Lord Randolph Churchill

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For the son of Sir Winston Churchill, see Randolph Churchill. For the biography, see Lord Randolph Churchill (book).
The Right Honourable
Lord Randolph Churchill
Randolph Churchill in18830001.jpg
Chancellor of the Exchequer
In office
3 August 1886 – 22 December 1886
Prime Minister Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by William Vernon Harcourt
Succeeded by Viscount Goschen
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
3 August 1886 – 14 January 1887
Prime Minister Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by William Ewart Gladstone
Succeeded by William Henry Smith
Secretary of State for India
In office
24 June 1885 – 28 January 1886
Prime Minister Marquess of Salisbury
Preceded by Earl of Kimberley
Succeeded by Earl of Kimberley
Personal details
Born 13 February 1849
Belgravia, London
Died 24 January 1895 (aged 45)
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Jennie Jerome
Children Winston Churchill
John Churchill
Alma mater Merton College, Oxford
Profession Politician

Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill PC (13 February 1849 – 24 January 1895) was a British statesman. He was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, and his wife, Lady Frances Vane. He was the father of Winston Churchill, the future wartime Prime Minister, who wrote his father's first major biography.[1]

Early life[edit]

Churchill in the 1860s

He was born at 3 Wilton Terrace, Belgravia, London. He was at first privately educated, and later attended Tabor's Preparatory School at Cheam, London. In January 1863 he went to Eton College, where he remained until July 1865. He did not stand out either at academic work or sport while at Eton; his contemporaries describe him as a vivacious and rather unruly boy. In October 1867 he matriculated at Merton College, Oxford. He had a liking for sport, but was also an avid reader, and obtained a second-class degree in jurisprudence and modern history in 1870. In 1871, Churchill and his uncle George Spencer-Churchill were initiated into the rites of Freemasonry, as later his son Winston would be.[2] In 1874 he was elected to Parliament as Conservative member for Woodstock, Oxfordshire defeating George Brodrick, a Fellow, and afterwards Warden, of Merton College. His maiden speech, delivered in his first session, prompted compliments from Harcourt and Disraeli, who wrote to the Queen of Churchill's 'energy and natural flow'.

Influential marriage[edit]

Lord Randolph Churchill married on 15 April 1874 Jennie Jerome, daughter of Leonard Jerome, of New York in the United States, by whom he had two sons:

Jennie Jerome's social contacts greatly helped advance Lord Randolph's early career.

In January 1875, Lord Randolph made a series of visits to his doctor, Oscar Clayton, for "an undisclosed ailment". Frank Harris later claimed that this was syphilis.[3] However, recent contested suggestions presented by London's Churchill Centre and Museum call into question Harris's veracity and offering the alternative theory of a "left side brain tumour," that they claim the symptoms were more consistent with Churchill's observed afflictions. However, some observers have claimed this as a crude attempt to sanitise the overall Churchill family memories and that Churchill did die due to complications from syphilis, as attested to by Harris. At the period of Churchill’s treatment his doctor Oscar Clayton was one of the leading specialists in the treatment of syphilis at his practice at 5, Harley Street, London. This would lend credence to the Harris statement. .[4]

The "Fourth Party"[edit]

"The Fourth Party"
Spencer-Churchill, Balfour, Drummond-Wolff and Gorst as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, December 1880

It was not until 1878 that he came to public notice as the exponent of independent Conservatism. He made a series of furious attacks on Sir Stafford Northcote, R. A. Cross, and other prominent members of the "old gang". George Sclater-Booth (afterwards 1st Baron Basing), President of the Local Government Board, was a specific target, and the minister's County Government Bill was fiercely denounced as the "crowning dishonour to Tory principles", and the "supreme violation of political honesty". Lord Randolph's attitude, and the vituperative fluency of his invective, made him a parliamentary figure of some importance before the dissolution of the 1874 parliament, though he was not yet taken quite seriously.

