In Blenheim Palace, England, Winston Churchill was born to a British father with roots in the nobility, Lord Randolph Churchill, and a wealthy American beauty, Jennie Jerome. His childhood had all the trappings of privilege, and he enjoyed a close relationship with his younger brother, Jack, but the boys were largely brought up by household staff. Churchill received little affection from his parents and his father could be quite critical, particularly regarding Churchill’s poor academic performance. Despite his interest in a military career, Churchill struggled with the entrance examination for the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, failing it twice before he finally passed and was admitted. However, he did apply himself well to subjects that captured his interest, and in December 1894, he managed to graduate high in his class.
In early 1895, Churchill’s professional life began with a commission in the British Army. He served as both soldier and reporter during his travels to India, Egypt, Sudan, and South Africa. With his first book about his battle experiences, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898), he discovered that his aptitude for writing could earn him a living and he developed a penchant for military histories. A prolific author, Churchill penned more than forty books during his life, including his multi-volume works The World Crisis (1923-29), The Second World War (1948-53), and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956-58).
After winning his first election in 1900, Churchill started his tenure in Parliament , where he would serve intermittently until 1964. He gained varied experience by holding a long list of influential positions, including home secretary , first lord of the Admiralty , and chancellor of the exchequer . His political career was tumultuous: he did not hesitate to switch parties if it suited him, he was promoted and demoted alike, and he was, at times, extremely unpopular. Through his career swings, Churchill benefitted from the steadfast support of his wife, Clementine Hozier Churchill, whom he had married in 1908. It was a fortunate match; the couple shared a loyal bond and had an affectionate, tender marriage and five children. Although his offspring could be a source of frustration, Churchill enjoyed fatherhood and provided his children with sincere, warm attention.
In political circles, Churchill inspired animosity and mistrust not only because of his perceived disloyalty (caused by switching party affiliations), but also because many of his opinions were seen as unsound. He was particularly discredited during World War I when, in 1915, he favored the doomed Dardanelles campaign , which resulted in heavy British casualties. In the 1930s, he issued warnings when Germany began to mobilize for war. He was critical of the 1938 Munich agreement , in which British officials allowed Germany to take over part of Czechoslovakia in the hopes of reducing future German demands. Churchill disagreed with this policy of appeasement , but as with many of his past political stances, not many agreed with him.
On May 10, 1940, Churchill was 65 years old, but he was far from retirement. Instead, on that day, he became Great Britain’s prime minster. The serious threat posed by an aggressive Germany, which seemed intent on conquering Europe, had finally been realized. In his first speech as prime minster, delivered on May 13, Churchill assured his countrymen that he would offer his “blood, toil, tears, and sweat”in this time of crisis. During the war years, Churchill, resolute and patriotic, bolstered his nation’s morale as the British battled the Nazis . For more than a year, the country fought without its eventual allies, the Soviet Union and the United States, who joined the conflict in 1941. The alliance Churchill helped create with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin defeated the Axis , but he was forced to watch his Allied partners gain power while the once-great British Empire crumbled. While attending the final war conference in July 1945, Churchill lost the general election at home and was replaced as prime minister, a devastating blow.
The following year, during a visit to the United States, Churchill delivered his famous “iron curtain”speech , warning of the Soviet Union’s intentions. It was a prescient statement predicting the coming “Cold War .”In 1951—when he was nearly 77—Churchill became prime minister for a second time, serving until ill health forced him to resign in 1955. Late in his life, he received numerous accolades: he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II and won the Nobel Prize in Literature (both in 1953), and in 1963, he became the first person ever to receive honorary United States citizenship. After suffering a series of strokes over several years, Churchill died on January 24, 1965 and was honored with an elaborate state funeral.