John Closterman , 1660-1711
Portrait of General John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, KG, PC 1650 – 1722 in Armour wearing the Lesser George
oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76 x 64 cm.)


General John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1st Prince of Mindelheim, 1st Count of Nellenburg, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, KG, PC  1650 – 1722


Churchill, John, first duke of Marlborough(1650–1722), army officer and politician, was born at the manor house of Ashe, near Musbury, Devon, on 26 May 1650 and baptized in the chapel of Ashe House on 2 June, the second, but first surviving, son of Sir Winston Churchill (bap. 1620, d. 1688)and Elizabeth (c.1622–1698), third daughter of Sir John Drake (d. 1636) of Ashe, and a niece of George Villiers, first duke of Buckingham. Arabella Churchill (1649–1730)was his elder sister, and he was the elder brother of Admiral George Churchill (bap. 1654, d. 1710) and General Charles Churchill (1656–1714).


Impoverished following his stalwart service of the royalist cause as a cavalry captain, Winston Churchill and his wife, Elizabeth, were living with Elizabeth's widowed mother, Eleanor, Lady Drake, in her ancestral home when John was born. During these early years the father, now unemployed, may have supplemented the early instruction that John received from a sequestered clergyman. At the Restoration in 1660 Winston Churchill began to recover his position and income. Appointed to the court of claims in 1662, he took his family with him to Dublin, where he enrolled John in the DublinFreeGrammar School. After returning to London, Winston was knighted, appointed to the royal household, and given apartments at Whitehall. About 1663 he enrolled John as a scholar at St Paul's School, and the boy studied there until officials closed the school in 1665 during the plague epidemic.

Sir Winston first found favour for his eldest daughter, Arabella, as maid of honour in the household of the duchess of York. Shortly afterwards James, duke of York, appointed John Churchill a page of honour in his household and obtained for him a commission on 14 September 1667 as an ensign in Colonel John Russell's company of the King's Own regiment, a unit later known as the Grenadier Guards. Churchill's aunt Mrs Godfrey, his mother's sister, was also a member of the duke's household, and through her the young Churchill met another distant relation, a second cousin once removed, Barbara Villiers, Lady Castlemaine, King Charles II's mistress, who in 1670 became the duchess of Cleveland.

Several biographers have asserted that about 1668 Churchill went to Tangier and possibly served there for two years as a volunteer with the earl of Peterborough'sregiment in the defence of that outpost, but no contemporary evidence has been found to support this. However, on 10 March 1670 the duke of York approvingly wrote to Admiral Sir Thomas Allin, who commanded the English squadron in the Mediterranean, that Churchill, one of the ensigns of the King's regiment sent to command the troops 'for recruit of your squadron', wished to continue with Allin'ssquadron as a supernumerary, apparently in Allin's flagship Resolution (TNA: PRO, ADM 2/1746, fol. 61). During this period Allin was involved in operations against the Algerine corsairs near Tangier. Allin returned with his flagship to England in November 1670. Shortly afterwards, on 6 February 1671, Churchill was wounded in a duel with John Fenwick in London.

In March 1671 Ensign Churchill embarked with the first company of the guards and participated in Sir Robert Holmes's unsuccessful attack on the Dutch Smyrna-bound ships anchored near the Isle of Wight. At the end of May 1672 he and his company were on board Royal Prince, the duke of York's flagship. On 28 May during the battle of Sole Bay against the Dutch fleet off Southwold, Suffolk, Churchill distinguished himself by his bravery and steadiness under fire, but no details of this are known. When Royal Prince was heavily damaged in the battle, York transferred his flag to St Michael and Churchill apparently followed him, although most of his fellow guards had remained on board Royal Prince.

