Winston Churchill vs. Nancy Astor

April 9, 2012

Once upon a time in the British Parliament, more precisely in the House of Commons,  the juiciest gossip topic apart the outbreak of a new World War and the perpetual conflicts with Berlin was the enmity between prominent politician Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965), then occupying the privileged position of Prime Minister, and the audacious Viscountess Nancy Astor (1879 –1964 ), known to be the first woman sitting as a Member of the Parliament, who, from some reason or another, could not at all live in mutual tolerance.

VS.

The two were reputed for a series of sarcastic dialogues whose lines were ping-ponged on the halls of Westminster Palace to the delight of the many accidental witnesses that obviously couldn’t refrain a smile when hearing such virulent interlocutions like the following:

Nancy Astor: Winston, you are drunk.

Winston Churchill: And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning!

Any other lady would’ve slapped him, offended by this type of rudeness which seemed as if taken from Oscar Wilde’s plays, but not our Nancy, no, for she was an adept of intelligent revenge and on numerous times had the chance to retort smartly a mocking proposition to equal the score.

Thus, when the stout Winston attempted to both tease and ridicule her by stating that “having a woman in Parliament is like having one intrude” on him “in the bathroom”, she serenely replied: “You’re not handsome enough to have such fears”, provoking general dissimulated laughter amongst the stiff diplomats, we can imagine, to her satisfaction.

Also, at his impolite question about what disguise  he should wear so that nobody could recognize him at the Astor’s “stupid” masquerade ball, Nancy ironically responded using rhetoric: “Why don’t you come sober, Prime Minister?”

Yet by far my favorite is the immortal exchange of witty words which Consuelo, Duchess of Malborough, registers in her “the Glitter and the Gold” autobiography: “Lady Astor and Winston were actuaded by a strong antipathy one for the other, so much so that one never invited them together, dreading the inevitable explosion bound to occur. It was therefore unfortunate than on one of her visits to Blenheim, when my son was host, Churchill should have chosen to appear. The expected result of their encounter was not long in coming; after a heated argument on some trivial matter Nancy, with a fervor whose sincerity could not be doubted, shouted, ‘If I were you wife I woul poison your coffee!’ Whereupon Winston with equal heat and sincerity answered ‘And if I were your husband I would drink it!’

That’s a first-hand experience I wish I could boast with!

Isn’t it comical?

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16 Responses to “Winston Churchill vs. Nancy Astor”

  1. @alipeoples Says:

    Old Winston’s chat really was excellent

  2. Susan Ozmore Says:

    I love to see a woman hold her own against a man. Of course it would take a strong woman to be the first in Parliament. I might have to read more about Lady Astor. I’m so glad I found your blog!

  3. Nancy Farmer Says:

    oh those were the days when they knew how to deliver proper insults! :-D


  4. that’s the kind of bickering that would make a high school teacher accuse you of having a crush on one another!


  5. another great exchange of insults he was involved in occurred with the Irish playwright (& long-term resident of London) George Bernard Shaw. A new play of Shaw’s was opening at a West End theatre, and according to both etiquette and the conventions of the day, Shaw was bound to send 2 tickets- for the First Night- to the sitting Prime Minister of the day, who was of course Churchill. Shaw sent the tickets, but (as a socialist etc…) he loathed Churchill so much he could not resist writing: well, here is the exact exchange, copied and pasted precisely: ….

    George Bernard Shaw telegrammed Winston Churchill just prior to the opening of Major Barbara: “Have reserved two tickets for first night. Come and bring a friend, if you have one.”

    Churchill wired back, “Impossible to come to first night. Will come to second night, if you have one.”


    • I read about this juicy anecdote somewhere… It’s a wonder how such a profusion of brilliant people survived being in contradiction with each other for so long a time… But then again, that’s one of the things that made them brilliant…


      • absolutely. They were both brilliant, and yet could not, not possibly, have been more different in temperament, views and outlook. Shaw was a feminist & vegetarian, socialist, etc.. and Churchill an old-world, old world, unreconstructed British upper-classes type, with all the prejudices and lazy assumptions of that class. No dubt whatsoever he was a deeply flawed man too. But his wonderful (albeit mixed) record during the war has now obscured some his more outrageous views. But he was uniquely fitted, for that precise moment in history, (probably only that moment, but he was). Almost certainly because he modeled himself directly on his ancestor, John Churchill- later 1st Duke of Malborough.


      • At a second thought, though, it seems to me they might’ve been quite similar. Most likely, they differ in therms of valued concepts which influence their acts.

  6. Tkat Says:

    She was the first woman to sit in the house of commons after the hideous things done to the suffragettes to win women the vote. Although witty, and I love every one of her quips, Nancy was a monumental figure in history and a magnificent one at that. To my understanding and research it was Nancy who told Churchill he was drunk, not Bessie.


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