Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 November 1874 – 24 January 1965) was a British politician, army officer, and writer, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. As Prime Minister, Churchill led Britain to victory in the Second World War. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and British imperialist, he began and ended his parliamentary career as a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but for twenty years from 1904 he was a prominent member of the Liberal Party.
Born in Oxfordshire to an aristocratic family, Churchill was a son of Lord Randolph Churchill and Jennie Jerome. Joining the British Army, he saw action in British India, the Anglo–Sudan War, and the Second Boer War, gaining fame as a war correspondent and writing books about his campaigns. Elected an MP in 1900, initially as a Conservative, he defected to the Liberals in 1904. In H. H. Asquith's Liberal government, Churchill served as President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, and First Lord of the Admiralty, championing prison reform and workers' social security. During the First World War, he oversaw the Gallipoli Campaign; after it proved a disaster, he resigned from government and served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front. In 1917 he returned to government under David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions, and was subsequently Secretary of State for War, Secretary of State for Air, then Secretary of State for the Colonies. After two years out of Parliament, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin's Conservative government, returning the pound sterling in 1925 to the gold standard at its pre-war parity, a move widely seen as creating deflationary pressure on the UK economy.
Out of office during the 1930s, Churchill took the lead in calling for British rearmament to counter the growing threat from Nazi Germany. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was re-appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. Following Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's resignation in 1940, Churchill replaced him. Churchill oversaw British involvement in the Allied war effort, resulting in victory in 1945. His wartime response to the 1943 Bengal famine, which claimed an estimated three million lives, has caused controversy, and he sanctioned the 1945 bombing of Dresden, which claimed twenty to thirty thousand lives and continues to be debated. After the Conservatives' defeat in the 1945 general election, he became Leader of the Opposition. Amid the developing Cold War with the Soviet Union, he publicly warned of an "iron curtain" of Soviet influence in Europe and promoted European unity. He was re-elected prime minister in the 1951 election. His second term was preoccupied with foreign affairs, including the Malayan Emergency, Mau Mau Uprising, Korean War and a UK-backed Iranian coup. Domestically his government emphasised house-building and developed an atomic bomb. In declining health, Churchill resigned as prime minister in 1955, although he remained an MP until 1964. Upon his death in 1965, he was given a state funeral.
Widely considered one of the 20th century's most significant figures, Churchill remains popular in the UK and Western world, where he is seen as a victorious wartime leader who played an important role in defending liberal democracy from the spread of fascism. Also praised as a social reformer and writer, among his many awards was the Nobel Prize in Literature. Conversely, his imperialist views—coupled with his sanctioning of human rights abuses in the suppression of anti-imperialist movements seeking independence from the British Empire—have generated considerable controversy.
Churchill was born at his grandfather's home, Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, on 30 November 1874, at which time the United Kingdom was the dominant world power. A direct descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough, his family were among the highest levels of the British aristocracy, and thus he was born into the country's governing elite. His paternal grandfather, John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough, had been a Member of Parliament (MP) for ten years, a member of the Conservative Party who served in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. His own father, Lord Randolph Churchill, had been elected Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873. His mother, Jennie Churchill (née Jerome), was from an American family whose substantial wealth derived from finance. The couple had met in August 1873, and were engaged three days later, marrying at the British Embassy in Paris in April 1874. The couple lived beyond their income and were frequently in debt; according to the biographer Sebastian Haffner, the family were "rich by normal standards but poor by those of the rich".
In 1876 John Spencer-Churchill was appointed Viceroy of Ireland, with Randolph as his private secretary, resulting in the Churchill family's relocation to Dublin, when the entirety of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom. It was here that Jennie's second son, Jack, was born in 1880; there has been speculation that Randolph was not his biological father. Throughout much of the 1880s Randolph and Jennie were effectively estranged, during which she had many suitors. Churchill had virtually no relationship with his father; referring to his mother, Churchill later stated that "I loved her dearly—but at a distance." His relationship with Jack would be warm, and they were close at various points in their lives. In Dublin, he was educated in reading and mathematics by a governess, while he and his brother were cared for primarily by their nanny, Elizabeth Ann Everest. Churchill was devoted to her and nicknamed her "Woomany"; he later wrote that "She had been my dearest and most intimate friend during the whole of the twenty years I had lived."
Aged seven, he began boarding at St. George's School in Ascot, Berkshire; he hated it, did poorly academically, and regularly misbehaved. Visits home were to Connaught Place in London, where his parents had settled, while they also took him on his first foreign holiday, to Gastein in Austria-Hungary. As a result of poor health, in September 1884 he moved to Brunswick School in Hove; there, his academic performance improved but he continued to misbehave. He narrowly passed the entrance exam which allowed him to begin studies at the elite Harrow School in April 1888. There, his academics remained high—he excelled particularly in history—but teachers complained that he was unpunctual and careless. He wrote poetry and letters which were published in the school magazine, Harrovian, and won a fencing competition. His father insisted that he be prepared for a career in the military, and so Churchill's last three years at Harrow were spent in the army form. He performed poorly in most of his exams.