As a result of his exemplary conduct in battle the duke of York wanted to promote Churchill within his household and selected him as a gentleman of his bedchamber. Overriding York's good opinion of Churchill, the king denied permission for the promotion. The basis for the king's displeasure lies in the many stories that circulated about Churchill's illicit relations with the king's mistress, Barbara Palmer, duchess of Cleveland (bap. 1640, d. 1709), in the period between 1671 and 1675. Few, if any, can be substantiated in detail. Churchill certainly annoyed Charles II, and this fuelled much of the common court gossip of the day. It seems that Churchill was quite probably the natural father of the duchess's youngest daughter, born in July 1672. It is also widely believed that she gave Churchill a gift of £5000 from money she received from the king. Despite this on 13 June 1672 Churchill obtained a military promotion, skipping the rank of lieutenant, from ensign to captain in the lord high admiral's regiment. About this time he spent £4500 to purchase from Lord Halifax two annuities to pay £600 per year for life, thereby creating the foundation for his later fortune.

Little is known of Churchill's activities during the following year. In August 1672 he fought a duel with Henry Herbert and wounded him in the thigh, but had his own arm run through twice before Herbert disarmed him. Then in December 1672, along with a number of other English regiments, Churchill's Admiralty regiment went to France. By June 1673 he left his company and joined a dozen English officer volunteers and thirty others at Maastricht, the cornerstone of Dutch defence, and served under the command of James, duke of Monmouth, as part of the French army under the personal command of Louis XIV. After seventeen days of siege the French king watched as Monmouth and the small English contingent, seconded by the musketeer company under d'Artagnan, led an attack to break into the fortress. In the first three attempts the attackers were forced back, but at one point during these attacks Churchill reportedly managed to place the French flag on the parapet of a demilune. In a fourth attack Monmouth, with Churchill, d'Artagnan, and others, attempted to pass an enemy barricade at one of the gates into the fortress and d'Artagnan was killed. After calling for reinforcements, Monmouth made another attempt with Churchill at his side. In this successful attack Churchill was wounded, but saved Monmouth's life. Following the surrender of Maastricht, Louis XIV publicly praised the English soldiers and, among them, personally congratulated Churchill.

By the autumn of 1673 Churchill was serving with the royal English regiment in the French army in Westphalia, where he quickly came to Marshal Turenne's favourable attention. With the end of the Dutch war in February 1674 approximately 5500 English troops remained in French service, but the numbers were soon reduced and several English regiments were combined. On Monmouth's recommendation to the French war minister Louvois, the French commissioned Churchill on 3 April 1674 as colonel in command of the newly reorganized regiment, but he retained his rank as captain in the English army. During the campaign of 1674 under Turenne's overall command, Churchill served for a time as a volunteer on detached reconnaissance missions with Douglas's foot regiment near Heidelberg. After returning to the main army on 15 June, he participated on the following day in the battle of Sinzheim on the ElsatzRiver some 20 miles south-east of Mannheim.

Several months later Churchill rejoined his regiment in the French army and commanded it during the battle of Ensheim, just to the south of Strasbourg, on 4 October 1674. In that action he lost half his twenty-two officers. Following the battle Turenne chose him, with 500 other selected officers and men, to attack the rearguard of the Austrian forces as they re-crossed the Rhine. Although no detailed reports have been found of his activities in the following months, Churchill was apparently with Turenne's army during its winter march south from Hagenau in late November and early December, around the Vosges mountains to Belfort, and then north to Turkheim, where it fought on 25 December.


Late in 1674 Churchill returned to London to take up the duke of York's long-promised appointment as a gentleman of the bedchamber, arriving with the satisfaction of having both learned much from Turenne and earned for himself a reputation for skill in combat. He took up lodgings in Jermyn Street, five doors east of St James's Street. On 5 January 1675 he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in the duke of York's regiment. Shortly after returning to court he met for the first time the fifteen-year-old Sarah Jenyns (1660–1744) [see Churchill, Sarah], who in October 1673 had been appointed a member of the household of the new duchess of York, Mary of Modena, as an attendant to her stepdaughter, Princess Anne, the future queen. A relationship between Churchilland Sarah did not develop immediately, for in August 1675 he went on a mission to Paris, possibly to assist in obtaining a French subsidy for King Charles. From Paris he continued on to Savoy to represent the duke of York, in company with the king's representative, Bernard Granville, on a mission of condolence. Returning to London in October he was allowed to bring two trunks of silver plate duty-free.

