He was a member of Parliament from 1900 to 1964, apart from two years out between 1922 and 1924, making him the longest-serving MP of all time. It seemed fitting that when Winston Churchill met Queen Elizabeth II (the longest-serving monarch in history), the two became lifelong friends and had a great mutual respect for one another.
The Queen was the sixth and final sovereign whom Churchill served under, while he was the first of 13 Prime Ministers to date whom the Queen governed. He tutored the Queen on the complexities of constitutional monarchy, politics, practices and the law, helping to shape her into the respected royal icon she has become today.
When did Churchill first meet the Queen?
The young Princess Elizabeth was a mere two years old when she first met the future Prime Minister. His first impression was a positive one, as he mentioned her in a letter to his wife, written from Balmoral Castle on 25th September 1928.
Churchill had started his political career as a member of the Liberal Party, although he became a Conservative in 1924. As Chancellor of the Exchequer until 1929, he visited Balmoral and privately anticipated the destiny of the future sovereign.
He wrote to his wife that there was no-one there at the time of his visit except the family, the household and two-year-old Elizabeth. “The latter is a character,” he mused, describing her as having “an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant”.
How did their relationship progress?
They had few dealings with each other until Elizabeth became the Queen. Like many young people of the era, she had grown up regarding Churchill as a hero, who had saved the nation from Hitler and the Nazi military machine. Princess Elizabeth was just 13 years old when World War II erupted.
Poor health forced Chamberlain to resign as PM in 1940 and it was almost a formality that Churchill would take over the role. His first task was to form the War Cabinet, made up of members of the Conservative and Labour parties.
Initially, the general feeling in the government was to try and negotiate a peace settlement. However, Churchill expressed serious doubts about negotiating with Adolf Hitler and felt the only option was to battle on – a view backed by Chamberlain, who had been appointed Lord President of the Council after stepping down as Prime Minister.
Churchill was credited with making inspirational speeches that ensured not only the government, but the whole nation, were behind him. He went on to lead Britain to victory in the long and hard-fought war, which finally ended on 2nd September 1945.
The young Elizabeth, like many other teenagers, knew him mainly as the charismatic leader she had heard many times on the radio. She was still only 19 when the war ended and Churchill had become an icon to the British public, thanks to his leadership skills.
Queen Elizabeth II was crowned sovereign on 2nd June 1953 in Westminster Abbey, following the death of her father, King George VI, who had been the monarch since 1937. Churchill was again Prime Minister, as a result of the general election on 25th October 1951, when he beat Labour leader Clement Attlee.
Churchill and Elizabeth meet again
On learning of King George’s death on 6th February 1952, Churchill was said to be upset, as he had enjoyed a close working relationship with the King during WW2. It was said that privately, the Prime Minister felt Elizabeth was too young to be Queen.
His assistant, private secretary John Colville, assured Churchill that he would find the new Queen intelligent, conscientious and charming. However, Churchill replied, “I hardly know her – and she’s only a child!” Colville knew better, as he had served as Princess Elizabeth’s private secretary from 1947 to 1949 and found her to be a highly conscientious young woman, with wisdom way beyond her years.
After Churchill officially met the new Queen Elizabeth following her coronation, he quickly came to share Colville’s opinion. Churchill’s own daughter, Mary, said the Queen had “quickly captivated him” and he felt her “immense sense of duty” early on.
He would meet the young monarch every Tuesday afternoon to discuss matters of state and Mary said he looked forward to their meetings immensely. He would share his vast knowledge with her, helping to guide her with his experience and expertise.
Respect for the monarch
Although he had disagreed with previous monarchs including King Edward VII, King George V and even King George VI during WW2, he never disagreed with Elizabeth II. His immense sense of duty matched her own and it was said that their views were always in accordance.
He felt his relationship with the Queen was something distinct from the business of running the country. His respect for her was boundless. In a radio broadcast to the nation, he spoke eloquently of how the Queen was incredibly gifted, commanding the loyalty of her native land, the British Commonwealth and the Empire.
Churchill, who was born during the reign of Queen Victoria in November 1874, said he once more felt a thrill in singing the national anthem, God Save the Queen, when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned.
Tutoring Queen Elizabeth
The Queen enjoyed Churchill’s company as much as he enjoyed hers. Colville wrote that she had more fun during her audiences with him than with any of his successors. Their conversations, although about important matters of state, were not without humour and were described as being “punctuated with peals of laughter”.
Developing a close bond with the man described as “Britain’s most formidable statesman”, the experience of the war gave them a common perspective on life, despite an age difference of five decades. She looked to him for guidance on how she must conduct herself and admired his wisdom and eloquence.
Churchill had to resign as Prime Minister, due to his declining health, in 1955, although he was an MP until 1964. Following his resignation, he wrote about the importance of his role as the Queen’s constitutional tutor, describing how he had always strived to keep Her Majesty up to date with the “grave and complex problems” of the era. He described how the Queen’s “wise and lively” upbringing had prepared her well for the duties of a modern sovereign, which she understood “by instinct”, praising her “Royal resolve to serve, as well as rule”.
The mutual admiration of Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II never faltered and she sent him a handwritten letter back, assuring him no subsequent Prime Minister would ever hold the place of her first one, who had provided such “wise guidance” during the early years of her reign.
Churchill died in 1965, after suffering a stroke on 12th January, at the age of 90. He was given a state funeral – the first non-royal to have been honoured in this way since Prime Minister William Gladstone in 1898.
He will be forever remembered for leading Britain to victory during the dark days of World War II and will go down in history as one of the greatest Prime Ministers of all time.
In a year not quite like any other, members of the public will be quietly remembering those who died in conflicts. Here at &Meetings, we will be paying tribute to the brave people who have sacrificed their lives in times of war, so that future generations can enjoy freedom. We will remember them.
God save the Queen.