Reviews – Jennie Churchill: Winston’s American Mother

“…this well- judged, endearing biography.”

Evening Standard October 2008

“This is a wonderful book, brimming with the history and atmosphere of Edwardian England. Sebba has been given unprecedented access to personal letters and archival material and gives us a heartfelt portrayal of this often misunderstood and maligned woman.

Jennie was a brilliant, glittering woman in an age of female repression. She was talented, an accomplished musician and had a flair for fashion and house decor. During her life she struggled with debt and also her estrangement from her first husband, Randolph Churchill. She was a key figure in the successful development of Winston and used her large social and aristocratic network to help him in his political career. I was totally enchanted by Jennie;her zest for life and her refusal to allow her spirit to be squashed. This book is well researched and extremely well written with many quotes and good use of source material. It is an accessible and compelling read. Book groups would also find much to discuss. ”

NewBooks Magazine August 2008

(For Reading Group notes see Home Page)

“Anne Sebba’s biography is not the first to try to rescue Jennie’s reputation, but it is the most fully researched and the most passionately partisan…. She has trawled the archives of the world for new material: in particular she has been the first – at least for this purpose – to mine the full riches of the Churchill Papers since they were deposited at Cambridge in 1995. Along with a lot of evidence of letters burned, she has come up with a good deal of wonderfully fresh and vivid correspondence to, from and about Jennie….. she paint(s) a vivid portrait of a brilliant and indomitable spirit.”

by John Campbell, author of two volumes of biography on Margaret Thatcher, TLS March 7 2008


“This thoughtful and scrupulously researched book by Anne Sebba…. Sebba makes a convincing case that what occcurred with Randolph was a coup de foudre however unlikely that may seem given how Randolph looked and behaved. She is equally persuasive that Winston was most probably conceived before they married in 1874 attesting to Jennie’s confidence, physical passion, craving for excitement and sexual fearlessness… Overall Sebba’s prose is clear, her judgments sensible. She is good on how Jennie helped the erratic Randolph in his strangely meteoric political career and moving when chronicling the disintegration of their marriage and their final world cruise as he went through what were probably the last stages of syphilis… But the real strength of the book is it’s examination of Jennie’s role in shaping the character and career of Winston.”

by Philip Eade, author of Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters , Sunday Telegraph, 30 December 2007

” Anne Sebba’s gripping new biography is a sharp and intelligent reassessment of Jennie’s life, and it nails a number of myths…

She has written an immensely enjoyable book. Her prose is as smooth and elegant as expensive cashmere and the book reads like a novel, which is as it should be for Lady Randolph Churchill was a character larger than life.”

Jennie Churchill was the wife of the most celebrated political enfant terrible of his day, Lord Randolph Churchill, and the mother of Winston, the most famous Englishman of all. Little wonder that, squashed between these two alpha males, Lady Randolph Churchill has usually been seen as a walk-on part. Raven-haired and fiery-eyed, “Black Jane” is alleged to have slept with 200 men. She is chiefly remembered for being a bad mother to the infant Winston, leaving him to the tender mercies of Nannie Everest. Anne Sebba’s gripping new biography is a sharp and intelligent reassessment of Jennie’s life, and it nails a number of myths.

by Jane Ridley, Professor of Biography at the University of Buckingham, Alpha Female, Literary Review, September 2007.
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According to Anne Sebba’s meticulously researched biography, the ‘most beguiling Churchill of them all was not born a Churchill’, yet it is Jennie Jerome who should be credited with her elder son’s eventual unparalleled position in the history of British politics.

by Juliet Nicolson, Mother of All Dynasties, Evening Standard, 03 September 2007

“In a vibrant biography, Anne Sebba furnishes all the right details in the life story of a woman who may only be a footnote to history but is much splashier on the page. ”

New York Daily News, November 11 2007

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“Anne Sebba’s book pulls together facts, discussions and controversy from the previous books, adds new letters and discusses recent Jennie historiography… and her well written book is worth a read. .. Given the literature extant it is encouraging to find some new material… What really matters is that Jennie Churchill was a notable person at a time when women were mainly considerd to be trophies, concubines or breeders…. Anne Sebba suggests perceptively that while Lord Randolph lived he stood in the way of Winston’s aspirations… For the young Winston, the right parent survived. ”

by Barbara F Langworth Finest Hour 137 Winter 2007-8 The Right Parent Survived

Jennie Churchill: American beauty, socialite subject of glitzy films and raunchy anecdote. And of course the mother of Winston. Such is the frisson that always surrounded Lady Randolph Churchill that she has all but passed into popular myth. Promising to retrieve her in sparkling three dimensions is the biographer of Laura Ashley and Mother Teresa, Anne Sebba….

Sebba’s biography does much to put flesh on the bones of a subject who has been reduced to a cipher for American brashness. Amid the diamaond hair clips, Worth dresses piano playing to concert standard and libido Lord D’Abernon dubbed her more panther than woman) she emreges aas a survivor of constant financial crises, an intimate sister and a steadfast mother once her boys became adults. Her spirit was balanced by discretion and loyalty. She was fast but not wayward, frivolous but never vapid and plucky in spades.

by Kate Colqhuoun, Daily Telegraph


Richly detailed, elegantly written … Sebba reveals a passionate, outspoken woman’— Independent, The Monday Book

A faithful and dramatic portrait of the mother of one of Britain’s greatest statesmen … this is a revelatory depiction of the woman who defied convention and helped to shape a nation’s political future — Good Book Guide

(Jennie Churchill’s) greatest claim to fame lies in being Winston’s mother and it is in this role that this exhaustive biography comes most vibrantly to life’ — Sarah Burton, Spectator


and from the bloggers... How Many Women Could Handle 200 Lovers

I received an invitation today with my latest edition of The Spectator , to celebrate the launch of a new biography, “Jennie Churchill, Winston’s American Mother “, by Anne Sebba.

It boasts that she was “outspoken, dazzlingly beautiful and had 200 lovers.” And although she married three times, the real love of her life was her son Winston.

Wikipedia charts many of her reputed lovers, including royalty. Throughout her life and all three marriages, Jennie conducted extra-marital affairs, initially to strengthen the social and political position of her first husband, Lord Randolph Churchill. Her third husband was three years younger than Winston.

Yet she seemed to get away with her promiscuous life, retaining her title Lady Randolph Churchill. Even when the title was no longer officially hers, she was so welcome in royal circles that no one seemed to object.

Could you handle 200 lovers and, if so, do you think you would still be highly regarded by your circle of friends and colleagues? I doubt it, can you imagine the complications? And while it’s not a lifestyle we encourage today, it is endlessly fascinating to read about those who have done so.

Lady Churchill’s life was certainly colourful and extraordinary, especially compared to the privileged “It” girls of today.

This book is sure to be a best seller for Christmas, I shall certainly add it to my list. I just hope it doesn’t lead me astray …

by Ellee Seymour, journalist and press consultant

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