Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace.
He was the eldest son of Lord Randolph Churchill, a Tory Democrat who achieved early success as a rebel in his party.
His mother was Jenny Jerome, the beautiful and talented daughter of Leonard Jerome, a New York businessman. Winston idolized his mother, but his relations with his father, who died in 1895, were cold and distant.
As a child Churchill was sensitive and suffered from a minor speech impediment.
He received a good education in English.
After finishing at Harrow, Winston failed the entrance test for the Royal Military College at Sandhurst three times before finally passing and being allowed to attend the school. His academic record improved a great deal once he began at the college. When he graduated in 1894 he was eighth in his class.
Very early on Churchill demonstrated the physical courage and love of adventure and action that he kept throughout his political career. His first role was that of a soldier-journalist. In 1895 he went to Cuba to write about the Spanish army for the Daily Graphic. In 1896 he was in India, and while on the North-West Frontier with the Malakand Field Force he began work on a novel, Savrola.
More important, however, were Churchill’s accounts of the military campaigns in which he participated. s a journalist for the Morning Post, he went to Africa during the Boer War (1899–1902), where British forces fought against Dutch forces in South Africa. The most romantic of his adventures as a youth was his escape from a South African prison during this conflict.
In 1899 Churchill lost in his first attempt at election to the House of Commons, one of two bodies controlling Parliament in England. But in 1900 he entered the House of Commons, in which he served off and on until 1964.
Churchill’s early years in politics were characterized by an interest in the radical reform (improvement) of social problems. Churchill was very active in the great reforming government of Lord Asquith between 1908 and 1912, and his work fighting unemployment was especially significant.
In 1924 Churchill severed his ties with liberalism and became chancellor of the Exchequer (British treasury) in Stanley Baldwin’s (1867–1947) government. Churchill raised controversy when he decided to put Britain back on the gold standard, a system where currency equals the value of a specified amount of gold.
Churchill’s years between world wars were characterized by political isolation. During this period he made many errors and misjudgments. Chief among these was his warlike approach to the general strike of 1926. Thus, he cannot be viewed simply as a popular leader who was kept waiting in the wings through no fault of his own.
The major period of Churchill’s political career began when he became prime minister and head of the Ministry of Defense early in World War II, when British and American Allies fought against the Axis of Germany, Italy, and Japan.
His finest hour and that of the British people came at the same time. His leadership, which was expressed in noble speeches and constant personal activity, stated precisely what Britain needed to survive through the years before the United States entered the war.
The evacuation of Dunkirk and the air defense of the Battle of Britain became legend, but there were and are controversies over Churchill’s policies.
Many believed some of Churchill’s policies were responsible for the “cold war” of the 1950s and 1960s, where relations between Eastern Communist powers and Western powers came to a standstill over, among other things, nuclear arms.
The final period of Churchill’s career began with the British people rejecting him in the general election of 1945. In that election 393 Labour candidates were elected members of Parliament against 213 Conservatives and their allies. It was one of the most striking reversals of fortune in democratic history. It may perhaps be explained by Churchill’s aggressive campaign combined with the British voters’ desire for social reconstruction.
In 1951, however, Churchill again became prime minister. He resigned in April 1955 after an uneventful term in office.
For many of the later years of his life, even his personal strength was not enough to resist the persistent cerebral arteriosclerosis, a brain disorder, from which he suffered.
He died on January 24, 1965, and was given a state funeral, the details of which had been largely dictated by himself before his death.