Early in 1676 the duchess of Cleveland left the court and moved to Paris with her children. Shortly afterwards Churchill became attracted to Sarah Jenyns. Meanwhile, Churchill's debt-ridden parents were busily attempting to arrange a financially advantageous marriage for their eldest son to Katherine, the nineteen-year-old daughter and heir of the playwright Sir Charles Sedley. Nevertheless, Churchillproposed to Sarah in mid-November 1676, but Sir Winston Churchill initially opposed the marriage. When the duke of York suggested to the French that the highly qualified John Churchill was the best choice for command of the royal English regiment in the French army, the French ambassador, Honoré de Courtin, strongly disapproved. Having full knowledge of current court gossip in London about Churchill, he reported to the minister of war, Louvois, that Churchill was currently more interested in seducing a maid of honour than in commanding a regiment, and later suggested that a return to Paris would allow Churchill to resume his relationship with the duchess of Cleveland.

Churchill's relationship with Sarah Jenyns suffered from all this, but during 1677 several events occurred that changed the situation. First, in May 1677 Churchill'sparents formally broke off negotiations concerning Katherine Sedley, and John agreed to join with his father in paying off the family debts. A few months later Sarah's brother died and she received a substantial proportion of her family's estates in Hertfordshire, worth up to £1500 a year. Under these circumstances Sir Winston and Lady Churchillapproved of the match between their son and Sarah. The exact date of their marriage is unknown. Before her own marriage Sarah attended the private marriage ceremony of the duke of York's eldest daughter, Mary, to William III of Orange, at St James's in November 1677. As part of the wedding arrangements for William and Mary, the duke of York's master of the robes was to accompany the newly-weds to Holland. Through the patronage of the duchess of York, Churchill purchased this position. Sarah Jenynsand John Churchill were probably secretly married shortly after this in a ceremony witnessed perhaps only by the duchess of York.

On 18 February 1678 Churchill was promoted colonel of one of the newly raised infantry regiments, and in order to show him further favour the duke of York altered the date of his commission by one day, to 17 February, giving him seniority over those commissioned the same day. In April 1678 York sent Churchill to the continent on a diplomatic mission. At his departure on 5 April Sarah was still serving as a maid of honour and was being addressed by her maiden name, although she later recalled, 'I believe I was married … but it was not known to anyone but the duchess' (Wolseley, 1.195). Leaving Sarah behind, Churchill and a west-country acquaintance, Sidney Godolphin, were directed to help settle military arrangements following England's entry into the anti-French alliance. Having travelled first to Brussels, Churchill signed an agreement with the duke of Villa Hermosa on 13 April in relation to Spanish troops. He then travelled to Breda and on to The Hague, where he began negotiations with William of Orange with instructions to offer 20,000 men and a proportionate number of guns. The negotiations encountered some difficulties with the states of Holland, with whom Churchill and William had a three-hour discussion on 19 April. Although the Dutch were unable to carry out Charles II's desires promptly, Churchill was able to return to London on 26 April with a mutual Anglo-Dutch understanding for the remainder of the war.

On 1 May 1678 Churchill was appointed brigadier of foot and given authority to enlist recruits. While he was training troops that summer he and Sarah finally made public their marriage in May or June. As a result she necessarily resigned her post as a maid of honour. In the early days of their marriage the couple lived with Churchill's parents at Minterne, Dorset, and when in London at Churchill's lodgings in Jermyn Street, where he employed seven servants. The young couple were launched on a financially sound basis. Shortly before their marriage Churchill had purchased livery, harness, and a coach to provide a fashionable lifestyle for his wife. During 1678 he sold his place as groom in the duke of York's household, a transaction bringing him a pension of £200 in addition to his current salary as master of the robes, his two annuities, and his military pay. As a former maid of honour Sarah received an annual pension of £300. In addition her share of the Jenyns estates at Sandridge, at St Albans, Hertfordshire, and at Agney, Kent, provided her with independent assets.


