Thursday, 17 May 2007
Winston Churchill, HG The Duke of London?
One week ago, on May 10th, I dined with several friends to mark the 67th anniversary of Churchill's appointment as Prime Minister. On that fateful day in 1940 Winston Churchill arrived at Buckingham Palace and was received in private audience by HM King George VI, who asked him to form an all-party government. As we remembered this important event we reflected, too, upon Churchill's other meetings at Buckingham Palace and upon his devotion to the Monarchy.
The last significant meeting between Churchill and his Sovereign at Buckingham Palace centred around another important appointment; however this was not an invitation to the "lowly" office of Prime Minister but, rather, to the exalted rank of duke.
In the early 50s Lord Salisbury had seriously suggested Churchill be sent up to the Lords whilst remaining Prime Minister. Salisbury believed this would enable WSC to fade away gracefully as elder statesman whilst enabling Anthony Eden to assume the dominant position in the Commons. Lord Moran agreed with Salisbury but Jock Colville, who had a better understanding of Churchill's character, doubted the Great Man would agree. Colville had discussed the subject of a peerage in the past and Churchill had sarcastically replied that he would have to become the Duke of Chartwell and Randolph would be the Marquess of Toodledo. It should also be noted that Churchill did not have much regard for the upper chamber (Salisbury apparently once said that Churchill "regards us in the Lords as a rather disreputable collection of old gentlemen") and it was therefore agreed that only Her Majesty could convince Churchill to go the Lords. Salisbury suggested plans be set in motion but little progress was made and the concept of a Lord Churchill died a natural death.
In 1947 Churchill purchased Bardogs Farm (next to Chartwell). In a letter to his barrister, Leslie Graham-Dixon, discussing a possible dukedom, Churchill wrote: "Duke of Bardogs would sound well, and Randolph could be Marquess of Chartwell." It is to be assumed that he was writing in jest.
In 1955, after Churchill stepped down as PM, the Palace considered offering him a dukedom. An earldom was the hereditary title PMs would traditionally expect however it was agreed that Churchill deserved something higher. Unfortunately, since 1917 the policy of the Royal Household prohibited the creation of non-royal ducal titles; consequently, the offer to Churchill could only be made if the Palace was given assurances that he would refuse.
As detailed in *Fringes of Power*, Colville guaranteed that Churchill would never accept: "First of all what could he be Duke of?", Colville wrote, "Secondly even if he were Duke of Westerham, what would Randolph be? He could only be Marquess of Puddleduck Lane which was the only other possession he had apart from Chartwell. And thirdly, and quite seriously, he wished to die in the House of Commons as Winston Churchill." [ It should be noted, however, that this argument is misinformed and carries little weight as there is no requirement that a peer own the property mentioned in his title.] The Palace therefore felt confident enough to offer him a dukedom.
A number of people have suggested various possible titles including "Duke of London" and "Duke of Dover". One of my correspondents once told me: "There were rumours that it was proposed to create an entirely new degree of peerage, Consul, that would rank even above Dukes, but this would violate the commitment to Baronets in 1611 that no additional higher titles would ever be introduced...." however I have seen no evidence in support of any of these views.
Despite Colville's assurances, some courtiers worried that Churchill, the devout and romantic monarchist, might accept the dukedom if for no other reason than to avoid causing offence to The Queen. Fortunately HM did not have to face such an embarrassing situation. In a letter to Randolph Churchill quoted in Fringes of Power Colville wrote: 'Churchill returned from the Palace with tears in his eyes: "Do you know, the most remarkable thing she offered me a Duke."' Colville nervously asked what he had said in response. "Well, you know, I very nearly accepted, I was so moved by her beauty and her charm and the kindness with which she made this offer, that for a moment I thought of accepting. But finally I remembered that I must die as I have always been Winston Churchill. And so I asked her to forgive my not accepting it. And do you know, it's an odd thing, but she seemed almost relieved."
When HM unveiled the statue of WSC in Parliament Square she spoke as follows:
"I thought that when he resigned as Prime Minister, and would no longer play an active role in party politics, I might honour his wholly exceptional achievements by offering him a dukedom. No such distinction had been proposed for nearly a century.
"But he wanted to spend his last years where he had passed almost all his adult life—the House of Commons—and indeed he had no need for distinction greater than the name of Winston Churchill."
Given Churchill's fascination with his great ancestor, John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough it is interesting that he should not have expressed greater interest in the possibility of establishing his own ducal dynasty -- although perhaps he was all too aware that the family would not have had sufficient wealth at their disposal to live a thoroughly ducal life.
Thus Winston Churchill died as he was born.....almost: for in his 90 years he did manage to acquire several other honours from the Crown.
Sir Winston S. Churchill, KG, OM, CH, MP, PC, PC (Can)