Who Commanded History? Sir John Colville, Churchillian Networks, and the ‘Castlerosse Affair’

Warren Dockter, Richard Toye

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This article is based on the discovery of a tape in which the late John Colville, one of Winston Churchill’s most trusted private secretaries, claimed that Churchill had had an affair with Doris, Lady Castlerosse, a society beauty who died of a drug overdose in 1942. It shows that Colville’s claim was a credible one, although it cannot be proven beyond doubt. The article uses Colville’s revelation as the starting point of an investigation into how a network of Churchill’s friends and former colleagues influenced the shaping of his reputation in the years after his retirement and death. Colville himself was one of the key figures in the process, although his actions – not least his revelation of the story of Lady Castlerosse – were sometimes paradoxical. By examining these developments, the article casts new light on the history of the Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, of which Colville was the founding father.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-419
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Contemporary History
Issue number2
Early online date02 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2019


  • Winston Churchill
  • Britain
  • Archjves
  • Memory
  • Lady Castlerosse
  • Archives
  • John Colville


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