Churchill and the King

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churchill“These were two very different and not naturally complementary personalities. Their relationship was asymmetrical. But then, how many great alliances are there between perfect equals?” (p 61) Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI takes a closer look at one of history’s unlikely friendships and partnerships–that of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the “bulldog of England,” who had been a political outcast for most of the previous two decades, and who was 20 years older than King George VI, who became king only because his older brother abdicated the throne.

Their partnership came about through necessity, it’s obvious. But what wasn’t so obvious was the genuine friendship and respect that evolved between the two men, both of them leaders of a nation that was facing, in Churchill’s own words, “her darkest hour.” On the face of it, such a friendship was unlikely. Churchill was tenacious, volatile and energetic, while George VI famously (famously now, that is, after the award-winning movie The King’s Speech told the tale a few years ago) struggled with a stutter and was diffident and naturally retiring, not having been raised to be king, assuming his role in life would always be that of a background royal and mostly left alone. To be thrust so evidently into the public eye, especially at a time when evolving media such as radio meant he would be more visible than his predecessors, was obviously difficult for the man, but he rose to the occasion.

Churchill and the King clearly shows the development of the relationship, and how the two came to rely on each other. While those of us with a cursory knowledge of the period can clearly see why the King might have needed Churchill, the book shows that the relationship worked both ways. Churchill wasn’t initially well regarded, and he needed the King’s support to gain support. Initially, you would never have thought the two could achieve even a working relationship, much less a friendship. For example, the King supported Neville Chamberlain and the policy of appeasement, and Churchill initially wanted to allow Edward VIII to have both the crown and Wallis Simpson. Both positions attacked the other at an almost personal level. Yet they knew they had to put emotions aside to protect their nation from a much greater outside threat. During the war,  they met almost weekly for a private lunch, and from these times a genuine friendship developed, one that benefited Great Britain as a whole.

This book provides a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, and shows us the men behind the politics and the public personae. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in this time period, and a very accessible account of two of Britain’s great leaders.


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