Humble Beginnings of Churchill, the Political Giant

Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie Jerome) in 1890.
Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie Jerome) in 1890.

by Ray Setterfield

November 30, 1874 — Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s legendary wartime Prime Minister, was born on this day. Surprisingly, considering his rich, aristocratic ancestry – his father, Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill, was the youngest son of the Duke of Marlborough – the great statesman arrived in this world on a table in a cloakroom.

Winston’s heavily pregnant and fun-loving mother had, according to her sister, been dancing at a ball held in Blenheim Palace, the Marlborough ancestral home, when her contractions started. There was no time to take her to a bedroom so she was helped into a nearby room that was being used as a temporary cloakroom.

Lady Randolph, originally Jennie Jerome, was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1854. Her father, Leonard Jerome, was an extremely wealthy financier and speculator, but he and his wife Clarissa were “new money” and not wholly accepted by the ultra-conservative elite of New York. As a result, Clarissa took Jennie and her two sisters to a more accommodating Europe. The friends that Jennie then made in high society included the Prince of Wales.

She was one of the early “Dollar Princesses”, also known as the “Buccaneers” – rich, savvy American women who sailed across the Atlantic and forged relationships with the British aristocracy.

So it was that in 1873 Jennie met the 24-year-old Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill. It was clearly love at first sight because three days later they were engaged, leading to their marriage at the British Embassy in Paris in April, 1874 – seven months before Winston’s birth. The Duke of Marlborough had reservations about the marriage, but was persuaded by the Prince of Wales to give it his blessing.

Jennie was a beautiful and vivacious woman and Winston became devoted to her. He was just as proud of being half-American as he was of belonging to the Marlborough family.

Asked, later in life, about the circumstances of his birth, Churchill replied with a smile: "Although present on that occasion, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it."

Published: April 24, 2016

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