We love myths about Churchill. Legends about him are so numerous that they are, more or less, job security for the researchers here at the Buzzkill Institute. Good old Winston seems to attract myths and misquotes like a magnet.

Spend any time in Oxfordshire in England and you’re bound to be told to visit Blenheim Palace in the lovely village of Woodstock. Winston Churchill was born there and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear one of the many versions of the legendary circumstances of his birth. Or you may have read it in one of the endless number of “famous people born in humble circumstances” emails that have flying around the internet for years.

The stories vary, but they all have one thing in common — Winston Churchill was born prematurely in a closet or ladies’ room in an emergency situation at Blenheim Palace in 1874. Apparently, infant Winston was so eager to make his entry on the world stage that he couldn’t wait for his mother’s pregnancy to run the full term. The circumstances leading up to this vary from story to story. They include:

  • His mother, Jennie, went into labor during pheasant-shooting on Blenheim Palace grounds. Servants carried her back to the palace but there wasn’t enough time to prepare a room for delivery. Hustled into the nearest closet or ladies’ room out of necessity, Lady Churchill gave birth to the future prime minister two months premature.
  • His parents were riding through the village of Woodstock when Jennie went into labor. They rushed to Blenheim Palace, knocked on the door, and were admitted with only minutes to spare. She gave birth to Winston in a cloak-room near the entrance.
  • Jennie went into labor prematurely during a ball being held at Blenheim. It was obvious that the birth was imminent, so she was hustled out of the ballroom into the adjoining cloakroom, where young Winston was born within minutes.

First things first. Scholarly opinion differs on the question of whether Winston Churchill was born prematurely, or whether his mother was already two months preggers when she married his father. But this is a family show and we’ll leave that issue to your Buzzkilling imaginations.

Here’s what happened at Blenheim. Despite being seven- (or perhaps nine-) months pregnant, Lady Churchill attended a dance there on 28 November 1874. Relatively early on that evening, and perhaps while she was in the middle of an actual dance, she went into labor. Family members carried her from the dance floor and servants called for doctors. She was taken to the nearest bedroom, which was being used that night to store the cloaks and coats of the dance guests. That’s where the “cloakroom” story probably started. But it was a normal bedroom at Blenheim Palace, not a closet or ladies’ room.

But labor went on for over twenty-four hours, and young Winston was born at 1:30am on November 30th, 1874. So the birth wasn’t immediate, dramatic, or especially problematic (if you leave aside the twenty-fours of labor pains). There was plenty of time to gently slide the cloaks, coats, and feather boas out from under Lady Churchill as the guests departed the dance the previous night.

So if Winston Churchill was in a rush to be born and start making his mark in the world, it wasn’t obvious from the circumstances of his birth. Later generations of worshippers added legends about his birth to the ever-growing pile of Churchill mythology. We should all be so lucky.

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