Friday, May 4, 2007

The 4th. Party - 1

The year is 1880; the election is over; and you Conservatives have lost again. Since 1846 your party has won only one general election, the last one six years ago in 1874.

We watch as you traipse into Parliament. Across the aisle the Liberal Members sit in row upon row, their enormous numbers overflowing to your own side of the chamber. Below to your right, on the Front Opposition Bench sits the sorry wreckage of your leadership. Utterly demoralized, and bereft of ideas, all they can think of is to oppose change. Across the aisle from them, on the Treasury Bench, among the Liberal leaders sits their champion, one of the greatest British statesmen of the century: William E. Gladstone.

Can you even imagine, friend Tory, that in a few short years you will stake your future on the masses you dread and that they may in turn base their future upon the institutions you guard? The instrument of this change sits with you now. Don’t try to guess but if you insist here’s a hint: he is the most unlikely of your colleagues.

* * * *

He had said that public life had no charms for him and that he hated bother and publicity. His future wife had written, “I should like you to be as ambitious as you are clever and I am sure you would accomplish great things.”

That was then. Those sentiments could have been forgotten; instead they were filed away in the back of their minds. This was now. They were safely married. Winston Churchill was born and in the care of his nurse. Now was the time to party! Lord Randolf Churchill had the social connections; Lady Jeannie had the beauty and personality. Together the best parties and social cliques were open to them. They made the most of them.

Beneath the gaiety and shadowing the promise laid a dark secret, the darkest secret of the entire Churchill family story. Randolf was sick – terminally so. He had syphilis.

Everything about the story is a mystery. However he got it, history knows that he had it; Jennie eventually had to have found out; and just as eventually, he died. He knew that he was doomed.

Jennie’s partying became increasingly frantic. She mostly went alone.

Then he started a fight with the Prince of Wales. When he told the Princess, his wife, that he would publish some letters the Prince had written to another women unless he gave in, the Prince blew up. A duel was proposed! “What a dreadful, disgraceful business,” Queen Victoria declared.

The Duke of Marlborough was beside himself. Was this to be the result of all his efforts to rebuild the Churchill name? First sexual disease, now this? In America the Hatfields feuded the McCoys but in England was it to be the Churchills versus no less that the Royal Family itself?

The Randolf Churchills were especially ostracized from High Society.

Leonard Jerome stepped up. “Forget it,” he wrote. “Let’s go off to Newport to sail and drive and see what I have got left of a racing stable.” They did.

They visited Niagara Falls first then New York. Leonard was at his best showing off his town. What a contrast between the stuffy Marlboroughs and the warm, laughing Leonard Jerome!

This trip caused them to make a decision. They could have stayed. They did not. Randolf was a Member of Parliament. Whatever America’s attractions, they were now both English. They went home.

It was 1877. The Conservatives were still in power and Disraeli was Prime Minister. He could not have this feud threaten the social stability of the realm. So he made the Duke of Marlborough an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The Duke was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Randolf was made the Duke’s unpaid secretary. That “unpaid” was particularly important. It got him out of England and mollified the Royal family.

The Churchill’s Ireland years was their exile in the wilderness. Randolf and Jennie had no parties, no friends, only each other. To Randolf: “…if we are to have all these worries – do for Heaven’s sake let’s go through them together. As long as I have you I don’t care what happens…”

The Ireland years showed them something else. Ireland was a land of poverty and struggle against oppression. The English owned all of the land; the Irish worked it and paid their earnings in rent.

Winston’s judgment on the scandal: “Without it, he might have wasted a dozen years in the frivolous and expensive pursuits of the silly world of fashion; without it he would probably never have developed popular sympathies or the courage to champion democratic causes.”

In 1880, the Liberals won. The Conservatives, and Marlborough, were thrown out of office. And in 1880 Randolf and Jennie returned to London, filled with purpose.

Excerpt from a book in progress. Churchill Stories. (from Chapter 1.)