In the new parliament of 1880 he speedily began to play a more notable role. Along with Sir Henry Drummond-Wolff, Sir John Gorst and occasionally Arthur Balfour, he made himself known as the audacious opponent of the Liberal administration and the unsparing critic of the Conservative front bench. The "fourth party", as it was nicknamed, at first did little damage to the government, but awakened the opposition from its apathy; Churchill roused the Conservatives by leading resistance to Charles Bradlaugh, the member for Northampton, who, though an avowed atheist or agnostic, was prepared to take the parliamentary oath. Sir Stafford Northcote, the Conservative leader in the Lower House, was forced to take a strong line on this difficult question by the energy of the fourth party. The long controversy over Bradlaugh's seat showed that Lord Randolph Churchill was a parliamentary champion who added to his audacity much tactical skill and shrewdness. He continued to play a conspicuous part throughout the parliament of 1880 to 1885, targeting William Ewart Gladstone as well as the Conservative front bench, some of whose members, particularly Sir Richard Cross and William Henry Smith, he singled out for attack.

From the beginning of the Egyptian imbroglio Lord Randolph was emphatically opposed to almost every step taken by the government. He declared that the suppression of Urabi Pasha's rebellion was an error, and the restoration of the khedive's authority a crime. He called Gladstone the "Moloch of Midlothian", for whom torrents of blood had been shed in Africa. He was equally severe on the domestic policy of the administration, and was particularly bitter in his criticism of the Kilmainham Treaty and the rapprochement between the Gladstonians and the Parnellites.

Tory Democracy[edit]

Lord Randolph Churchill

By 1885 he had formulated the policy of progressive Conservatism which was known as "Tory Democracy". He declared that the Conservatives ought to adopt, rather than oppose, popular reforms, and to challenge the claims of the Liberals to pose as champions of the masses. His views were largely accepted by the official Conservative leaders in the treatment of the Gladstonian Franchise Bill of 1884. Lord Randolph insisted that the principle of the bill should be accepted by the opposition, and that resistance should be focused on the refusal of the government to combine with it a scheme of redistribution. The prominent, and on the whole judicious and successful, part he played in the debates on these questions, still further increased his influence with the rank and file of the Conservatives in the constituencies.

At the same time he was actively spreading the gospel of democratic Toryism in a series of platform campaigns. In 1883 and 1884 he invaded the radical stronghold of Birmingham, and in the latter year took part in a Conservative garden party at Aston Manor, at which his opponents paid him the compliment of raising a serious riot. He gave constant attention to the party organisation, which had fallen into considerable disorder after 1880, and was an active promoter of the Primrose League.


In 1884 progressive Toryism won out. At the conference of the Central Union of Conservative Associations, Lord Randolph was nominated chairman, despite the opposition of the parliamentary leaders. A split was averted by Lord Randolph's voluntary resignation; but the episode had confirmed his title to a leading place in the Tory ranks. It was strengthened by the prominent part he played in the events immediately preceding the fall of the Liberal government in 1885; and when Hugh Childers's budget resolutions were defeated by the Conservatives, aided by about half the Parnellites, Lord Randolph Churchill's admirers were justified in proclaiming him to have been the "organiser of victory".

His services were, at any rate, far too important to be refused recognition; and in Lord Salisbury's cabinet of 1885 he was made Secretary of State for India. As the price of entry he demanded that Sir Stafford Northcote be removed from the Commons, despite being the Conservative leader there. Salisbury was more than willing to concede this and Northcote went to the Lords as the Earl of Iddlesleigh. During his tenure at the India Office during the short-lived minority Conservative administration, Churchill reversed policy over Burma. He sided with commercial interests and directed the Viceroy, Lord Dufferin, to invade Upper Burma in November 1885. With little discussion, Churchill then decided to annexe the final remnant of the once great Burmese kingdom, adding it as a new province of the Indian Raj as a "New Year present" for Queen Victoria on New Year's Day 1886.

In the autumn election of 1885 he contested Birmingham Central against John Bright, and though defeated here, was at the same time returned by a very large majority for South Paddington. In the contest which arose over William Ewart Gladstone's Home Rule bill, Lord Randolph again bore a conspicuous part, and in the electioneering campaign his activity was only second to that of some of the Liberal Unionists, Lord Hartington, George Goschen and Joseph Chamberlain. He was now the recognised Conservative champion in the Lower Chamber, and when the second Salisbury administration was formed after the general election of 1886 he became Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons.


