Born in Blenheim Palace, the residence of his grandfather, the 7th Duke of Marlborough. His father was the Duke’s third son, Lord Randolph Churchill. His mother, Jennie Jerome, was the daughter of an American financier.
After passing through famous English public schools such as Harrow, he went on to fulfill his ambition for a life in the army. He fought in various parts of the British Empire until in 1900 when he won the Conservative seat in Oldham in the general election. From here until 1929 he held various offices in British Parliament.
The 1930s saw fascism grow in strength throughout Europe with dictators such as Italy’s Benito Mussolini, Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Spain’s Francisco Franco. When the UK and France declared war on Germany in 1939, Neville Chamberlain was British Prime Minister. On May 10, 1940 Hitler’s forces invaded Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg in order to invade France. Chamberlain was seen by many as a weak leader and they longed for a more forceful leader with whom Britain could feel safe. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, was chosen to become Prime Minister (at the age of 65). It could be said that Churchill’s fiery energy had never been experienced before in British politics and suddenly it seemed as though Britain could face the Nazis and the fascists. He made a speech on 13 May: “You ask: ‘What is our policy?’ I will say: ‘It is to wage war by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark lamentable catalog of human crime.’ That is our policy. You ask: ‘What is our aim?’ I can answer in one word: ‘Victory! Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.'”
The United States officially entered the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The US’s participation was excellent news to Churchill and after success on D-Day and as the Nazi forces were gradually forced back, the war in Europe gradually drew to a close. He lost the 1945 General Election by a landslide, lost again in 1950, but was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1951 despite receiving fewer votes than Labour. Due to deteriorating health he retired in 1955. He died at Hyde Park Gate, London, on January 24, 1965 at the age of 90. He had succeeded in the uniting of thought and deed. He had succeeded in uniting everyone in the common purpose, inspiring them with fortitude and strength to face whatever hardships that would have to be incurred in the process of first surviving and ultimately winning the war. His daughter Mary wrote to him on his death bed: “I owe you what every Englishman, woman, and child owes you – liberty itself.”
As one of the most significant British politicians of the 20th century, Churchill remains one of the country’s most widely recognized figures. He has been played by an almost incalculable number of actors on screen, but three of the most notable and acclaimed screen portrayals were by Robert Hardy in Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981) (which covers Churchill’s life from 1929 to 1939), Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm (2002) (also set in the 1930s before he became Prime Minister) and Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (set in May 1940).
As well as a politician, Churchill was also an author and a prolific artist, who painted over 500 canvases, exhibited at the Royal Academy and at Paris, and sold paintings.