On 3 September 1678 both Churchill and Brigadier Sir John Fenwick were ordered to proceed with their troops to Flanders. Churchill had two battalions of guards and a battalion each from the Holland regiment and the duchess of York's and Lord Arlington's regiments. Shortly afterwards the treaty of Nijmegen was signed and Churchill's duties turned to securing his troops in winter quarters, allowing him to return to England after only two weeks of work.

In the months that followed, English politics were dominated by events leading up to the 'Exclusion Bill' crisis. Before a new parliament could meet, the king ordered the duke of York into temporary exile. York and his wife left England with their household staff, and went first to The Hague, then to Brussels, where they set up residence. At the general election in 1679 Churchill, now the duke's master of the robes, was elected for Newtown, Isle of Wight, on the government interest. Because of his position as an MP he was allowed to remain in London when parliament was in session. In May he finally went to Brussels to join York; by then Sarah was some three months pregnant and chose not to accompany him.

By June 1679 Churchill was back in London, where he fought a duel with the poet Thomas Otway 'for beating an orange wench in the duke's playhouse' (Seventh Report, HMC, 473a). When Sir John Holmes reported this to the king, Churchill took offence at the way in which Holmes represented it, and challenged Holmes to a duel in which Holmes disarmed Churchill. In July the king dissolved parliament and called another, but Churchill did not stand for re-election. Instead, he chose to resume his position as master of the robes in York's household in Brussels. Churchill and his pregnant wife arrived there on 28 August. Shortly afterwards York heard that Charles II was dangerously ill. Fearing that the duke of Monmouth might attempt to seize the throne, he decided to return to London. Travelling incognito, Churchill, with other members of York's household, accompanied him. First, they went to Calais by horse, then by sea to Dover, and by land to London and WindsorCastle. On their arrival they found that the king was no longer in danger. Charles received his brother warmly, but in light of York's continuing unpopularity it was thought advisable for him to return to Brussels. After four days in London, Churchill went alone to Paris to ask for a renewal of subsidies to Charles II, then returned directly to Brussels, where he arrived at the end of September, a few days before York and the remainder of the household returned.

By this time York was exasperated at his exile and ordered Churchill to return to London to obtain Charles's permission for him to go to Scotland. The king approved of James's new place of exile, but at the same time ordered Monmouth into exile at The Hague. After Churchill returned to Brussels, he and Sarah travelled to London. As Jamesand his household passed through the City en route for Edinburgh, Sarah remained behind in Jermyn Street, bitterly unhappy over the separation from her husband. She gave birth at the end of October 1679 to their first child, Henrietta (or Harriot, as her parents called her).

Meanwhile Churchill had travelled on with the duke to Edinburgh, where they arrived in early November. While there, he was one of York's closest advisers. At the end of January 1680 the king commanded his brother to return from exile and Churchillaccompanied him to London, where they arrived on 24 February. York and his household remained in the City during the summer, hoping that the new parliamentwould more readily accept his presence. Meanwhile, Churchill began to look for employment that would give him a more stable home with his family. At first Yorkfavoured his appointment as ambassador to either France or Holland, where William of Orange reportedly expressed his approval. All these plans came to nothing. When the new parliament assembled in October, it proved strongly opposed to James'ssuccession. By the autumn, both the king and the government had persuaded York to return to exile in Edinburgh. James sailed for Scotland on 20 October, once again accompanied by Churchill, now his principal adviser.

