The Biblical Churchill (2): “A House of Many Mansions”

The Biblical Churchill (2): “A House of Many Mansions”

N.B. “A House of Many Man­sions” is from the orig­i­nal Appen­dix IV in my book Churchill By Him­self. It was delet­ed in the lat­er edi­tion, Churchill in His Own Words, to make room for an index of phras­es. Con­tin­ued from Part 1

“A house of many mansions”

The New Tes­ta­ment Gospel accord­ing to St. John, Chap­ter 14, con­tains an inspir­ing pas­sage that Win­ston Churchill absorbed as a boy:

1. Let not your heart be trou­bled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. 2. In my Father’s house are many man­sions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to pre­pare a place for you. 3. And if I go and pre­pare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. 4. And whith­er I go ye know, and the way ye know.

Churchill par­tic­u­lar­ly liked verse 2, “a house of many man­sions,” and quot­ed it dur­ing five impor­tant moments in his career. The first appar­ent instance was in Dundee, Scot­land in May 1908, a Par­lia­men­tary seat he won and would hold for 14 years. Here he spoke of the broad­ness and diver­si­ty of the British Empire:

Cologne Cathe­dral took 600 years to build. Gen­er­a­tions of archi­tects and builders lived and died while the work was in progress….So let it be with the British Com­mon­wealth. Let us build wise­ly, let us build sure­ly, let us build faith­ful­ly, let us build, not for the moment but for future years, seek­ing to estab­lish here below what we hope to find above—a house of many man­sions, where there shall be room for all.[5]

The thought remained with him three years lat­er, when as Home Sec­re­tary he said in London:

The British Empire must be a house of many man­sions, in which there shall be room for each and all to devel­op to the fullest his per­son­al or nation­al con­tri­bu­tion to the com­mon unit­ed wel­fare and to the strength of the indi­vis­i­ble whole.[6]

Thirty years on

“Many man­sions” lodged com­fort­ably in his com­modi­ous mem­o­ry for almost 30 years before Churchill found need of it again. This time it was to assure peo­ples under the Nazi boot that their ulti­mate lib­er­a­tion was sure:

The day will come when the joy­bells will ring again through­out Europe, and when vic­to­ri­ous nations, mas­ters not only of their foes, but of them­selves, will plan and build in jus­tice, in tra­di­tion, and in free­dom, a house of many man­sions where there will be room for all.[7]

He cer­tain­ly thought this a ser­vice­able line, because he invoked it to Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt in 1943. He men­tioned only chap­ter and verse, since he knew FDR kept a Bible handy. The Pres­i­dent had cabled that Cairo, their pro­posed meet­ing place before the Teheran Con­fer­ence with Stal­in, was vul­ner­a­ble to Ger­man air attack. Should they  ren­dezvous else­where? Churchill replied: “See St. John, chap­ter 14, vers­es 1 to 4.”[8]

The text of those vers­es was typed on the mes­sage by his Map Room staff. “On read­ing this through more care­ful­ly after it had gone,” Churchill reflect­ed, “I was a lit­tle con­cerned lest, apart from a shad­ow of unin­tend­ed pro­fan­i­ty, it should be thought I was tak­ing too much upon myself and thus giv­ing offence. How­ev­er, the Pres­i­dent brushed all objec­tions aside and our plans were con­tin­ued, unchanged.”[9]

Again at Ful­ton in 1946, in per­haps his most cru­cial speech of the post­war years, Churchill argued for a con­tin­u­a­tion of the Anglo-Amer­i­can “spe­cial rela­tion­ship” born in World War II. There was noth­ing in the Unit­ed Nations Char­ter, he said, that pre­clud­ed any spe­cial arrange­ments between countries:

None of these clash with the gen­er­al inter­est of a world agree­ment, or a world organ­i­sa­tion; on the con­trary they help it. ‘In my Father’s house are many man­sions.’ Spe­cial asso­ci­a­tions between mem­bers of the Unit­ed Nations which have no aggres­sive point against any oth­er coun­try, which har­bour no design incom­pat­i­ble with the Char­ter of the Unit­ed Nations, far from being harm­ful, are ben­e­fi­cial and, as I believe, indispensable.[10]


5. Win­ston S. Churchill, Kin­naird Hall, Dundee, 4 May 1908, in Lib­er­al­ism and the Social Prob­lem (Lon­don: Hod­der & Stoughton, 1909),  202

6. WSC, Tro­cadero Restau­rant, Lon­don, 11 March 1911, in Robert Rhodes James, ed., Win­ston S. Churchill: His Com­plete Speech­es 1897-1963, 8 vols. (New York: Bowk­er, 1974), II: 1720.

7. WSC, broad­cast, Lon­don, 20 Jan­u­ary 1940, in Blood Sweat and Tears (New York; Put­nams, 1941), 254.

8. WSC to Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt, 21 Novem­ber 1943, in WSC, Clos­ing the Ring (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1952), 289.

9. Ibid.

10. WSC, West­min­ster Col­lege, Ful­ton, Mis­souri, 5 March 1946, in The Sinews of Peace (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1948), 99.

Con­clud­ed in Part 3.

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