The Churchills: A Family at the Heart of History.
Reviewed by Deborah Manley

The Churchills: A Family at the Heart of History, by Mary Lovell.
Little Brown, 2011. 624 pp, ISBN 978-0-316-73282-6. £25.

A biography of this family reminds us of the impact it has had—and continues to have—on Britain. ASTENE member Mary Lovell has impressively taken up the challenge in a book that takes us from the 1650 Royalist, Winston Churchill of Ashe House in Devon, through the great John Churchill, whose Queen rewarded him with an estate at Woodstock near Oxford, where his descendants live today. Of particular interest to ASTENE members are the years 1896–99 covering Churchill’s experience of Egypt and the Sudan.

In 1896, young Winston was ‘actively looking for trouble’—some fracas in which an ambitious young subaltern might get noticed and marked for promotion. Instead of a trouble spot, he was posted to India. There he lived well: eight chuckkas of polo each evening, a beautiful girl, first thoughts of a political life and, surprisingly, a lot of reading. But he still longed for a few months in South Africa, which would ‘inevitably lead to a few medals’—for now he had an eye also on a political target. His devoted and life-loving mother, Jennie, went to Egypt to plead his case with Lord Kitchener no less. (The behaviour of grand travellers in grand hotels is an aspect of travel seldom touched by ASTENE.)

The Churchills Winston was by now writing books and had a column in the Daily Telegraph. In 1898 he at last got his posting to fame, arriving in Egypt just in time to participate in ‘the last great cavalry charge at the Battle of Omdurman’ on 2 September 1898. That would be the end of his army days. He resigned his commission and, with Omdurman glory upon him, fought—and lost—a parliamentary seat before taking off to South Africa as a journalist.Churchill’s time in ASTENE-land was brief but gives us an excuse to introduce here this truly fascinating and wonderfully researched book. Readers may already know Mary Lovell’s A Scandalous Life: the biography of Jane Digby and A Rage to Live: A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton.

Deborah Manley