Winston Churchill was the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, a Conservative politician (and a younger son of the Duke of Marlborough) and of Randolph's American wife, Jennie Jerome - her father, Leonard Jerome, was a New York business man.
The Churchills were descended from John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough, a famous general who won a series of stunning victories in continental wars in the early eighteenth century, including the battles of Blenheim, Malplaquet and Ramillies. This helped to give Winston Churchill an enduring sense of British and European history.
Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (the Churchill family's country seat, presented to his famous ancestor by Queen Anne). After Harrow School he went on to Sandhurst, and in 1895 he joined the Fourth Hussars, a cavalry regiment, seeing action on the north-west frontier of India and in the Sudan. He fought at the Battle of Omdurman (1898), taking part in the British Army's last cavalry charge.
As a soldier, Churchill sent reports to the Daily Telegraph and wrote two books, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898) and The River War (1899). From 1899, Churchill worked as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. While reporting on the Boer War he was taken prisoner by the Boers but escaped. On returning to England he wrote another book, London to Ladysmith (1900).
In 1900, Churchill was elected as Member of Parliament for Oldham, standing as a Conservative, but in 1904 he joined the Liberal Party. In 1906 he was elected as a Liberal in North West Manchester and was appointed as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies. In 1908 he became President of the Board of Trade. Also in 1908, he married Clementine Ogilvy Hosier. In 1909 he published Liberalism and the Social Problem.
In 1910, Churchill became Home Secretary, and reformed the prison system. Controversially, he used the army to keep order during a Welsh miners' strike.
Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. He grasped the need for air power, and in 1912 established the Royal Naval Air Service and an Air Department at the Admiralty - he even took flying lessons himself.
On the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Churchill joined the War Council. He was blamed for the disastrous Dardanelles action in 1915 and was sidelined as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. In response, he rejoined the Army and commanded a battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers on the Western Front.
When Lloyd George became Prime Minister, he brought Churchill home as Minister of Munitions (1917-19), and after the war he served as Minister of War and Air (1919-20) and Colonial Secretary (1921-22). Churchill managed a controversial campaign against rebels in Iraq, where in 1920 a Royal Air Force bombing campaign killed 9,000 Iraqis. The Arab and Kurdish uprisings continued, and Churchill suggested chemical weapons should be used against the Arabs. He said "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes to spread a lively terror".
Churchill was beaten at the 1922 General Election, standing as a Liberal in Dundee. He rejoined the Conservatives, was elected at Epping in 1924, and promptly became Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative government. In 1925 (at huge and controversial expense) he returned Britain to the the Gold Standard - this meant that the pound sterling could again be cashed into gold, so that it had to be backed by massive gold reserves at the Bank of England. The following year, athe British trade unions declared a General Strike, which meant that all trade unionists stopped work and the country ground to a halt. Churchill took a strong line against the strikers, and put the armed services and an army of volunteers to work to keep essential services going. As editor of the Government newspaper, the British Gazette, he argued that "either the country will break the General Strike, or the General Strike will break the country."
With the defeat of the Conservatives in 1929, Churchill went out of office. But when Ramsay MacDonald formed a coalition government in 1931, Churchill, now seen as a right-winger, was not included. For eight years (called 'the wilderness years')he concentrated on writing, beginning his huge History of the English Speaking Peoples.
Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, nd Churchill began to argue for rearmament. He was the leading critic of Chamberlain's "peace at all costs" appeasement policy. In 1939, Churchill argued that Britain and France should form an alliance with the Soviet Union.
When the Second World War Churchill broke out in 1939, Churchill returned to his old job of First Lord of the Admiralty. In April 1940, he became chairman of the Military Coordinating Committee, and Germany occupied Norway. On 8th May the Labour Party forced a debate which turned into a vote of censure, at which thirty Conservatives voted against Chamberlain and sixty abstained. This forced Chamberlain to resign, and on 10 May, 1940, King George VI sent for Churchill as prime minister. The same day the Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and on 12 May they entered France.
Churchill formed a coalition government and put Labour leaders and other opponents of Chamberlain in key positions, including Anthony Eden. He developed a strong relationship with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which led to the Lend Lease agreement of March 1941, under which Britain got munitions from the United States on credit.
Churchill was often criticized for meddling in military matters and for listening to friends rather than military commanders.
A brilliant orator, Churchill inspired the British people to greater war efforts with public broadcasts.
After Pearl Harbor, Churchill worked closely with Roosevelt for victory. He was also a closely allied to the Russians after Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June, 1941.
Churchill met Roosevelt and Stalin at Teheran in November, 1943, and Yalta, in February, 1945. To Stalin's great disappopintment, the D-Day landings in France did not take place until June, 1944. Meanwhile, the Red Army was occupying much of Eastern Europe.
With the war in Europe over, at the 1945 British general election the Labour Party won a landslide victory - partly caused by Churchill unwisely trying to compare a future Labour government with Nazi Germany.
Churchill became leader of the opposition. He suffered a stroke in 1946, but this was kept secret and he continued as leader of the Conservative Party.
The Conservatives and Churchill got back into power in 1951.
Churchill published his The Second World War in six volumes and was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature. Also in 1953, he became a Knight of the Garter, the highest order of knighthood for an Englishman.
1955, at the age of eighty, Churchill reluctantly stood down as prime minister, for health reasons. Queen Elizabeth II offered him the title of Duke of London, but he declined. In 1963, by Act of the U.S. Congress, Churchill became an honorary United States citizen.
After suffering several more strokes, he died on 24 January, 1965, and is buried in the village churchyard at Bladon, Oxfordshire, near his birthplace. Chartwell, his country house in Kent, is open to the public.
Churchill had five children, Diana (born 1909), Randolph (1911), Sarah (1914), Marigold Frances (1918) and Mary (1922). He was twice named as Time Magazine's Man of the Year, for the years 1940 & 1949.
In 1999, the U.S. Navy launched the guided-missile cruiser USS Winston S. Churchill, the first U.S. fighting ship to be named after a non-American.