1881 caricature from Punch

His management of the House was largely successful, marked by tact, discretion and temper. But he resigned suddenly on 20 December 1886. Various motives influenced him in taking this surprising step; but the only ostensible cause put forward in his letter to Lord Salisbury, which was read in the House of Commons on 27 January. In this document he stated that his resignation was the result of his inability, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to concur in the demands made on the Treasury by the ministers at the head of the naval and military establishments. It was commonly supposed that he expected his resignation to be followed by the unconditional surrender of the cabinet, and his restoration to office on his own terms. The cabinet was reconstructed with Goschen as Chancellor of the Exchequer. For the next few years there was some speculation about a return to front-line politics but Churchill's own career as a Conservative chief was over.[citation needed]

Although he continued to sit in Parliament, his health was in serious decline throughout the 1890s. He was an ardent supporter of horse-racing, and, in 1889, he won the Epsom Oaks with a mare named the Abbesse de Jouarre. In 1891, he went to South Africa, in search both of health and relaxation. He traveled for some months through Cape Colony,[5] the Transvaal and Rhodesia, making notes on the politics and economics of the countries, shooting lions, and recording his impressions in letters to a London newspaper, which were afterwards republished under the title of Men, Mines and Animals in South Africa. He attacked Gladstone's Second Home Rule Bill with energy, and gave fiery pro-Union speeches in Ireland.[citation needed]

During this time he coined the phrase "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right", echoing his earlier remark that in opposing Irish Home Rule "the Orange card would be the one to play". But it was soon apparent that his powers were undermined by the illness which took his life at the age of 45. As the session of 1893 wore on, his speeches lost their old effectiveness. His last speech in the House was delivered in the debate on Uganda in June 1894, and was a painful failure. An attempted round-the-world journey failed to cure him. Lord Randolph started in the autumn of 1894, accompanied by his wife, but his health soon became so feeble that he was brought back hurriedly from Cairo. He reached England shortly before Christmas and died in London. The gross value of his personal estate was entered in the Probate Registry at £75,971.[6] This is the financial equivalent of over £6.45 million in 2008 terms, using the retail price index.[7] He is buried near his wife and sons at St Martin's Church, Bladon, near Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

His widow, Lady Randolph Churchill, married George Cornwallis-West in 1900, when she became known as Mrs. George Cornwallis-West. After that marriage was dissolved, she resumed by deed poll her prior married name, Lady Randolph Churchill. (Lord Randolph was her husband's courtesy title as the younger son of a duke and in English law does not qualify as a noble title.) Lord Randolph's son, Sir Winston Churchill, died on 24 January 1965, exactly 70 years after the death of his father, having lived twice as long.[citation needed]



Film, television and literary depictions[edit]

The character Randolph Churchill has appeared in numerous films and television productions about his son Winston. He is generally portrayed as a cold and distant man, although perhaps was no worse than many other fathers of his time and class.

He was featured in the ITV historical drama series Edward the Seventh as a more natural character, played by Derek Fowlds, sociably similar to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and his other friends. His downfall is represented when he confronted Alexandra, Princess of Wales and demanded her to use her influence with the Prince to stop Lord Aylesford proceeding with a divorce from his wife, Lady Aylesford, after she had planned to elope with Lord Randolph's elder brother, the Marquess of Blandford. He threatens to expose letters from the Prince to Lady Aylesford, so scandalous, so he says, that if they were to be exposed, "the Prince of Wales would never sit on the throne of England." Outraged, the Princess goes to see the Queen, who is equally indignant. The Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, informs the Prince, who is so angry that he challenges Lord Randolph to a duel in the South of France. Eventually, Lord Aylesford does not attempt to seek a divorce from his wife, and Lord Blandford does not elope with Lady Aylesford. Lord Randolph sends a note of apology to the Prince, which is merely acknowledged. Disgraced, Lord Randolph and his wife leave for America.

Other notable appearances include the film Young Winston, in which he was portrayed by Robert Shaw, and the miniseries, Jennie, The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, in which he was portrayed by Ronald Pickup.

Sir Winston refers to his father's career in several of the last chapters of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

He is the target of an assassination attempt in the J.M. Barrie novella about a secret society of killers, Better Dead.

