After decades of work, the 23rd and final volume of the “Churchill Documents” is being published this fall by Hillsdale College’s Churchill Project. Sir Winston Churchill’s son Randolph began writing the biography of his father 57 years ago, in 1962. He completed the first two volumes of the biography.
When Randolph passed away, he bequeathed the biography to Sir Martin Gilbert, who was an Oxford historian and one of Randolph’s researchers. Gilbert then spent the rest of his life working on the biography, from 1968 to 2012. Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn studied under and worked with Gilbert, and since 2012, Arnn has been editing the volumes.
This definitive and official biography of Winston Churchill is the largest biography, of any single historical person, according to the Churchill Book Specialist. It is made up of eight narrative volumes, which Randolph Churchill and Gilbert wrote, as well as 23 volumes of documents. In total, it is 42,300 pages and 15.1 million words. Volume 22 of the series, “Leader of the Opposition, August 1945 to October 1951,” was released in July 2019 and the 23rd volume, “Never Flinch, Never Weary, November 1951 to February 1965,” will be released this fall.
The Churchill Project, launched by Hillsdale College, has been a large part of the work on and publication of the Churchill biography and documents.
“Since its inception, the purpose of the Churchill Project has been to promote a right understanding of Churchill’s words and deeds. The official biography has been one way – the most important way – in which we have pursued this end,” Colin Brown, associate director of research for the Churchill Project, said in an email.
And though this is the final volume of the “Churchill Documents” to be published, the Churchill Project is still dedicated to guarding the legacy of a great man and exploring his history and career.
“Promotion of the official biography and of the articles on the website are the two primary ways we intend to carry the Project forward. But the future of the Churchill Project is bright and there is always more that can be done,” Brown said.
The Churchill Project also has several student fellows who have worked on the project and research. Senior Tess Skehan, who became a fellow in August 2017, has done some editing, reading, biographical footnoting, and transcribing for the Project. And, as she has gotten to work closely with Churchill’s documents and personal writings, she has enjoyed seeing different sides of who he was as a person.
Skehan noticed that often when looking back on historical figures people focus on them in their specific role or career or even try to tear them down. But, she got to see Churchill in many different lights besides just as a politician. He was funny. He was a father, a reporter, as well as a politician.
“He became so much more personal. You get to see so many aspects of him,” Skehan said.
Senior Zach Palmer, also a Churchill fellow since 2017, has had various roles helping with the project and research. He enjoyed being so close to primary documents and being surprised by what he may run across in the vast quantities of Churchill’s writings.
“Churchill wrote nearly 10 million words over the course of his lifetime. While that may not seem like an impressive number, it truly is,” Palmer said. “Whether in a myriad of letters, his many books, or his personal notes to other members of the English government, Churchill had a word for just about everything.”
In order to celebrate the momentous occasion of the publication of the 23rd volume, Hillsdale hosted a large celebration in June in London. Among the guests were Lady Esther Gilbert — Sir Martin Gilbert’s widow — and members of the Churchill family, as well as members of the House of Lords, and many dignitaries that contributed to the work.
Randolph Leonard Spencer-Churchill, Winston Churchill’s great-grandson, was in attendance and gave remarks celebrating the life and work of his great grandfather, and those who worked to create his biography and preserve his legacy.
“All of you here tonight from Hillsdale have played your part in helping us preserve liberty,” Churchill said. “It is truly uplifting that through your dedication and support for completing the Churchill biography, it will stand as one of the great works of history, recording the truth faithfully and without judgement.”
Churchill thanked Arnn and all those at Hillsdale for finishing the job and acknowledged that without many people, like Gilbert and Arnn and everyone at the Churchill Project, the undertaking that his grandfather, Randolph Churchill, took up decades ago, may have never been completed.
“All of them, from Randolph on, have played a role in preserving the history of those extraordinary years in these thirty-one magnificent volumes,” Churchill said. “Their work will be used forever by those who seek the truth.”
“Let us honour the brave men and women who saved our freedoms, and particularly those who serve our nation so bravely today,” I would now like to propose a toast:
“’To Hillsdale College and to the memory of Sir Martin Gilbert!’”