The Childhood Adventures of Winston Churchill

Most pictures taken of Winston Churchill with the bald head and rounded stomach make it hard to picture him as a young boy, but he did have a childhood.

Winston Churchill was born on November 30, 1874 in Oxfordshire, England. His family didn’t stay long in England though. Soon after Winston’s birth, the family moved to Dublin, Ireland. Winston and his parents lived with his grandfather who was the Viceroy of Ireland. Winston’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, worked as the viceroy’s secretary. By the time the Churchills returned to England in 1880, Winston had a new brother named Jack.


Winston Churchill, 1881 Dublin, Ireland

Like a lot of kids from wealthy families in Victorian England, Winston was closer to his nanny than to his parents. His nanny’s name was Mrs. Everest, but Winston affectionately called her “Old Woom” or “Woomany.” They remained friends when Winston grew up. Though he was only twenty when she died, Winston kept a picture of his nanny in his bedroom until his death.

Winston didn’t become close to his mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, until after Mrs. Everest’s death. He later wrote of his mother that she “always seemed to me a fairy princess…I loved her dearly—but at a distance.”

Lady Randolph Churchill had both physical and emotional distance from her son. Before his eighth birthday in 1882 Winston was sent to St. George’s boarding school. Winston showed no interest in his subjects and had poor grades. Lord and Lady Randolph didn’t take much interest in their son, either, even when he begged them to visit the school. His father was a politician and his mother was busy with her social life.

After two years at St. George’s Winston transferred to Miss Thomson’s Preparatory School. He liked his new school much better. Winston remembered his time there fondly: “At this school I was allowed to learn things which interested me: French, History, lots of Poetry by heart, and above all riding and swimming.”

In 1888 Winston entered Harrow School. He joined the Harrow Rifle Corps which held mock battles. Though he excelled in the Rifle Corps and enjoyed the mock battles, he was not a stellar student otherwise. As he remembered, “in all the twelve years I was at school no one ever succeeded in making me write a Latin verse or learn any Greek except the alphabet.”

Clearly, Winston had other goals in mind that didn’t involve school. He told one friend that “I shall be in command of the defenses in London…it will fall to me to save the capital and save the Empire.” During World War II, young Winston’s comments came true.

Wanted: A Husband for the Queen–Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

As Queen of England, Victoria was expected to produce an heir. Soon after her coronation in 1837 a search for a husband started. Since the Queen of England ruled in her own right, finding a husband presented some unique issues since there was really no precedent. Queen Elizabeth I ruled alone but never married. In the end Victoria chose her German cousin on her mother’s side. He became known in England as Prince Albert.

The extraordinary circumstances of their marriage were no doubt helped by the fact that Victoria and Albert were very much in love with each other. Prince Albert soon carved out his own role beside Victoria. He served as her private secretary and closest advisor. He often stood in for her when she was feeling particularly unwell during one of her nine pregnancies. Albert also influenced Victoria with his interest in science and technology. As a result the queen remained a patron of both throughout her reign.


The Marriage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Feb. 1840

Husband and wife and their nine children made for quite a happy family. Though it has been said that Victoria did not like children, this was mostly true of children six months of age and younger. Like most women, she did not enjoy the experience of childbirth. In contrast to Victoria, Albert liked the company of very small children. The Queen admitted that Albert made a better nurse than she did after the birth of their first child and later reminded her daughter “dear Papa always directed our nursery and I believe that none was ever better.”

Victoria had many photographs and portraits made of her and her family, although she was often away on official business. Neither mother nor father could spend as much time with the children as they would’ve liked, but this was common among wealthy British families. Both parents took a keen interest and concern in their children’s education. They tended to stay away from the traditional clerics and selected more liberal tutors.

Albert and Victoria’s personalities also balanced one another out. Albert had tendency to be serious, while Victoria appeared more serious in portraits than in real life. Many people who met her in person were surprised to see Victoria smile and laugh so often.

When Albert died in 1861, the Queen was devastated. After his death, she wrote “What a dreadful going to bed! What a contrast to that tender lover’s love! All alone!” Victoria mourned in private for almost three years until she was finally seen in public riding in her carriage.

Book Review: Fallen Skies by Philippa Gregory

In her historical novel Fallen Skies Philippa Gregory takes the reader to 1920s England. We meet Lily Valance, a chorus girl with ambitions to become a singer. She meets Capt. Stephen Winters, a World War I veteran, at one of the clubs where she performs. Stephen hardly knows Lily, but believes he is falling in love with her because she seems so unspoiled by World War I. Haunted by his experiences in Belgium, Stephen wants nothing more than to forget the war. He believes Lily’s insistence that no one talk about the past will help him to move on.

