Monday, January 06, 2014

Churchill and the King by Kenneth Weisbrode

Winston Churchill is a larger than life figure. He's become synonymous with Britain's victory in World War II, and is one of the most stubborn, controversial and downright fascinating characters in British history. There are museums devoted to him. His ancestral home, Blenheim Palace, is even open to the public. (It's a beautiful place to visit - I recommend it). His visage is found on a plethora of tourist baubles. And the stack of books written about him only continues to grow.

What more can we add to the narrative of his life? Hasn't he been poked and prodded enough by historians? Is there really any new ground to uncover?

Perhaps so. Kenneth Weisbrode's Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI is certainly a worthy addition to the Churchill historiography. The slim volume comes in at only 184 pages and is written in a conversational tone sadly lacking in more academic historical works. But perhaps that is because this book is not meant to be a rigorous academic study, but a personal and intimate look at a friendship between a prime minister and his monarch, one that became pivotal to winning the war.

Is this a bold claim to make? Undoubtedly. Yet in reading through Weisbrode's work, one can't help but at least consider such a conclusion. He uses a plethora of letters from both the King and Churchill, anecdotes from government aides, and previous scholarship on both men to present a portrait that is remarkably well-balanced. Neither Churchill or the King are made out to be saints or sinners, but quite human.

The two met almost every week during the war (always on Tuesdays, though locations would change due to Luftwaffe bombing raids) and frequently consulted each other on various issues as they valued each other's opinion. In fact, Weisbrode posits that "Churchill extended to the king the reassurance that he needed in order to reassure the British people" (70). By the same token, Churchill's devotion to the monarchy was well-noted and in this king, well-placed. In short, theirs was almost a symbiotic relationship.

The one glaring flaw of this work - which is really not the author's fault - is that we know more about Churchill's activities and thoughts than we do the King's. The answer to to this is simple: there are more archival documents on Churchill for this period of time than there is for the King. Still, Weisbrode makes good use of what he has and the result is an entertaining and indeed, intriguing look at this asymmetrical relationship.

One doesn't think of World War II without thinking of Churchill. And now, thanks to Weisbrode's addition, one will no longer think of Churchill winning the war without thinking of the King by his side.

Note: Book was received for review purposes only and I received no monetary remuneration for this review.

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