58 pages 1 hour read

Marie Benedict

Lady Clementine

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Summary and Study Guide


Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict was published in 2020. A fictionalized account of the life of Lady Clementine Churchill, wife to Winston Churchill, Lady Clementine employs historical fact to depict how marriage and the role of women shape the political and martial fortunes of Great Britain in the first half of the 20th century. Focusing on the relationship between domestic affairs and public and political ones, this novel of historical fiction joins Benedict’s other novels, which touch on similar subjects and themes. Benedict, whose real name is Heather Benedict Terrell, is a lawyer whose other novels depict historical women behind the scenes, from Hedy Lamarr—The Only Woman in the Room (2019)—to Belle da Costa Greene—The Personal Librarian (2021).

This guide uses the 2020 Sourcebooks Landmark edition.

Content Warning: Lady Clementine depicts suicide and descriptions of miscarriages.

Plot Summary

Lady Clementine narrates the story of Clementine Churchill and her husband Winston Churchill, exploring the domestic tensions and dynamic between the two as Winston moves up through the English government, from MP to Prime Minister. The novel opens with Clementine shuttling from the house of Lady St. Helier, her patroness, to her mother Lady Hozier’s house. Clementine breaks protocol by leaving the St. Helier mansion, where she’s expected to get ready for her marriage, to see her sister Nellie and her brother Bill. Clementine remembers her first meeting with Winston at Lady St. Helier’s house: He shows up late, and they discuss her French travels and their shared support of suffrage.

As she returns to Lady St. Helier’s house and prepares to get married, Clementine recalls Winston’s proposal at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of his cousin Sunny. The palace reminds Clementine of her own threadbare upbringing, as her mother moves them from house to house. Entering St. Margaret’s church later that day, Clementine sees a packed church with many notable people, including her cousin Venetia, whose friend Violet continues to pursue Winston and despises Clementine. At the conclusion of their ceremony, Clementine promises herself to be an equal partner in politics and domestic affairs.

Clementine and Winston honeymoon in Italy and bond over their shared background and distant parents, before consummating their marriage and giving each other pet names—Cat (Clementine) and Pug (Winston). They then arrive at Winston’s home. Winston’s mother meets them there, surprising them with her own redecorating and an overly feminine bedroom. Clementine sees her influence, and leaves Jennie to work on parliamentary business with Winston.

Clementine gives birth to her first child Diana and recuperates in the country, while Winston works in London and his mother Jennie takes over their house. Clementine returns and removes Jennie’s influence before helping Winston with his reelection campaign. A suffragette attacks Winston at the train station in Bristol, and Clementine saves him.

They attend the coronation of King George V, and quarrel briefly. Winston becomes the first lord of the admiralty; they move into the Admiralty House, where they face more money problems and Clementine has a miscarriage. Clementine writes a letter responding to a misogynistic article in the newspaper, of which Winston and the prime minister approve. Onboard the Enchantress, Winston, Clementine, and her mother-in-law travel with the prime minister to Athens. Violet Asquith, the prime minister’s daughter, touches Winston inappropriately. Clementine confronts her.

As the country prepares for World War I, Clementine and her family vacation on the beach in Overstrand, where her mother joins her. She has a third child, Sarah, who joins Diana and Randolph. Winston proposes a disastrous naval invasion of the Dardanelles, and the prime minister removes him from power. Winston enlists to fight at the front, hoping to recover his position. Returning to London, he moves up quickly through the government and helps to negotiate the Treaty of Versailles that ends the war.

Clementine gives birth to a daughter, Marigold. A few years later, Clementine’s brother dies by suicide, and Marigold dies soon after from septicemia. Clementine, who is absent when Marigold gets sick, blames herself. She gives birth to Mary a year later, as Winston buys Chartwell, a country house.

The novel largely skips over the 1920s. Winston and Clementine go to Germany and watch the Nazis grow in influence. Convinced that England will go to war with Germany and that Hitler’s aggressions can’t be stopped through diplomacy, Winston gives speeches warning against Hitler. Clementine goes on a trip to the East Indies on the yacht Rosaura and befriends Terence, to whom she feels attracted. He wants to remain friends, and he gives her a dove to help her remember herself.

Winston becomes first lord of the admiralty again, after warning Neville Chamberlain and the House of Commons about Hitler. Hitler invades Poland and England declares war. It becomes clear that Chamberlain will not last as prime minister. He chooses Winston to follow him, and Winston guides England through wartime as the Germans bomb London relentlessly. Clementine assists Winston’s staff at 10 Downing Street while dealing with Winston’s temper and behavior. Clementine enlists Jock Colville, Winston’s private secretary, to make a case for women to join the war effort and manufacturing.

Clementine helps sanitize and improve the air-raid shelters, as Clementine and Winston seek American assistance. They take Harry Hopkins, a confidante of FDR, to tour the bombed-out sites. He promises to help England. Clementine begins to raise money to aid Russia, hoping to maintain their alliance. Winston visits the White House and, months later, America enters the war after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Eleanor Roosevelt visits England, and she and Clementine bond over their difficulties with their husbands.

As the Allies begin to win, the Americans and Russians plan D-Day, a plan that frightens Winston. He feels cut out of the planning of the war, and he and Charles de Gaulle struggle to maintain connections with the Americans and the Russians. Winston becomes ill as the war goes on, and Clementine flies to Tunis to help nurse him back to health. As the novel ends, so does the war, and Clementine flies to Russia to see what her charity has done. There, she meets Stalin. Clementine wonders how history will remember her.