Monday, 12 March 2012

Blenheim Mother Extraordinary

As Winston Churchill’s mother Lady Randolph Churchill left much to be desired.

Throughout his childhood and youth she gave little demonstration of affection; her priority was very much the pursuit of her social life. No doubt she loved him but, as he himself commented, although he adored her it was as an Evening Star – it was at distance! From his father he received virtually nothing but total dismissiveness.

There was a huge gap in the life of the deeply emotional child that Winston was. His childhood letters to his so often absent parents beg for affection unceasingly; it was rarely shown.

He could have been deeply scarred by the experience. It is interesting to query how the qualities such as the self confidence, leadership and sense of purpose, which made him the inspiration he was in the Second World War, would have developed from such a vacuum.

He was fortunate that two other women did much to fill his need for caring and love; to provide the mothering he lacked but craved. One, famously, was his nanny, Mrs Everest, from whom he received and to whom he returned unconditional love until she died. The other, perhaps more surprisingly in being so lesser known, was his grandmother, Frances Anne, 7th Duchess of Marlborough. She might appear to have been very much a typical Victorian martinet. “At the rustle of whose silk skirts the whole Palace trembled,” was one comment about her and photographs of her, in unsmiling, formal Victorian style, might seem to support this view.

She was far from this. The truth is that she was a woman of great warmth, compassion and capacity for caring. Not only did she demonstrate this unceasingly to her own eleven children (including to the very difficult Lord Randolph) but to so many other family children that she mothered that one family member remarked that Blenheim was becoming,    “a great dumping ground for children”.

Thus, inevitably perhaps, throughout his childhood and youth his mother and father dumped him on Duchess Frances at Blenheim, where often she acted as surrogate mother. So, during his formative years, it tended to be Frances who provided the care and love for which Winston was desperate.

Many instances of this are on record even to this day. So, for example, at Christmas when he was only seven, he was left at Blenheim with his grandmother – and actually had to write from there a letter of thanks for his present to parents, who had neither been there to give them not to see them opened.  

And so it went on for many years. Even in his twenties it was to his grandmother he wrote not long before her death. In a long, very personal letter (“My dear Grandmama ....Ever your affectionate grandson”) he entrusted to her his hopes and ambitions on his momentous decision to leave the army career for one in writing and politics. Tellingly she kept the letter; it exists to this day - revealing a grandmother  - and mother extraordinary!

 Written by the Archivist to His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, John Forster.

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