The life – and especially death – of Randolph Churchill managed to shape the political life of the United Kingdom long after he died through his son, Winston. Ironically, Randolph’s greatest political success was achieved by shaping Winston rather than any of his own actions during his life.
Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill was born on February 3rd, 1849 in London’s elite district of Belgravia. His parents were John Winston Spencer-Churchill, the 7th Duke of Marlborough, and Lady Frances Vane.
As a third son, Randolph Churchill was thrown into politics at an early age. In 1874, at the age of 25, he was elected a member of the Parliament. A staunch conservative, he quickly gained a reputation in his party as a sharp-tongued man, equally ready to criticize both his party and the opponents.
After a spat he had with the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, his career took a nosedive, but he managed to recover by insisting on a new policy for the Conservative Party.
Randolph Churchill was proposing that Conservative Party must move with times or be prepared to be swept away. He formulated what would later be called “Tory Democracy,” a doctrine that required the conservatives to accept social reforms and thus take the role of the champion of the masses from the Liberals. The tactic was successful, in no small part due to Randolph’s masterful presentation.
His popularity soared and he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House, a traditional stepping stone towards the office of the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, his inexperience in a leadership position cost him dearly. In 1886 he entered a row with Prime Minister Lord Salisbury over a budget disagreement. Faced with a growing opposition from his own party, Randolph Churchill threatened to resign, hoping that his popularity would force the opposition to agree with him. Instead, Salisbury accepted his resignation and Churchill was pushed to the back benches.
The failure only exuberated his illness, for which modern historians agree it was a brain tumor, which drove him to an early grave at the age of 45 in 1894. His speeches in the House became increasingly incoherent, leading to the rumors of syphilis. His opponents’ even went as far as to claim that he passed the illness to his wife, a wealthy American heiress Jennie Jerome and that even his sons, Winston and Jack, were born with the disease. These claims were later repudiated by John H. Mather.
Randolph’s life can be perhaps most accurately described as one of great potential not fulfilled. It was this thought that drove Winston to always trying to achieve something, combined with his early life’s failures that marred his relationship with his father somewhat. He never missed an opportunity, no matter how risky or farfetched it may seem. Winston often stated that his life’s greatest regret was that his father wasn’t alive to see his achievements and feel pride for them.