Duke of Marlborough

(John Churchill)


John Churchill, better known to history as the Duke of Marlborough is sometimes spoken of as the greatest general in English history, primarily due to his performance in the War of the Spanish Succession. For the second half of the 17th century, Louis XIV of France had continually expanded his territory and power, so that by the turn of the 18th century, France was by far the predominant power in all of Europe. William III had spent his entire career keeping the Netherlands free from French hegemony, and the Hapsburg empire had been continually losing ground since the Thirty Years War. When the Spanish throne fell into the hands of the Bourbon monarchs, all of Europe felt threatened. Into this theatre, Marlborough, along with his Hapsburg ally Eugene of Savoy entered, and each won stunning victories against the French against entirely due to their excellent generalship.


Marlborough's long career as an English soldier began shortly after the restoration, when he was assigned as a page to the household of James II, then Lord High Admiral of the English navy. Both Marlborough and his wife Sarah had a life long association with the family of James II, and his daughter Anne. Marlborough served under James during the Anglo Spanish Wars, and also was instrumental in putting down the Monmouth Rebellion shortly after James ascended to the throne. When James II was deposed, however, the Marlboroughs abandoned his cause and adhered to the Protestants William and Mary. The Duke however, was never fully trusted by William III, and was denied opportunities for advancement early in his reign.

Both Marlborough and his wife acted as close advisors to Anne, who was next in line for the throne, since William and Mary had produced no heirs. Since it was well understood that under Anne's government, Marlborough would likely be the most influential person, William eventually took Marlborough into his council and together they anticipated the coming war with France, which the death of the Hapsburg king of Spain had made inevitable.

The war itself was highly contentious within Parliament because of its high cost, but was popular throughout Europe because France was greatly hated and feared. In any case, Marlborough's execution of the war was exceptionally good, but political infighting never ceased, and as a consequence both he and Sarah fell out of favor with Anne during the last few years of her reign. The continued to enjoy enormous popularity through England and all of Europe, and when Anne died in 1714 they were honored by the Hanoverian monarchs.

The Duke and Duchess of Marlborough enjoyed an exceptionally long and happy marriage. Winston Churchill of World War I and II fame, was a direct descendent of their union.

Key events during the life of Duke of Marlborough:

John Churchill born to a dispossessed Royalist family.
Assigned as a page in the household of James II. shortly after the restoration.
Obtained commission in Grenadier Guards.
Served under James II in the third Anglo-Dutch War.
Married Sarah Jennings, a close friend of Anne I.
Appointed to King's Regiment.
Marriage of Anne1 to George of Denmark.
Put down Monmouth rebellion after James II assumed the throne.
Deserted James II during the Glorious Revolution. Allied himself with William III.
Created Earl of Marlborough.
First War of the Grand Alliance
Falsely accused of plotting to restore James II to the throne.
England declares war on France: War of the Spanish Succession.
    Battle of Blenheim, critical allied victory, turning point of war.
    Battle of Malplaquet, exceedingly costly victory for the allies.
Marlborough returns. Government beset by infighting.
Death of Queen Anne.
Death of Marlborough

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Blenheim and After  in  Stories from English History, Part Third  by  Alfred J. Church
Queen Anne, the Last of the Stuarts  in  The Story of England  by  Samuel B. Harding
Greatest General of His Age  in  The Awakening of Europe  by  M. B. Synge
Queen Anne and Marlborough  in  The Tudors and the Stuarts  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

The Duke of Marlborough as a Young Ensign
 in Stories from English History, Part Third
John, Duke of marlborough and Wiife
John, Duke of marlborough and Wiife
 in Back Matter

Short Biography
Sarah Jenson Wife of Marlborough, and close friend of Queen Anne.
James II Catholic king of England, deposed by his daughter Mary and William III.
Charles II Restored to the throne after death of Cromwell. Presided over the great fire and plague of London.
William III King of Netherlands, called to be king of England when James II, his father-in-law, was deposed.
Anne of England Last of the Stuart queens, lived during the War of the Spanish Succession.
Eugene of Savoy One of the Greatest generals of the Hapsburg Empire. Led Austria during the War of Spanish Succession.
Louis XIV French King who expanded the borders of France, and lived in great pomp and splendor.
Marshall Tallard French General during the Spanish War of Succession. Captured at Bleinheim.