Sarah remained in London, but York repeatedly sent Churchill on missions to London to lobby for the end of his exile. This allowed Churchill to be with his family in late January and early February, as well as in May and part of June 1681. However, he left for Scotland on 22 June and was not with his wife when a few days later their daughter, Henrietta, died. He immediately returned to Sarah's side on hearing the news. A few weeks later he again returned to London and was present on 29 July at the baptism of their newborn second child, also named Henrietta (1681–1733), who later married Francis, second earl of Godolphin. Churchill left for Scotland again about 8 August, but this time made arrangements for Sarah to follow him in early September. Leaving the child behind in London with a nurse, Sarah remained with her husband for eight months with York's household at Holyrood. During this period she renewed her acquaintance with the duke's sixteen-year-old daughter, Princess Anne.

Early in 1682 Churchill accompanied York on a visit to Charles II at Newmarket, where York finally obtained permission to return permanently to England. The ship carrying James and his household from Edinburgh in May ran aground on shoals off the Norfolk coast and sank with a heavy loss of life. Churchill was among the few survivors, and privately told Sarah that the duke's obstinacy and cruelty during the attempt to abandon the ship had caused unnecessary loss of life. During the summer of 1682 the court was at Windsor, but Sarah abided by the decision her husband had made after their marriage that she stay away from the king's court.

Within six months the situation at court changed. Two of Princess Anne's close confidantes were dismissed after Lord Mulgrave was accused of plotting a clandestine courtship between himself and Anne. A bedchamber woman, Katherine Cornwallis, was implicated as the Catholic who had facilitated the match. In their places Anne turned to Sarah, while the king and his brother recognized the need to avoid such situations by having Anne marry. Churchill no longer discouraged his wife from accepting a position in Anne's household, recognizing the value of Sarah's friendship with the protestant princess in offsetting his close involvement with the Catholic duke of York.

In recognition of Churchill's service to York during his exile, Charles II created him on 21 December 1682 Lord Churchill of Eyemouth, Berwickshire, in the Scots peerage. Shortly afterwards the Churchills gave up their Jermyn Street home and took up residence in St James's Palace. Early in 1683 negotiations were under way for Anne to marry Prince George of Denmark, a younger brother of King Christian V. Since Georgehad some military experience, Churchill was seen as an appropriate choice to escort the young prince to England, given his growing personal connections with Anne and the fact that his brother Charles had served at the Danish court. In June 1683 Lord Churchillsailed for Glückstadt, where he met Prince George and brought him back to London on 19 July for his wedding to Princess Anne. During the following weeks Sarah served as one of Anne's chaperones, and Churchill played a key role in replacing George's Danish secretary, Charles Siegfried von Plessen, with Sarah's brother-in-law Colonel Edward Griffith.

With her wedding on 28 July Princess Anne was allowed her own household, separate from that of her parents, but based on the couple's limited income. The chief position in the princess's household was that of groom of the stole, which provided £400 a year. While much political jostling was taking place among several candidates, Churchillencouraged his wife to secure the appointment as a means to promote their own advantage. Eventually, Sarah was given the post, formally inaugurating a connection that lasted for the next twenty-seven years and became the pivot upon which both their political and personal fortunes rose and fell.

For the next two years the Churchills were deeply involved in court life. On 21 November 1683 Churchill was appointed colonel of the Royal regiment of dragoons. During that winter the Churchills left their lodgings in St James's Palace to take up new quarters with those assigned to Princess Anne and Prince George in the Palace of Whitehall, which they occupied for the next eight years. There, on 28 February 1684, Sarah gave birth to their second surviving daughter, Anne (d. 1716), named in honour of the princess, who stood as the child's godmother. Later that year Churchill acquired sufficient resources to purchase the remaining share of the Jenyns estate at Sandridge and Holywell for £11,000 and to begin repairing and extending Holywell House at St Albans as a convenient country seat to raise their family. This purchase also gave the Churchills the principal political interest for the parliamentary seat at St Albans, and shortly thereafter the mayor announced John Churchill's candidacy. During the autumn Sarah became ill, or possibly suffered a miscarriage.


