LONDON: The leader of the world’s Anglicans, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, revealed his shock Saturday at discovering he is the illegitimate son of Winston Churchill’s last private secretary.
Welby, the spiritual head of the Church of England and of the wider global Anglican Communion of 85 million Christians, said the news had come as a “complete surprise.”
But the 60-year-old cleric insisted he was not disturbed by it.
“In the last month I have discovered that my biological father is not Gavin Welby but, in fact, the late Sir Anthony Montague Browne. This comes as a complete surprise,” Welby said in a highly unusual statement issued through the Church of England.
“This revelation has, of course, been a surprise, but in my life and in our marriage Caroline and I have had far worse,” said the archbishop, whose first child Johanna died in a car crash in 1983, aged seven months. “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.”
DNA test proved claim
Welby had always thought that his father was Gavin Welby, a whisky salesman and son of a Jewish immigrant, who died in 1977.
But The Daily Telegraph newspaper revealed Saturday it had pieced together evidence suggesting that Montague Browne was actually his father. The broadsheet then discussed its findings with Welby, who decided to take a DNA test to disprove the claim.
A comparison between a swab from his mouth and hair samples from Montague Browne, who worked for Churchill between 1952 and 1965, showed a 99.9779 percent probability that they were father and son.
Welby said both Gavin Welby and his mother Jane had been alcoholics, although he stressed that his mother had not drank alcohol for nearly 50 years.
“My own experience is typical of many people. To find that one’s father is other than imagined is not unusual. To be the child of families with great difficulties in relationships, with substance abuse or other matters, is far too normal,” he said. “Although there are elements of sadness and even tragedy in my father’s (Gavin Welby’s) case, this is a story of redemption and hope from a place of tumultuous difficulty and near despair in several lives.”
Meeting that never was
Welby’s mother Jane Williams, formerly a personal secretary to Churchill, also issued a statement saying the news had come as an “almost unbelievable shock.”
The 86-year-old said though she had a short and dysfunctional marriage, “neither of us ever doubted that we were the parents of our son Justin”, born almost nine months to the day after their wedding.
She confirmed she had slept with Montague Browne shortly before marrying Welby, “fueled by a large amount of alcohol on both sides.”
“It appears that the precautions taken at the time didn’t work and my wonderful son was conceived as a result of this liaison.”
Welby had met Montague Browne when he was a boy as his mother remained a friend.
Montague Browne was wartime prime minister Churchill’s private secretary for the last decade of his life until the statesman’s death in 1965. He studied at Oxford University and served in the Royal Air Force in the Middle East and Asia during World War II.
He worked for the Foreign Office after the war and then worked for Churchill.
After Welby was appointed archbishop of Canterbury in 2013, Montague Browne’s step-son said how alike they looked. He confirmed that Welby might be his son.
Through his step-son, Montague Browne asked if he could meet Welby and the archbishop agreed. However, Montague Browne, then aged 89, died within days of Welby’s installation and the meeting never took place.
The hair sample was taken from a hairbrush kept by his widow.
Welby, an only child, now has a half-sister, Jane, who is three years older than him.
For centuries, men born illegitimately were barred from becoming archbishops. However, a little-known 1950s change in the law leaves Welby safe in his position. AFP