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Sunday, 27 March 2016

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough


John Churchill was born on May 26, 1650 at Ash House, Musbury nea Axminster, Devon.
He was the oldest son of Sir Winston Churchill (1620–1688) of Glanvilles Wootton in Dorset, and Elizabeth Drake, fourth daughter of Sir John Drake.

Winston Churchill was an impoverished Devon Squire. He had the misfortune of fighting on the losing side of the Civil War for which he, like so many other Cavaliers, was forced to compound; in his case £446 18s. Although Winston had paid off the fine by 1651, it had left him broke.

Later when the monarchy was restored Winston Churchill gained influence at court and his fortunes were restored.


As a young boy John yearned to be a courtier and in 1662 Churchill became a page at the court of the House of Stuart. John’s sister Anabella, was James, Duke of York (the future James II)'s lover and bore him several illegitimate children.

On September 14, 1667 (O.S.), Churchill obtained a commission as ensign in the King's Own Company in the 1st Guards, later to become the Grenadier Guards. He fought in Tangier and The Netherlands and was later promoted to Colonel.

Despite not being a Catholic himself, Churchill served James, Duke of York, through the 1670s and early 1680s, earning military and political advancement through his courage and diplomatic skills.
Churchill's role in defeating the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 helped secure James on the throne.

John Churchill (c. 1685–1690) by John Closterman.

In 1688, Churchill switched sides to the Protestant Dutchman, William of Orange, joining him in his revolution against the Catholic King James II. Churchill was true to his conscience, telling the king, "I have been bred a Protestant, and intend to live and die in that communion".

As part of William and Mary's coronation honors, Churchill was created Earl of Marlborough on April 9, 1689. He served with further distinction in the early years of the Nine Years' War.

Persistent charges of Jacobitism brought about his fall from office. In 1692 Marlborough resigned as Lieutenant. General. as he was not appointed commander of the forces in Flanders.

Marlborough spent spent weeks in the tower in 1692 for exchanging correspondence with the former King James II after not being put in charge of the Flanders campaign.

The failure of the navy's bombardment of Brest in 1694 was blamed on Marlborough. It was claimed that due to his support of the former James II claim to the throne, he had betrayed military secrets to France.

Onl the accession of Queen Anne in 1702, Marlborough became Commander in Chief of Anglo Dutch forces. Throughout ten consecutive campaigns during the Spanish Succession war, Marlborough held together a discordant coalition through his sheer force of personality. He criss-crossed Europe travelling thousands of miles by coach to create and then sustain the coalition against France.and raised the standing of the British army to a level not known since the Middle Ages

After outmaneuvering Marshal Boufflers, he captured Venlo, Roermond, Stevensweert and Li├Ęge,
for which in December 1702 a grateful Queen Anne publicly proclaimed Marlborough a duke.

In 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession, the armies of the Duke of Marlborough, and Prince Eugene of Savoy, defeated the Franco-Bavarian force in the Battle of Blenheim. In doing so they prevented Louis XIV's troops from capturing the Habsburg capital, Vienna, and ended French dominance of Europe.

Marlborough wrote to Sarah after the battle. "I have no time to say more but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen, and let her know her army has had a glorious victory."

Marlborough writing the Blenheim despatch to Sarah, by Robert Alexander Hillingford

At the 1706 Battle of Ramilles a French cannon ball missed Marlborough by inches as he was mounting his horse and instead decapitated the staff officer who was holding his stirrup.

Marlborough at the Battle of Ramillies, 1706

In 1708 the British, Dutch and Austrians under Marlborough succeeded in defeating the French at the Battle of Oudenarde. The victory was instrumental in expelling Louis XIV from the Netherlands.

In 1709 Malplaquet was won at a cost of 20,000 Allied lives. Marlborough was criticized for this in the UK parliament and received no personal letter of thanks from Queen Anne.