Immediately following the duke of York's accession as King James II on 6 February 1685, Churchill was appointed ambassador-extraordinary to France to notify Louis XIVof James's accession and, initially, to ask for an increase in the French king's subsidy. After Churchill left London, Louis XIV gave James an unsolicited gift of 5000 livres. On receiving it, James immediately ordered Churchill to limit himself to formalities and then to return to London for the coronation. Remaining in Paris from mid-February until April, Churchill reportedly told a French protestant army officer, the marquess de Ruvigny, 'that if the King ever was prevailed upon to alter our religion, he would serve him no longer, but withdraw from him' (Burnet's History, 1.486).

Shortly after returning to London Churchill was appointed a gentleman of the king's bedchamber on 22 April 1685. Then, on 14 May, he was additionally created Baron Churchill of Sandridge, Hertfordshire, taking his title from his wife's inheritance; this was one of only ten English peerages created during James's reign. The first major crisis of the reign came in June 1685, when the duke of Monmouth returned from Holland and landed at Lyme Regis, declaring an uprising against James. When the news was received in London on 13 June, all available forces were ordered to Salisbury. Brigadier Churchill left London immediately with some 300 cavalry and reached Bridport on 17 June, Axminster on 18 June, and Chard on 19 June. Here, close to his birthplace, Churchill first came into contact with rebel forces.

After Churchill's departure from London the earl of Feversham was appointed commander-in-chief, with Churchill as his second in command. Offended by this appointment, Churchill wrote to Clarendon, 'I see plainly that I am to have the trouble, and that the honour will be another's' (Correspondence of Henry Hyde, 1.141), unaware that he had just been given a commission as 'major general over all our forces as well horse as foot' (Dalton, 2.49) on 3 July 1685. As support for Monmouth waned, Feversham and Churchill brought all the king's forces together into a camp at Weston Zoyland on 5 July. On hearing of this, Monmouth moved immediately to attack them in the middle of the night while they slept in their unfortified position. The battle of Sedgemoor followed and extended into the next morning with a total victory for the royal army.

Feversham reaped the main rewards of the battle. In recognition of Churchill'sexemplary conduct he exchanged on 30 July the colonelcy of the Royal Dragoons for that of the third troop of Horse Guards, and he was also appointed governor of the Hudson's Bay Company. In the following year the company expanded its scope of operations and moved out towards more northern regions in Canada. There, officials named the river and the port at its mouth Churchill, in honour of its governor, firmly establishing for him a continuing interest in the development of British interests in the American colonies.

After returning to his duties in the royal household Churchill quietly observed James II's increasing assertion of power. In January 1686 he was one of thirty peers whom the lord high steward, Judge Jeffreys, named to try Lord Delamere for complicity in Monmouth's rebellion. Churchill, as the most junior peer, cast his vote first; to the king's great annoyance, all the other peers followed him in voting for Delamere'sacquittal. The Churchills remained passive, but quietly defensive, as the king replaced protestant office-holders. When rumours spread that Princess Anne would be declared James's successor if she become a Catholic, Anne's sister, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, began to suspect Churchill of complicity in King James's policies. These threatening events, along with Anne's miscarriage and the death of two of her children, brought the princess into an even closer personal relationship with Sarah Churchill, and at the same time with her husband, as Anne first began to see the need to oppose her father's policies. In the midst of all this, on 13 February 1686, Sarah gave birth to a son, John (d. 1703), initially styled Lord Churchill and from December 1702 marquess of Blandford.

On 29 December 1686 Anne wrote to Mary to assure her that Churchill's allegiance to James II was firm, but also limited by his devotion to the protestant cause. William of Orange was increasingly worried about the situation in England and, in February 1686, dispatched a close confidant, Everard van Weede, heer van Dijkveld, to investigate. When Dijkveld asked to meet Anne, she authorized Churchill to be her representative. Eight days after Dijkveld's departure for The Hague, Churchill wrote directly to Williamon 17 May 1687 to assure him of his commitment to resist conversion to Catholicism, 'I being resolved, although I cannot live the life of a saint, if there be ever occasion for it, to show the resolution of a martyr' (Churchill, 1.240). Through this letter and his discussions with Dijkveld, Churchill established a connection upon which William built during the coming eighteen months.

