Winston Churchill

From LGBT Archive
Jump to: navigation, search
Winston Churchill in 1900
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill (1874–1965) was a British writer and statesman, who led Britain to victory in the Second World War.


A descendant of the Duke of Marlborough, he was born at Blenheim Palace. As a young cavalry officer he took part in a cavalry charge. As a war correspondent he escaped from a prisoner of war camp in the Boer War. He entered parliament as a Conservative in 1900 but switched to the Liberal Party in 1904. During the First World War he served as First Lord of the Admiralty. In 1924 he re-joined the Conservative Party and became Chancellor of the Exchequer, but from 1929 he was out of office and became estranged from the Conservative leadership. On the outbreak of war in 1939 he was brought into the Government in his old job at the Admiralty. When Chamberlain resigned in 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister, in which role he was an inspiring leader. Defeated in the 1945 election, he was Prime Minister again from 1951 to 1955. He wrote many books, and received the Nobel Prize for literature.

LGBT-related aspects

In 1895 he was accused of having committed "acts of gross immorality of the Oscar Wilde type" while a cadet at Sandhurst. Churchill sued the accuser for defamation and was awarded £400 in damages.[1]

Throughout his life, Churchill showed little interest in women other than his wife, enjoyed the company of homosexuals, and was deeply attached to male friends and his long-standing secretary Edward Marsh, although there is no evidence of any physical relationships.[2]

The writer W Somerset Maugham is said to have asked Churchill whether he ever had any homosexual experience, and been told:

"I once went to bed with Ivor Novello: it was very musical."[3]

In February 1954 Churchill's cabinet discussed the possible decriminalisation of homosexuality, following an increase in the number of convictions for gay offences. Churchill said “Remember that we can’t expect to put the whole world right with a majority of 18.”[4] He considered that public opinion was not yet calling for a change in the law, but holding an enquiry might be a way forward (the Wolfenden Committee was appointed later that year).

Selected quotes

The following sayings are attributed to Churchill:

  • "The traditions of the Royal Navy are nothing but "Rum, sodomy and the lash."[5]
  • "It is impossible to obtain a conviction for sodomy from an English jury. Half of them don't believe that it can physically be done, and the other half are doing it."[6]
  • "You might as well legalize sodomy as recognize the Bolsheviks."[7]
  • "On the coldest night of the year? It makes you proud to be British." (On hearing that Ian Harvey had been caught with a guardsman in St James's Park).[8]

Further reading

  • Michael Bloch, Closet Queens (London: Little, Brown, 2015) Chapter 3.


  1. Martin Gilbert, Churchill: a life. (Minerva Paperback, 1991) page 61.
  2. Bloch, pages 82–83.
  3. Bloch, page 94, quoting a conversation with James Lees-Milne.
  4. Tony Grew, "Archives reveal Churchill’s Cabinet discussed gays". Pink News, 6 August 2007.
  5. This Day in Quotes: discusses alternative versions and reports Churchill saying "I never said it. I wish I had." Archived by the Internet Archive at 31 March 2016
  6. The Politics Companion by Matthew Stadlen and Harry Glass (London: Robson Books, 2004) page 44.
  7. Modern Times: A History of the World From the 1920s to the Year 2000 by Paul Johnson (Hachette, 2013) page 1910.
  8. Bloch, Page 93.