Williams on Her Majesty and Churchill: Get It Right

Williams on Her Majesty and Churchill: Get It Right

Excerpt­ed from a review of Win­ston Churchill & The Queen by Oliv­er Williams for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal arti­cle with end­notes, click here. To sub­scribe to week­ly arti­cles from Hills­dale-Churchill, click here, scroll to bot­tom, and fill in your email in the box enti­tled “Stay in touch with us.” Your email address is not giv­en out and remains a rid­dle wrapped in a mys­tery inside an enigma.

The Queen and WSC

Oliv­er Williams, Win­ston Churchill & The Queen. Self-pub­lished, 2022, 128 pages, paper­back $8.99, Kin­dle $5.99.

A beau­ti­ful trib­ute to Her Majesty The Queen and Win­ston Churchill—only a click away—is by David Dilks. This book remind­ed me of it. Not because it is relat­ed to what Dr. Dilks wrote, but because it should have been. A good, short appre­ci­a­tion of their rela­tion­ship, now that the last page has been turned for both, is need­ed. This paper­back leaves us wait­ing. 

WilliamsTheir clos­est relationship—during Churchill’s post­war premiership—lasted scarce­ly three years. Those were years of sad decline for the nation that had held the fort for lib­er­ty. We may well agree with the author that it took two ster­ling char­ac­ters, Head of State and Head of Gov­ern­ment, to cope as well as they did. 

Mr. Williams appre­ci­ates that—as should every­one. Odd­ly, a back cov­er blurb declares that “theirs was not an unlike­ly friend­ship at all,” con­tra­dict­ing the sub­ti­tle. Of course it was not “unlike­ly.” This is the first of many detours, false trails, red her­rings and off-the-wall pro­nounce­ments that will mis­lead the unwary. It is per­fect­ly fine to pro­duce “a light-heart­ed book…that talks to the reader[s] instead of lec­tur­ing them.” But parts of this one sounds like a sparse­ly researched lec­ture. 

“A great deal of life from afar” 

Churchill quot­ed a line about Arthur Bal­four: “He saw a great deal of life from afar.” For her first 25 years, that also applied to the young Princess Eliz­a­beth. Des­tiny called in 1936, when her uncle abdi­cat­ed, plac­ing her father on the throne and her­self next in line. Eliz­a­beth was but 12 when Munich guar­an­teed anoth­er war. She was 14 when Churchill became prime min­is­ter and vowed to fight to the fin­ish. 

From then on, devot­ed­ly serv­ing her coun­try, Eliz­a­beth Wind­sor saw life close-up. When she died in 2022, her Rolodex must have includ­ed more roy­al­ty, heads of state and gov­ern­ment, and promi­nent inter­na­tion­al fig­ures than any in the world. Broad­ly mourned, she was the best-known woman on the plan­et.  

As far as we know, Churchill said only one thing about the youth­ful Eliz­a­beth. That was a note to his wife, from Bal­moral, in 1926, when she was two: “This last is a char­ac­ter…. She has an air of author­i­ty & reflec­tive­ness aston­ish­ing in an infant.” His view was remark­ably pre­scient. Yet years lat­er, when she ascend­ed to the throne, Churchill con­fessed he knew noth­ing of her and that she was “only a child.”

None of this is in the book. Churchill’s actu­al words about The Queen are few. Instead we get a hodge­podge of para­phrase, opin­ion, strange asser­tions and mis­con­strued deduc­tions which side­track the sto­ry and obfus­cate real­i­ty.  

Cacophony of errors 

Here are a few. Churchill sac­ri­ficed a soldier’s career to become a politi­cian (2). He missed meet­ing Hitler in 1932 because he “fell ill and had to move to a san­i­to­ri­um in Aus­tria” (35). In the 1930s the Roy­al Fam­i­ly was divid­ed by “those who sup­port­ed Hitler and those who most cer­tain­ly did not” (87). George VI was “dis­pleased” when “Atlee [Attlee] skipped into Buck­ing­ham Palace” to say he’d won the 1945 elec­tion (39). (The King regret­ted los­ing Churchill, but he also knew that the peo­ple had cho­sen over­whelm­ing­ly. And Clement Attlee didn’t skip.) 