Note on title[edit]

Lord Randolph's title was a courtesy title only, and therefore was not inherited by his eldest son, Winston Churchill.


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Churchill, Winston C. 1906. Lord Randolph Churchill. 2 vols, Macmillan, London.
  2. ^ Churchill, Randolph. "Masonic Papers". The Development of the Craft in England. freemasons-freemasonary.com. Retrieved 30 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Ted Morgan, Churchill: Young Man in a Hurry, 1874–1915 (1984), p. 23: "In January 1875, only a month after Winston's birth, Randolph made repeated visits to the family doctor, Oscar Clayton, for an undisclosed ailment. According to Frank Harris, the editor of Fortnightly Magazine, who published the allegation in his scandalous autobiography, My Life and Loves, Randolph had caught syphilis..."
  4. ^ Lord Randolph Churchill: Maladies et Mort at 'myths' pages of Churchill Centre website
  5. ^ http://www.matjiesfontein.com/About/index.htm Visit to Matjiesfontein.
  6. ^ RANDOLPH CHURCHILL'S WILL; Details of the Estate Bequeathed to His Wife and Children, New York Times, 5 March 1895, p. 5
  7. ^ Measuring Worth – Measures of worth, inflation rates, saving calculator, relative value, worth of a dollar, worth of a pound, purchasing power, gold prices, GDP..., measuringworth.com; accessed 16 March 2015.
  8. ^ Burke and Burke (1931), p. 1618
  9. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 257
  10. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 256
  11. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 256
  12. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 256 ; daughteer of John Russell, fourth Duke of Bedford.
  13. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 256
  14. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 256
  15. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 256 ; daughter of Sir James Dashwood, Bart.
  16. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 257
  17. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 257
  18. ^ Cokayne (1892), pp. 6-7
  19. ^ Cokayne (1892), pp. 6-7
  20. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 257
  21. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 257
  22. ^ Cokayne (1892), pp. 6-7
  23. ^ Cokayne (1892), p. 7 ; daughter of Arthur Champagne, Dean of Clonmacnoise.
  24. ^ Burke and Burke (1931), p. 1618
  25. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 257
  26. ^ Cokayne (1893), pp. 131-2
  27. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 131 ; of Ballylawn Castle, count Donegal, Ireland, and of Mount Stewart, county Down, Ireland.
  28. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 131 ; daughter of John Cowan, alderman of Londonderry, and sister of Sir Robert Cowan, Governor of Bombay.
  29. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 131
  30. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 131
  31. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 131
  32. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 257
  33. ^ Cokayne (1893), p. 132-33 and p. 257
  34. ^ Cokayne (1906), p. 224
  35. ^ Cokayne (1906), p. 224 ; daughter of John Tempest of Sherburne, county Durham.
  36. ^ Cokayne (1906), p. 224
  37. ^ Cokayne (1906), p. 224
  38. ^ Cokayne (1906), p. 224 ; daughter of Henry Morres, first Viscount Mountmorres.


  • Burke, B. and Burke, A.P. (1931). A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Peerage, Baronetage, the Privy Council and Knightage, 89th edition. London: Burke's Peerage Ltd.
  • Cokayne, G.E. (1892). The Complete Peerage, 1st edition, volume 4. London: George Bell & Sons; Exeter: William Pollard & Co.
  • Cokayne, G.E. (1893). The Complete Peerage, 1st edition, volume 5. London: George Bell & Sons; Exeter: William Pollard & Co.
  • Cokayne, G.E. (1906). The Complete Baronetage, volume 5. London: William Pollard & Co.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Henry Barnett
Member of Parliament for Woodstock
Succeeded by
Francis William Maclean
New constituency Member of Parliament for Paddington South
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas George Fardell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Earl Percy
Chairman of the National Union of
Conservative and Constitutional Associations

(jointly with Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Bt)

Succeeded by
Lord Claud Hamilton
Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Kimberley
Secretary of State for India
Succeeded by
The Earl of Kimberley
Preceded by
Sir William Harcourt
Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
George Goschen
Preceded by
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Bt
Commons Leader of the Conservatives
Succeeded by
William Henry Smith
Preceded by
William Gladstone
Leader of the House of Commons