Thursday, November 1, 2018

DAY 82: Addicted to Politics

Lord Randolph Churchill was a Member of the House of Commons for the Conservative Party, initially from the "safe" or "pocket" borough of Woodstock, the town in the Cotswolds not far from Oxford where Blenheim Castle was located. He was a second son--actually, the third of five Spencer-Churchill boys, but only Randolph and his elder brother George survived childhood. With no expectations of an inheritance from his father the Duke of Marlborough, Randolph was casting about for employment when he met Jennie Jerome in August 1873, at Cowes.

Refusing to approve the sudden and rash engagement to an American nobody, the Duke told Randolph that if he stood for the family's pocket borough of Woodstock--and won--he could marry.

So Randolph did. In February 1874 he was returned for Woodstock with a significant majority. Although the post carried no salary, the Duke decided Randolph was serious about a career. He and Jennie married in April.

Randolph became known for the brilliance of his speeches, for his political unpredictability, for his enormous popularity among working-class Englishmen, and for his almost suicidal impulsiveness. His close friend and Conservative ally, Arthur Balfour, conspired with Jennie and Randy to coin the term Tory Democracy--a Conservative Party movement designed to engage working-class Britains with the policies of a party that had always appealed most to the titled gentry. They set up something called the Primrose League, named for the flower Prime Minister Disraeli had always worn in his buttonhole. Jennie successfully lobbied Randolph and Balfour to include women in the League's membership--with separate chapters led by political wives. She knew that women, though denied the vote in 1880s Great Britain, influenced politics enormously in their interactions with men, and thought they needed an outlet for activism. The Primrose League and Tory Democracy were populist strokes of genius that almost carried Little Lord Random to the Prime Ministership.


As a successful political hostess, Jennie was first a student and then an addict of British politics. She attended Parliament regularly, sitting in either the Ladies' Gallery or, when invited, the Speaker's Gallery--where admission was governed by the wife of the Speaker of the House. Many of the wives and female friends of England's politicians did the same; observing Debate was a spectator sport. The sketch above shows the scene inside the Ladies' Gallery, where opera glasses were employed for better views and seats in the front row were coveted. The anteroom outside the gallery door offered seats and tables for taking tea, along with writing desks for dashing off notes to Commons members, which could be delivered to the floor by pages.

For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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