Lily enjoys his attentions. She especially likes when he takes her and her mother out in a car driven by his chauffeur. Yet she is also attracted to Charlie, her director. Charlie has a physical injury from the war that will not allow him to have children. Although he loves Lily, he thinks he is doing the noble thing by letting her go.

When Lily’s mother dies, she just wants someone to take care of her. She is convinced that Stephen will do this, so she accepts his marriage proposal.

Soon, however, there is trouble in their marriage. Lily is embarrassed by Stephen’s behavior when a car backfires during their honeymoon. Convinced he is in a war zone, Stephen hits the ground and starts rolling. Onlookers tell Lily he is shell-shocked. She gets him back to the hotel and when he feels more like himself, he acts as though nothing has happened and violently insists that Lily do the same. He pays off the hotel staff with money, and Lily finds herself trapped with a man she fears rather than loves.


British army at Battle of Ypres, Aug. 1917

When they return home to Stephen’s parents’ house, Lily discovers that she is expected to sit at home with her mother-in-law or to pay boring calls on other ladies while Stephen goes to work. One day she manages to slip out of the house and audition for a production that Charlie is directing. When he realizes what Lily has done, Stephen tries to rape her. With a little help from an unlikely friend, Lily is both saved from rape and allowed to continue performing at the theater. She decides she will let Stephen do what he likes with her at home but lives for her work—at least until she discovers that she is pregnant.

With a baby on the way, Lily and Stephen both have to confront their past. Stephen cannot avoid his war memories and the knowledge of what he and his chauffeur did while at a farmhouse in Belgium. He has to decide what is more important: keeping his past secret or keeping his family together. Lily also has to decide what is most important in her life: her baby or her career. Ultimately the decisions they make will have live-or-death consequences for themselves and their son.

Overall I would recommend the book, especially to anyone who wants to learn more about how World War I affected soldiers when they returned home. The novel also does a good job of describing gender expectations in the 1920s, which basically involved men working and women staying home. Given some of the subject matter, however, I would recommend it for ages 12 and up.


The Education of Queen Victoria of England

As a little girl, the future Queen of England already had a stubborn streak. She refused to behave and her mother described her as “unmanageable.” Fortunately, four-year-old Victoria’s first tutor, George Davys, came up with ways to make lessons interesting. Though Victoria resisted learning to read, her tutor decided to create a word game for his student. He wrote words on cards and hid them in the nursery. Victoria adored searching for the cards as Davys called out the name of each one. The princess learned quickly, but Davys noted that she still had “a will of her own.”

By age five, Victoria’s mother appointed Louise Lehzen as Victoria’s governess. The relationship did not always go smoothly, since Lehzen insisted that Victoria behave and practice her lessons. Victoria rebelled with tantrums. Once the princess threw scissors at the governess. The older woman proved as stubborn as Victoria though and she devoted hours to the child’s lessons, piano practice, and playtime with Victoria’s collection of dolls. Eventually Victoria began to like her governess. Victoria later said of Lehzen that, “I adored her, though I was greatly in awe of her.”

Lehzen remained an important part of Victoria’s life, but she as she grew she had tutors who specialized in certain subjects. The princess’ school day started at 9:30 and went to 11:30. Then she and ate until 3pm when lessons began again and lasted until 6pm. Victoria loved drawing, dancing, and history. She wrote to her uncle that, “I am very fond of making tables of the Kings and Queens.” In contrast, she hated practicing the piano. When she was told that she must practice, Victoria slammed the lid of the piano shut and declared, “There! There is no must about it.”

Despite her occasional outbursts, Victoria managed to concentrate on her studies, which included an increasingly wide range of subjects. She made progress in learning languages, including French, German, and English, though grammar was not her strong point.

Her education was very focused on the knowledge she would need as a future monarch and had little in common with other girls’ education in the nineteenth century. For example, instead of learning to sew, Victoria studied arithmetic. For many young ladies, beauty and the opinions of men mattered a lot, but Victoria spent little time worrying about her appearance or what others thought of her. In a letter to her half-sister, Victoria poked fun at her own portrait.

The emphasis that her mother and tutors placed on her education made the future queen inquisitive. As queen, Victoria refused to sit back and let her ministers advise her. Instead, she studied and asked questions about issues in England and foreign affairs, frequently surpassing her advisors with her knowledge. To date Queen Victoria is England’s longest reigning monarch, though she may be surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II.