Behind Every Great Man Stands An Even Greater Woman
Updated: Mar 13
I have always been fascinated by Winston Churchill. In every important history lesson about World War II, there is always the famous photo of the Yalta Conference with Stalin, FDR, and Winston Churchill sitting in a row with imposing looks on their faces. The year was 1945, a WWII victory was on the horizon for the allies and “the Big Three” had come together to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany and Europe. They needed to decide on the fate of post-Hitler Germany. It was also at this meeting that the new United Nations was created.
Winston Churchill was a fascinating and powerful man but also very controversial. From the age of twenty-six, Winston began his career in public office holding several Parliamentary offices, serving as Secretary of State for War, Minister of Munitions, Secretary of State for Colonies, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Defense, Father of the House of Commons, and Prime Minister twice during the reign of George VI and Elizabeth ll. He switched from the Conservative Party to the Opposition and then back to Conservative Party and was often criticized for it. When we think of Winston Churchill, he is almost always portrayed as a caricature of a large man wearing a Homberg hat, puffing on his cigar and taking his baths, usually twice a day while reciting dictation to his secretaries. He was a man of many words and a large personality, which comes through clearly in this new book Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict.
I will admit, I knew very little about Clementine Hozier Churchill before reading this book. I read the book on the recommendation of one of my readers, JoAnn Altenau, my dear friend’s mom. Thank you, Mrs. Altenau! What I did know about Clementine Churchill was that she was a strong woman, a woman behind the man, a woman who very likely made the man, and I wanted to know more about her.
Clementine, like Winston, came from an aristocratic family, although hers was not a traditional one. It is believed that the man her mother was married to at the time of her birth may not have been her father. Her mother had many affairs and it is believed that each of her children had different fathers. When Clementine and her siblings were young, their mother divorced the man they believed to be their father. Money was scarce so the family moved often to follow her various lovers.
Clementine was very bright but did not go to college. She was expected to earn money to help support her family so she became a French tutor. This was uncommon for a woman of her social status but Clementine liked working and earning a living. It was her independence and self-sufficiency that first attracted young Winston to Clementine. They met at a dinner party in 1908, although it is said they may have met once before. It was at this dinner party that Winston became fascinated that Clementine had a “position” and understood something of work and the world. Clementine liked Winston’s liberal views – he had voted in favor of the female suffragists and favored an active government that would introduce legislation to protect the welfare of its citizens. Their courtship was brief and their love for each other was strong, with Clementine often playing a protective role. In the book, you see Winston as a needy husband seeking undivided attention from his wife at all times. As you can imagine, this created an enormous amount of stress for Clementine. They were married in September 1908 and from that point forward Clementine literally never left Winston’s side.
Throughout this novel of historical fiction, you will see how Clementine often steered Winston in the right direction. It’s not that he couldn’t do this on his own, but while Winston was very good at politics and government, he did not always understand the ramifications of his decisions on the people. This is where Clementine excelled. She made sure that his persona appealed to the people, often at the expense of her family and herself. Clementine put Winston first so often that her children were often neglected. She traveled extensively anywhere he needed to be for great lengths of time and left the children home to be raised by nannies, not an entirely uncommon thing at this time. However, having had the childhood that she had, she wanted to be a more present mother. Unfortunately, Winston’s needs would always come first.
This is a story of a woman ahead of her time, who truly made a difference in England. During WWII, Clementine made sure the bomb shelters were upgraded and comfortable for the thousands of families who would have to stay in them for 14 hours at a time. She did her duty by serving as a fire watcher at night to watch for bombings or suspicious activity. She put women to work during wartime, provided jobs for them, important jobs, while the men were fighting. She did this not only to fill the jobs but also to give women a purpose and a salary while their men were away. She was also the Chairperson of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund and the President of the YWCA War Time Appeal. All the while, she tended to Winston’s needs, wrote many of his speeches, traveled to meet with world leaders, and visited hospitals, schools, and shelters of wartime destruction.
In an interview with the author about why she chose to write about Clementine, Benedict said she came across Clementine’s story while researching another book. She realized that she knew very little about her. After conducting her research Benedict realized that Clementine Churchill was not only the woman behind Winston but often beside or even in front of him.
If you like historical fiction novels as much as I do, you will love this story of Clementine Churchill. It is a story about her life, her love, and her unending accomplishments. As a wife and/or mother you will also relate to her struggles with balancing everything, trying to raise a family, being a dutiful wife while also pursuing the things that she felt strongly about. Throughout the book she talks about the emotional toll this took on her and I think this is something many of us can relate to in our everyday lives. It is a constant struggle to have it all, and 80 years later, women still struggle trying to make time for everyone and everything.
Publication Date: January 7, 2020