The Churchill sisters The extraordinary lives of Winston and Clementine's daughters

Rachel Trethewey

Book - 2021

"As complex in their own way as their Mitford cousins, Winston and Clementine Churchill's daughters each had a unique relationship with their famous father. Rachel Trethewey's biography, The Churchill Sisters, tells their story. Bright, attractive and well-connected, in any other family the Churchill girls - Diana, Sarah, Marigold and Mary - would have shone. But they were not in another family, they were Churchills, and neither they nor anyone else could ever forget it. From their father - 'the greatest Englishman' - to their brother, golden boy Randolph, to their eccentric and exciting cousins, the Mitford Girls, they were surrounded by a clan of larger-than-life characters which often saw them overlooked. While M...arigold died too young to achieve her potential, the other daughters lived lives full of passion, drama and tragedy. Diana, intense and diffident; Sarah, glamorous and stubborn; Mary, dependable yet determined - each so different but each imbued with a sense of responsibility toward each other and their country. Far from being cosseted debutantes, these women were eyewitnesses at some of the most important events in world history, at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam. Yet this is not a story set on the battlefields or in Parliament; it is an intimate saga that sheds light on the complex dynamics of family set against the backdrop of a tumultuous century. Drawing on previously unpublished family letters from the Churchill archives, The Churchill Sisters brings Winston's daughters out of the shadows and tells their remarkable stories for the first time"--

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New York : St. Martin's Press 2021.
Main Author
Rachel Trethewey (author)
First U.S. edition
Physical Description
320 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 263-311) and index.
  • Introduction
  • The early years. Diana: the gold cream kitten ; Sarah: the bumblebee ; Marigold: the duckadilly ; Mary: the Chartwell child ; The chancellor's daughters ; Diana in the limelight ; Sarah takes centre stage ; Sarah follows her star ; Mary faces the gathering storm
  • The war years. The Churchill girls at war ; Transatlantic alliances ; Doing their duty on the home front ; Travels with their father ; Onwards to victory
  • The post-war years. The aftermath ; Love and marriage ; Sarah goes to Hollywood ; Family politics ; Sarah: from Hollywood to Holloway ; Surprised by joy ; Diana: the good Samaritan ; Mary: the calm at the centre of the storm ; Sarah keeps on dancing ; Mary's golden age ; Sarah and Mary leave the stage.
Review by Booklist Review

Journalist and biographer Trethewey chronicles "the daughter[s] of one of the greats of history" growing up and coming into their own in the tumultuous decades around World War II. Diana, Sarah, and Mary Churchill were bright, accomplished women, driven by a "profound sense of duty" to family and country. Sarah, the rebel, pursued acting; Diana and Mary chose the more traditional role of political wife, Mary, after operating anti-aircraft guns during the war. Time and again, their father relied on them to create the stable domestic environment he craved, making them close-up witnesses to history. It was an extraordinary life, but not without heartbreak. The "Black Dog" of depression and debilitating anxiety heightened pressures within the family. Drawing upon hundreds of family letters, Trethewey renders well-rounded portraits of the three sisters and examines emotional dynamics within the close-knit, fiercely loyal Churchill clan. The tone is intimate, like the stories of a sympathetic, clear-eyed family friend. Trethewey delivers "plenty of country-house colour," keeping the sweep of history in the background along with glimpses of the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, the Roosevelts, and Maria Callas.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Trethewey (Before Wallis) delivers a breezy group biography of Winston Churchill's surviving daughters Diana, Sarah, and Mary (Marigold, born in 1918, died of septicemia at age two). The girls' mother, Clementine, took frequent vacations away from the family to guard her mental health, and as children they joined their father at political events and on the campaign trail. During WWII, they all took active roles in the war effort, as was expected of the prime minister's daughters. Sarah, recently separated from her first husband, left her stage career to sign on with the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and accompanied her father to conferences with Allied leaders at Tehran and Yalta. Meanwhile, Diana, who was married to her second husband and raising children, served as an air-raid warden and worked in a munitions factory. After the war, she divorced again and struggled with mental health issues before dying by suicide in 1963. Mary, the "stable sister," actively supported her politician husband's career and raised five children. Trethewey's less-than-robust historical context offers little insight on the sisters' political influence on their father and the nation, but she sets a brisk pace and succeeds in depicting a trio of intriguing women at a perilous moment in world affairs. Women's history buffs will be entertained. Illus. (Nov.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Diana, Sarah, and Mary-they were the Churchill sisters, each with a distinctive relationship with her father and all with a front-row seat at key events in history. (A fourth sister, Marigold, died young.) British journalist Trethewey tells their story, focusing on intimate family relationships. With a 60,000-copy first printing.

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

An acclaimed British biographer spotlights Winston Churchill's four daughters and the roles they played in the life of Britain's most famous modern statesman. Winston Churchill biographies number in the thousands, yet none have been dedicated to the daughters, Diana, Sarah, Marigold, and Mary. Drawing on archived and previously unpublished family letters, Trethewey offers lively portraits of the women who, along with their mother, Clementine, "creat[ed] the stable domestic life" she argues was key to Churchill's many triumphs. Of the four daughters, one, Marigold, died as a toddler. The remaining three went on to lead lives that, though shaped by Churchillian privilege, followed different trajectories. Eldest daughter Diana "shared [Winston's] passion for politics…and found campaigning exciting." Yet she never quite received the "star" treatment their brother and political heir-apparent Randolph did. But it was Sarah who inherited "a touch of Churchill's genius" and who went on to earn acclaim as an actor and notoriety for the stormy personal life that signaled her self-destructive tendencies. Like her elder sister, the ambitious Sarah also had to contend with sexism from the men to whom she was romantically linked. By contrast, her younger sister Mary wanted nothing more than to marry and put the needs of her parents, sisters, and family first. At 23, writes the author, "she decided that she wanted to find 'Mr Right' and 'live happily ever after'." Mary accomplished her aim while also--and quite unexpectedly--finding the professional fulfillment that had eluded Diana and Sarah in the second half of her long life. This remarkable, sometimes tragic story of the daughters who supported their brilliant historical giant of a father will appeal to a broad range of readers including historians, feminist scholars, as well as audiences who enjoy highly readable biographies. An engrossing and intelligent group biography. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.