The post-battle rumor that Marlborough had died spawned one of the most popular French folk songs of all time, "Marlbrough s'en va-t-en guerre" (perhaps better known as "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow").

Marlbrough's wife fell out with Queen Anne, which led to his dismissal in 1711. He fled to Antwerp, Holland for to avoid charges of corruption. Marlborough returned in 1714 on the accession of King George I of Great Britain. whose succession he helped promote.

The world was introduced to ‘John Bull’, the personification of the typical Englishman in a series of five satirical pamphlets against Marlborough by Dr John Arbuthnot in 1712. They showed Bull as a clothier tangled in a lawsuit against ‘Lewis Baboon’ ((i.e. Louis Bourbon, or Louis XIV of France).

Marlborough's victories on the fields of Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet, ensured his place in history as one of Europe's great generals. He stood as the foremost soldier of the age and went through his active military career undefeated..  Although in the end he could not completely crush his enemies, Marlborough's victories allowed Britain to rise to a very great power.


In 1678 John Churchill married the forceful Sarah Jennings (June 5, 1660 - October 18, 1744), the headstrong daughter of an MP. She was 10 years younger than him.

Sarah Jennings was clever, spirited and lovely with fine reddish-gold hair flowing from a smooth high forehead. The ardor of their love never lessened in the 44 years of their marriage. Leaving her to cross the English Channel, Marlborough would keep her in sight with a telescope.

Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough

Sarah was a confidante of the future Queen Anne who created Marlborough a duke on her accession to the throne.

Sarah and Queen Anne used to call each other Mrs Freeman and Mrs Morley; the strong-willed Sarah tended to be the dominated one in the friendship.

In later life Marlborough was undermined by political intrigue and he fell heavily from royal favor reputedly because his wife’s constant bad temper became too much for even the devoted Queen Anne.

Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, died of old age, aged 84, on October 18, 1744, at Marlborough House. She left a fortune of £3 million.


Marlbrough kept a cool head at all times and had a good attention for detail, He was  ambitious, charming, devious, brave, charming, courteous and compassionate.

John Churchill Marlborough portrait by Adriaen van der Werff (1659-1722)

He banned laughing at the dinner table as it was "low".

Marlborough was notorious for his love of money, meanness and greed.  while his wife saved money on ink by never dotting her “I”s or using punctuation.

In 1711 It was proven that Marlborough accepted a kickback of 2.5% from the Emperor Joseph on all the British subsidies paid to Austria, amounting to the incredible sum of £150,000. He also took bribes amounting to more than £60,000 from contractors that supplied his armies. In vain he acknowledged the sums, and protested that they were proper.


The 7-acre Bleinheim Mansion in Oxfordshire, Vanburgh's massive baroque attempt to emulate Versailles grandeur, was granted in recognition of the Duke of Marlborough’s services. In all £250,000 of the total building cost of £300,000 was defrayed by parliament.

Blenheim Palace

The surrounding trees are planted in groups to represent the Battle of Blenheim.

After Marlborough was forced into exile to Europe in 1712 he was forced to finish Blenheim at his own expense.

In 1719 the Duke and Duchess were able to move into the east wing of the unfinished Blenheim palace, but Marlborough had only three years to enjoy it. The palace was not completed until after the duke's death.

Christopher Wren designed his London home, Marlborough House. From 1962 it was used for gatherings of commonwealth members.


Already suffering from paralysis and softening of the brain, The Duke of Marlborough suffered another stroke while living at Windsor Lodge, not long after his 72nd birthday. Finally, at 4 a.m on June 16, 1722 (O.S.), in the presence of his wife and two surviving daughters Henrietta Godolphin and Mary Montagu, he passed away.

Marlborough was initially buried in the vault at the east end of Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey, In 1730, Sarah commissioned a joint tomb for the chapel at Blenheim, and her husband's body was returned there from Westminster Abbey.

Resting place of the Duke and Duchess in the chapel at Blenheim Palace

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