Birthday: June 5, 1660
Died At Age: 84
Sun Sign: Gemini
Also Known As: Sarah Jenyns
Born Country: England
Born in: St Albans, Hertfordshire, Kingdom of England
Famous as: Close Friend of Queen Anne
Royal Family Members
Spouse/Ex-: John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (m. 1677/78; d. 1722)
father: Richard Jennings
mother: Frances Thornhurst
children: Anne, Henrietta, John
Died on: October 18, 1744
place of death: St James's, London, Kingdom of Great Britain
City: Hertfordshire, England
Who was Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough?
Sarah Jennings, who later came to be known as Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, was one of the most powerful women of her time, primarily because since childhood, she was the closest friend of Anne, Queen of Great Britain. She was named “Maid of Honour” to Mary of Modena. She married John Churchill, an aspiring soldier, and the two remained together for over 40 years. While her husband was moving upward in his military career, Sarah cleverly made her way through the political scene of the time, choosing her allegiance carefully and becoming a truly powerful figure. Although her position was not always secure and there were moments when she seemed to lose her influence, she managed to find her way back and pull the strings at the royal court.
Childhood & Early Life
Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, Princess of Mindelheim, and Countess of Nellenburg was born Jenyns, a name that was spelled as “Jennings” in later references. She was born on May 29, 1660, most likely at ‘Holywell House,’ St. Albans, Hertfordshire. Her parents were Richard Jennings and Frances Thornhurst.
Her father was a Member of the Parliament. He met James, Duke of York and future King James II, who immediately liked him and his family. His other daughter, Frances, became the “Maid of Honour” to Anne Hyde, Duchess of York. Through her sister’s position, Sarah got close to Anne and became good friends, which later allowed her to become immensely rich and powerful.
She was only 15 when she met John Churchill, who later became her husband and the love of her life. He was 10 years older than her and did not have a good financial situation. His family hoped that the situation would improve if he could marry a wealthy woman, but he was hoping Sarah would become his mistress. She did not accept this. However, after she and her sister, Frances, inherited the family fortune following their brother’s death, she married him.
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Sarah’s accomplishments were numerous and impressive. The reign of James II was a difficult time for her. Prince William of Orange was planning to invade the country and grab the throne. Sarah and Anne’s husbands sustained that invasion. As a result, the two friends were confined to Anne’s residence. However, they managed to escape. Although Sarah claimed she had Anne’s best interest in mind when they fled, it was obvious she was scared for her own life.
However, James II fled to France and allowed William to easily take his throne. Under the new king, John Churchill became Earl of Marlborough. However, Queen Mary insisted that Anne dismiss Sarah because of her past allegiances. Anne’s refusal created a feeling of animosity that would last for a long time. Sarah was perceived as the leader of the opposition, and although it strengthened her relation with Anne, she ended up being evicted from the court by Queen Mary.
After the deaths of Queen Mary and King William III, Anne acquired the throne and things changed for Sarah and her husband. John Churchill was named Duke and given a substantial pension. Sarah was now Mistress of the Robes and held many other important titles at the royal court.
The friendship between Anne and Sarah was difficult at times, because the two women had markedly different personalities. While Anne was more sensible and wanted to find affection in her friend, Sarah’s nature was cold. Sarah also almost always spoke her mind in a way that was sometimes brutal and not appreciated by the Queen. They had political differences, too, since Anne was a ‘Tory’ and Sarah was a ‘Whig’ and actively supported her political affiliation.
An important moment in their friendship was when Prince George of Denmark, Anne’s husband, died. The Queen was overwhelmed with pain, but her close friend was insensitive to her feelings and continued to press her to stop grieving and move to ‘St. James’s Palace’ in London. Although Anne finally accepted this, her feelings for Sarah began to change.
Sarah Churchill’s disgrace was partly attributed to her cousin, Abigail Masham, whom Sarah had helped by introducing her to the court out of pity. Abigail became the Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Anne and gradually grew closer to her. Abigail had the advantage of being warm and affectionate, the exact opposite of Sarah, and that was exactly what the Queen needed. They soon became close friends, and Anne even attended Abigail’s secret wedding. Sarah knew nothing about their relationship and was furious when she found out about it. She began to insist that Abigail be removed, especially because of her association with the ‘Tories.’
Sarah had nobody but herself to blame for her fall. Her coldness and impertinence toward the Queen were the reasons their friendship died. She continued to insist that Anne should publicly support the ‘Whigs’ and was shockingly impolite to her until she crossed the line and was rejected by her childhood friend. The Queen decided to allow John Churchill to remain Captain-General of the army but immediately removed Sarah from all her functions.
Eventually, John Churchill was no longer needed as the head of the army. Thus, he and his wife lost all their privileges and went traveling through Europe, to countries where he was appreciated for his military career. Sarah was not happy with this turn of events. She was glad when their exile ended after Anne’s death. Since the new reign was supported by the ‘Whigs,’ the Duke of Marlborough was named Captain-General again.
John Churchill died in 1722, and Sarah inherited immense wealth, which she managed brilliantly, until her death on October 18, 1744.
Family & Personal Life
Sarah and her husband had seven children, but two of them died at an early age. She made sure her children became part of the aristocracy by marrying into important families.
In 1716, John Churchill went through two strokes. He could not even speak after that. She was so worried for his health that she even checked his letters to make sure the content of the letters would not upset him.
After her husband’s death, she received proposals from many men, as she was still an attractive woman, apart from being rich. However, she turned them down. She focused on approving her biography, ‘An Account of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough from Her First Coming to Court to the Year 1710.’
Anne and Sarah were very close and even had nicknames for each other. Sarah was “Mrs. Freeman,” and Anne was “Mrs. Morley.”
When Anne became close to Abigail, Sarah was so jealous that she implied that Anne and Abigail were in a lesbian relationship.