It is true that Churchill object­ed to tele­vis­ing the 1953 Coro­na­tion, Mr. Williams writes: “Dare we say it that the three words The Queen and Prince Phillip whis­pered to one anoth­er after the deci­sion was made were ‘inter­ring’ [‘inter­fer­ing’?], and ‘old’ and ‘busy­body’?” (99) Eliz­a­beth II prac­ticed “no smok­ing” (107). Churchill stut­tered (60). Such asser­tions (unfoot­not­ed) are sup­port­ed by no evi­dence whatsoever.

Almost a fourth of the book is spent on pre­lim­i­nar­ies: Churchill’s view of and rela­tions with British sov­er­eigns, per­son­al and his­tor­i­cal. We go back to Queen Anne and his great ances­tor Marl­bor­ough. Win­ston him­self meets King George V in 1887—Mr. Williams means Prince George, then third in line behind his father and elder broth­er Albert Vic­tor, who died in 1892. How this meet­ing mat­ters to Eliz­a­beth II and Win­ston Churchill is not appar­ent.  

George VI had doubts about his new Prime Min­is­ter in May 1940—that much is inar­guable. The King remem­bered the deba­cle of the Dar­d­anelles “in the dying days of the Great War.” No, it was in the open­ing days of the Great War. Which Churchill hoped the Dar­d­anelles would help end soon­er.  

Williams provides…

a num­ber of quo­ta­tions, but most don’t apply to the sub­ject and are unat­trib­uted. The Queen’s quip that she wore bright col­ors because “I have to be seen to be believed” sounds in char­ac­ter. Her remark to a writer in need of a title, “I can’t think of a rea­son to give you one,” sounds more doubtful—she was always so nice! The Churchill quo­ta­tions are a mixed bag. Of the first six (81-82), two are accu­rate, two are bowd­ler­ized, and two are fic­tion.  

More curi­ous is the assort­ment of “Churchillisms” (83-84) which “Mr. Lang­worth has been so kind as to pro­vide us.” I pro­vid­ed none, unless he means my books. They are nick­names, applied in pub­lic and pri­vate to peo­ple WSC encoun­tered: From “Admi­ral de Row-Back” at the Dar­d­anelles to John Fos­ter “Dull-Duller-Dulles.” Aside from “Wuther­ing Height” (meant for the BBC’s John Rei­th, not John Wal­sham), they’re accu­rate. But they have noth­ing to do The Queen and Win­ston Churchill. 

“Monarchical Number One” 

Much is made of an unfoot­not­ed state­ment by Clemen­tine that her hus­band was “Monar­chi­cal Num­ber One.” It may be gen­uine: she liked to twig him about his monar­chi­cal attach­ment. But this is bela­bored over sev­er­al pages, extend­ing to the ravens in the Tow­er of Lon­don. Churchill didn’t care about sym­bol­ism, Mr. Williams con­cludes. He was not “duty bound to slav­ish­ly adore the Monarch, flaws and all.”  

Par­tic­u­lar­ly mis­un­der­stood is Churchill’s long-post­poned retire­ment. Churchill’s “dog in manger” atti­tude, says Williams, “must have put a strain on the Queen’s tol­er­ant atti­tude.” Leav­ing more gra­cious­ly might have saved her “many sleep­less nights” (97). “It wouldn’t be lying to say that Churchill…might have encour­aged his wife, Clemen­tine, to whis­per into the Queen’s ear about how retire­ment would break his heart” (101). What?

In fact, The Queen sym­pa­thized with Sir Winston’s predica­ment as advanc­ing age weighed upon him. Why not sim­ply quote her true feel­ings? No one, she wrote to him, would ever “be able to hold the place of my first Prime Min­is­ter, to whom both my hus­band and I owe so much.” And Churchill’s reply: “I regard it as the most direct mark of God’s favour we have ever received in my long life that the whole struc­ture of our new-formed Com­mon­wealth has been linked and illu­mi­nat­ed by a sparkling pres­ence at its summit.”

This illus­trat­ed, as David Dilks wrote, what Churchill tru­ly believed: “The monar­chy sig­ni­fied for him some­thing of infi­nite val­ue, at once numi­nous and lumi­nous. And if you will allow the remark in paren­the­sis, ladies and gen­tle­men, do you not some­times long for some­one at the sum­mit of our pub­lic life who can think and write at that level?”

Indeed we do. 

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