John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
Birthday: May 26, 1650
Died At Age: 72
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: 1st Prince of Mindelheim, 1st Count of Nellenburg, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire
Born Country: England
Born in: Ash, Musbury
Famous as: Military Leader
Spouse/Ex-: Duchess of Marlborough (m. 1677), Sarah Churchill
father: Winston Churchill
mother: Elizabeth Drake
siblings: Arabella Churchill, Charles Churchill, George Churchill
children: 2nd Duchess of Marlborough, Anne Spencer, Countess of Sunderland, Duchess of Montagu, Elizabeth Churchill, Elizabeth Churchill Egerton, Henrietta Godolphin, John Churchill, Marquess of Blandford, Mary Montagu
Died on: June 16, 1722
place of death: Cumberland Lodge, United Kingdom
Cause of Death: Stroke
education: St John's College, Oxford, St Paul's School
General John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1st Prince of Mindelheim, 1st Count of Nellenburg, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, KG, PC, was a British military and political personality. He served in the English court under five monarchs. Hailing from a gentry family, he acted as a page under James, then Duke of York. In the next two decades, he established himself in the court with military exploits and diplomatic acumen. In 1685, he played an important part in quashing the Monmouth Rebellion, clearing James’ path to the throne. However, he was also involved in the military conspiracy that resulted in James being overthrown during the Glorious Revolution. Although William III named him Earl of Marlborough, he continued to be labelled as a Jacobite and was briefly incarcerated in the Tower of London. Between May 1702 and August 1710, he served as the First Lord of the Treasury. He is one of the most celebrated generals in the history of Europe, having won decisive victories in a number of battles. Under his military leadership, Britain became one of the most powerful countries on the continent. Following the deterioration of the relationship between his wife and Queen Anne, Marlborough experienced his own fall in the court.
Childhood & Early Life
John Churchill was born on May 26, 1650, in Ashe House, Devon, England, to Sir Winston Churchill of Glanvilles Wootton, Dorset and Elizabeth Drake. He was one of his parents’ five children who made it to adulthood. The others were Arabella, George, Charles, and Theobald.
The family garnered significant fortune and power through Arabella’s relationship with James, then Duke of York. Her brothers started working in the court of the House of Stuart. John was employed as a page under James himself. In September 1667, he became an ensign in the Foot Guards.
According to various records, he had accompanied Sir Thomas Allin to the Mediterranean in 1670, but his involvement with the Tangier Garrison cannot be verified.
In the Treaty of Dover, Charles II promised English support to Louis XIV of France in the latter’s war against the Dutch Republic. Churchill was stationed aboard James' flagship, the Prince, at the Battle of Solebay on 28 May 1672.
He also served as a captain in the Duke of York's Admiralty Regiment, part of the British Brigade, which was led by the Duke of Monmouth.
He became acquainted with the 15-year-old Sarah Jennings sometime around 1675. Like Churchill, she belonged to a minor royalist gentry family. While Churchill’s father had plans for him to wed Catherine Sedley, a girl from a wealthier family, Churchill tied the knot with Sarah in the winter of 1677–78.
Five of Churchill and Sarah’s children made it past infancy: Henrietta Churchill, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough (1681-1733), Lady Anne Churchill (1683-1716), John Churchill, Marquess of Blandford (1686-1703), Elizabeth (1687-1714), and Mary (1689-1719).
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Years of Turmoil
John Churchill became the MP for Newtown following the 1679 general election. After James converted to Catholicism in 1673, a massive political crisis ensued. He lived in exile for three years after the election. During this period, Churchill served as his liaison with the court.
In 1682, he became Lord Churchill of Eyemouth in the peerage of Scotland. A year later, he was appointed a colonel of the King's Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons. All these new titles helped him lead a comfortable life. Other members of his family, including his brothers, held important positions in Britain and other European countries.
After James’ ascent to the English throne in February 1685, Churchill accumulated even more power and significance. He played a pivotal role in the royal forces’ triumph over Argyll's Rising in Scotland and the Monmouth Rebellion in western England.
He was subsequently made major general and rewarded the colonelcy of the Third Troop of Life Guards. In May, he became Baron Churchill, which effectively garnered him a seat in the House of Lords. This eventually resulted in his first dispute with James.
James’ increasingly fanatic zeal towards Catholicism made his predominantly Protestant subjects, including Churchill, suspicious, before they downright sought to depose him.
While Churchill was not one of the signatories on the invitation to the Protestant Dutch Stadtholder, William, Prince of Orange, to attack England and become the king, he supported William’s causes.
After the king realised that he had lost Churchill’s support as well, he felt hopeless and desperate and left England for France, where he went on to spend the rest of his life under the protection of Louis XIV.
After declaring his loyalty to William and the Protestant religion, Churchill was awarded the earldom of Marlborough in 1689. He proved himself to be an effective commander in Flanders and Ireland between 1689 and 1691.
In late 1691, he was discharged from all his appointments, as he was suspected of being an active participant in the intrigues of restoring James II. In the following May, he was incarcerated in the Tower of London. Although he was freed not long after, he struggled to regain the favour of the throne for the next three years.
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An ailing William III made Marlborough the Ambassador-Extraordinary and commander of English forces to represent the country at the conference at the Hague, effectively naming him his heir in the dispute against Louis XVI.
Following her coronation, Queen Anne validated the appointment. Marlborough subsequently led the English and Dutch forces and later the Austrian forces in ten successive campaigns.
Marlborough demonstrated that he had exceptional diplomatic skills as well. He first established and then led the Grand Alliance, which was comprised of several major and minor powers in Europe that had joined forces to combat the ambitions of Louis XVI. Eventually, France was forced to negotiate for peace.
The end of the hostilities, which later came to be known as the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), marked the rise of Britain as a major maritime and commercial power. Marlborough’s reputation as a general remained unparalleled until the rise of Napoleon.
In England, Marlborough had become an indispensable political figure, especially through his wife, who was Queen Anne’s close companion. He served as the 1st Lord of Treasury between May 8, 1702, and August 11, 1710. In 1702, he was made the 1st Duke of Marlborough.
His service as the leader of the Grand Alliance had also impressed other monarchs in Europe. He was appointed a sovereign prince of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Leopold on August 28, 1704.
On November 18, 1705, he was appointed the Prince of Mindelheim by Emperor Joseph I. When Mindelheim was annexed by the Electorate of Bavaria in 1714, he was able to get the county of Nellenburg in exchange for it.
One of Marlborough’s political allies was Sidney Godolphin, 1st Earl of Godolphin. They were lifelong Tories and staunch royalists. By 1710, much of Marlborough’s power in the court had diminished.
During the Whig predominance, he became even more isolated, but he still served as the leader of the military. However, when he tried to voice his opinion on the peace treaty negotiated by the new administration, he was removed from all his appointments in 1711.
After his dismissal, Marlborough stayed out of politics until the queen’s death in August 1714. Under the House of Hanover, he briefly came back to favour.
He had a stroke on May 28, 1716. Marlborough never made a complete recovery. He passed away on June 16, 1722 O.S. He was 72 years old at the time. Marlborough, along with his wife, is interred in the vault beneath the chapel at Blenheim.