Winston Churchill, architect of Britain’s victory over Hitler in the Second World War, was born in Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough. The first Duke, John Churchill, was given the title and the land by a grateful King William II for service rendered to the crown, beginning a long history of relationships between the Churchills and Britain’s royal houses. Though Winston is buried at Blenheim, the Churchills lived and raised their children at Chartwell.

A writer, a warrior, and a politician, Churchill had a remarkably long career, serving as Prime Minister into his 80s. His active service in the Boer War from 1899 was actually his third military campaign, having fought in both Cuba and Northern India before South Africa. Appointed First Lord of the Admiralty prior to the First World War, he resigned his position shortly after the war began in order to join the battlefield in France. He was recalled to London by the Prime Minister, Lloyd George to become Minister of Munitions and later, Minister of War. After the war he served as Secretary of State and Chancellor of the Exchequer. To escape the incessant demands of office, the Churchills bought Chartwell, a country home in Kent, in 1922.

When the Conservatives were voted out of office in 1929, Churchill embarked on a speaking tour of England, warning the country of the rising threat of Nazism on the continent. Churchill also began writing the first volume of what would become the compendious A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, for which he would later be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Like Hemmingway, Churchill wrote standing up at a long wooden lectern that allowed him access to research texts and documents, often dictating his thoughts to his secretaries, who would then type out a copy for him to edit.

When the Conservatives came back to power, Churchill was initially not offered a cabinet position. But as soon as war broke out, he became First Lord of the Admiralty once again, and within the year, as Britain’s fortunes began to falter under Neville Chamberlain, Churchill took over as Prime Minister. The rest, as they say, is history. What is not as well known, and which our visit to Chartwell this weekend made plain, was Churchill’s love of nature and his desire to capture that beauty in his gardens and his paintings.

Churchill loved butterflies, an interest that dated back to his time in India. He instructed his gardener to grow plants that would attract them, and even in late February, the air was fragrant around Chartwell with the smell of camellia, laurel, begonia, lavender, valerian, and buddleia. Crocus and daffodils were scattered widely across the grass verge that sloped down to the lake. At the bottom of one of the gardens, Churchill converted an unused stable into an art studio and began painting in earnest, an interest he maintained until his death. Many of his paintings are set in nature and reflect his love of light and colour in what must have been a dark and troubled life in politics.

Constantly trying to maintain an aging country estate that was always in some degree of disrepair, Churchill made no profit from his many years of loyal service to the crown and his country. The awards he received in his later years were often given to charity. His tastes and those of his wife Clementine were simple, and his home reflects a love of beauty and simplicity that we found astonishing in one so famous and revered. Bookshelves lined virtually every wall in every room, many of them filled with books he himself had written. A remarkably humble and sacrificial man, it was a delight to visit the home that was so clearly a delight to him. Never one to openly profess his faith, Churchill once wrote, “I intend to spend my first million years in heaven painting.” May he be so engaged even now.