Marlborough, John Churchill, 1st duke of

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Marlborough, John Churchill, 1st duke of

(märl`bərə, môl`–), 1650–1722, English general and statesman, one of the greatest military commanders of history. A great strategist and a shrewd diplomat, he has been criticized for inordinate love of wealth and power and for inconstant loyalties in politics.

Under James II and William III

The son of an impoverished squire, he became (1665) a page of the duke of York (later James IIJames II,
1633–1701, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1685–88); second son of Charles I, brother and successor of Charles II. Early Life
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) and entered (1667) the army. He rose rapidly under York's patronage and c.1678 married Sarah Jennings (see Marlborough, Sarah Churchill, duchess ofMarlborough, Sarah Churchill, duchess of,
1660–1744, confidante of Queen Anne of England. Born Sarah Jennings, she was a childhood friend of Princess Anne. In 1677 she married John Churchill, later 1st duke of Marlborough.
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), attendant and friend of Princess (later Queen) AnneAnne,
1665–1714, queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1702–7), later queen of Great Britain and Ireland (1707–14), daughter of James II and Anne Hyde; successor to William III.
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. Under James II he was active in crushing the rebellion (1685) of the duke of MonmouthMonmouth, James Scott, duke of
, 1649–85, pretender to the English throne; illegitimate son of Charles II of England by Lucy Walter. After his mother's death, he was cared for by Lord Crofts, by whose name the boy was known. In 1662, James went to live at Charles's court.
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 and was raised to the peerage and made a major general.

Nevertheless, fearing the religious policies of the Roman Catholic king, and concerned about his own career, he corresponded with William of Orange (later William IIIWilliam III,
1650–1702, king of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1689–1702); son of William II, prince of Orange, stadtholder of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and of Mary, oldest daughter of King Charles I of England.
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) and supported him against James in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. He was created earl of Marlborough at William's coronation (1689). Marlborough was successful as a military commander in 1689 and 1690, but William's poor treatment of Anne offended him, and William began to resent Marlborough's ambition and ability. When Marlborough began secret communication with the exiled James II, he was discovered and lost royal favor (1692–98).

Power and Dismissal under Anne

In 1702, when Anne ascended the throne, Marlborough reached the fullness of his power. His military genius and remarkable gift for foreign diplomacy were given wide scope in the War of the Spanish SuccessionSpanish Succession, War of the,
1701–14, last of the general European wars caused by the efforts of King Louis XIV to extend French power. The conflict in America corresponding to the period of the War of the Spanish Succession was known as Queen Anne's War (see French and
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. His personal efforts long held together the anti-French alliance. He and Prince Eugene of SavoyEugene of Savoy,
1663–1736, prince of the house of Savoy, general in the service of the Holy Roman Empire. Born in Paris, he was the son of Eugène, comte de Soissons of the line of Savoy-Carignano, and Olympe Mancini, niece of Cardinal Mazarin.
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 together won such victories as Blenheim (1704), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709), and he alone is credited with Ramillies (1706) and countless other triumphs.

Marlborough, made a duke in 1702, also enjoyed political ascendancy, largely as a result of his wife's influence over the queen. Marlborough and his friend Sidney GodolphinGodolphin, Sidney Godolphin, 1st earl of
, 1645–1712, English statesman. He early established a lasting friendship with John Churchill (later duke of Marlborough), and their political fortunes were closely linked.
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, as well as the queen, although earlier bound by personal and religious ties to the Tories, turned to the Whigs, who favored the war while the Tories opposed it. They secured the dismissal of Robert HarleyHarley, Robert, 1st earl of Oxford,
1661–1724, English statesman and bibliophile. His career illustrates the power of personal connections and intrigue in the politics of his day.
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 in 1708 and were momentarily paramount in politics. The duchess, however, quarreled with Anne, who came under the influence of Abigail MashamMasham, Abigail, Lady
, d. 1734, favorite of Queen Anne of England. Her maiden name was Abigail Hill. A plain, intelligent person, she became (1704) bedchamber woman to the queen through the influence of her cousin Sarah Churchill, duchess of Marlborough.
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, Harley's cousin; the war was costly, and Marlborough was accused of prolonging it for his personal glory; the prosecution of Henry SacheverellSacheverell, Henry
, 1674?–1724, English clergyman, the center of a religio-political incident in the reign of Queen Anne. In two sermons (1709) Dr. Sacheverell attacked the Whig government, lashing out especially against its toleration of religious dissenters.
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 was unpopular; and in 1710 the Whigs fell, yielding power to Harley and Henry St. JohnSt. John, Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke
, 1678–1751, English statesman. Political Rise

Although he was one of England's great orators, Bolingbroke was also an unstable profligate, and he was generally distrusted.
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 (later Viscount Bolingbroke).

The duke was falsely charged with misappropriating public funds and was dismissed (1711) from office. He returned to England from self-imposed exile upon the accession of George I in 1714 and was given chief command of the army again, but he took little further part in public affairs.


See the duke's letters and dispatches (ed. by Sir George Murray, 1845); the exhaustive biography of him by his descendant Winston S. Churchill (1933–38, repr. 1982) and a short one by M. P. Ashley (1939, repr. 1957); studies by C. T. Atkinson (1921), F. Taylor (1921), I. F. Burton (1968), D. G. Chandler (1973), and D. W. Jones (1988).

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