had sent his son Winston to a private school whose headmaster was a sadist, against the wishes of Winston’s mother, the American Jennie Jerome – a beauty.
Randolph made a serious misappreciation of the situation when he chose to resign unless cuts were made in the army and navy estimates. Lord Salisbury was only too pleased to be rid of him, and accepted the resignation immediately and without demur. The humiliation helped to destroy Lord Randolph; his mind and body gradually fell to pieces and he died at forty-six (of suspected syphillis) in 1895, when Winston was twenty-one.