Saturday, December 1, 2018

DAY 52: Birth of a Lion

Winston Churchill as a Harrow schoolboy, 1887

The night of November 28, 1874, Blenheim Palace threw open its doors for the annual St. Andrew's Ball. Twenty year-old Jennie Churchill fully intended to dance a dozen reels down the length of the Long Library, which had been converted to a ballroom for the evening. She had been staying at Blenheim for the past month, but had never seen the palace so festive. Masses of hothouse flowers, glowing branches of candles, and roaring fires; the swirl of silk and velvet; the ladies' furs and wraps piled on the bed of a spare room off the Great Hall, turned ladies' cloak room for the evening. And, of course, music--which Jennie passionately loved.

Dean Jones's Room, Blenheim Palace

The spare bedroom was known as Dean Jones's Room, after the cleric who had served Blenheim in the First Duke's time. The Dean was one of the palace ghosts; he was reported to appear in a blaze of light to those who dared sleep in his bed--bending over their pillow as they screamed. 

In the midst of a dance that night, Jennie Churchill suddenly hurried out of the Long Library, wracked with contractions. She was in labor, seven and a half months after her April wedding. Premature labor, her mother-in-law Duchess Fanny believed, and being Duchess Fanny, she blamed Jennie for it. The girl had gone out in a pony carriage a few days before to watch the gentlemen at their Driven Shoot, and the rough jolting over rutted fields had undoubtedly brought on childbirth.

Or maybe it was the dancing. Or maybe, it was simply time for the baby to be born.
Winston at Blenheim, age 6

The ladies' wraps and furs and velvet cloaks were hurriedly removed from Dean Jones's bed, and Jennie was carried to it. Randolph's mother, aunt, and sister-in-law attended her as the ball went on. She was in labor all Saturday night and Sunday, and as trains rarely ran between London and Woodstock on the Sabbath, her fashionable obstetrician from Town failed to arrive. At 1:30 a.m. on Monday, November 30, 1874, the local Woodstock doctor, Frederic Taylor, delivered Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

"The boy is wonderfully pretty so everybody says dark eyes and hair and very healthy considering its prematureness," Randolph wrote to Clara Jerome. Winston was anything but premature. They named him after both his grandfathers.

That Monday, the change-ringers of Woodstock rang a peal to celebrate the birth of the Duke of Marlborough's grandson. Jennie would have heard the bells rippling through the cold autumn air for hours as she lay in Dean Jones's Room. Winston was baptized in Blenheim Chapel by the Duke's chaplain after Christmas. He would love the place for the rest of his life, returning to it for signal events--such as his proposal of marriage to Clementine Hozier.

Jack, Jennie and Winston Churchill, 1886
For more images from THAT CHURCHILL WOMAN, visit the  Pinterest board behind the novel. 

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