Both Anne and the Churchills felt increasingly insecure. As more and more Catholics replaced protestants in key positions, both Churchills were under threat, but John, in particular, was highly vulnerable in his position close to the king and privy to sensitive military information. Beginning in May 1687 he participated with the army's summer encampment at Hounslow, and during the autumn of 1687 he accompanied the king on his royal progress through the area that Monmouth had raised in rebellion two years before. While visiting Winchester the king reportedly asked Churchill how the people were reacting to his touching for the ‘king's evil’. To the king's obvious displeasure Churchill bluntly replied that they saw it as paving the way for Catholicism. Immediately following this exchange, Churchill was overheard during dinner with the dean of Winchester having a lengthy discussion on passive obedience.

In November 1687 Churchill attempted to get away from the situation by requesting command of the six English and Scots regiments in Dutch pay, then serving in the Dutch republic. The king denied his request, wanting to transfer those forces to France under the duke of Berwick's command, but William of Orange refused to let them leave the Dutch republic. Then in December Churchill strongly supported Prince George in his effort to retain Lord Scarsdale as his first gentleman-in-waiting; the king dismissed Scarsdale as lord lieutenant of Derbyshire for his refusal to canvass electors to support the repeal of the Test and Penal Acts. Becoming increasingly worried about the safety of his family's future and fortune, Churchill placed the Sandridge estate in a trust in December 1687. In January 1688 he declined James II's personal request for his explicit support in repealing the Test Acts and penal laws.


On 15 March 1688 Sarah gave birth to her third surviving daughter, Elizabeth (d. 1714), who later married Scrope Egerton, first duke of Bridgewater. Demonstrating the Churchills' shifting allegiances, they chose as the child's godmother Lady Lumley, the wife of one of William of Orange's strongest supporters in England. Shortly afterwards Princess Anne left London for Bath. There, accompanied by Sarah, she was recovering from illness; like many other protestants, she was not present in London during the trial of the seven bishops and when the queen gave birth to the prince of Wales on 10 June. Churchill was at the army encampment; he, like many other officers, feared for his career when Catholic officers were ordered to make lists of all Catholics in their commands. By this time Churchill had long-standing connections with other protestant officers who were conspiring to defect from the king, including his former comrades from Tangier and the regiments that served with the fleet, as well as the officers who met in the Treason Club at The Rose tavern in Russell Street. In July he made further financial arrangements to secure his family, and on 4 August 1688 he reaffirmed his intentions when he wrote to William that he was 'resolved to die in that religion that it has pleased God to give you both the will and power to protect' (Churchill, 1.272).

The king interpreted Churchill's passivity to indicate that if his ambitions for promotion were fed, he would remain loyal as he had done during Monmouth'srebellion. In September James began to take seriously the danger of an invasion by William of Orange and ordered military and naval precautions. Even after William had landed at Torbay on 5 November, James was still preparing his forces. With Fevershamas commander-in-chief of the army, the king also wanted Churchill's military skill and prestige. On 7 November 1688 he promoted Churchill to lieutenant-general with command of the larger part of the army at Salisbury. Ten days later the king left London for Salisbury, bringing with him Prince George and Churchill. En route, they learned that Lord Cornbury had defected to William with a brigade and had succeeded in taking some 200 men with him. Arriving at Salisbury on 19 November, the king's party joined 25,000 troops, with more moving south from Scotland and Ireland.

On 21 November the king proposed visiting troops who were guarding advanced positions near Warminster, but was prevented from doing so by an incessant nosebleed. Soon afterwards, James heard that Churchill and Colonel Kirke had plotted to murder him during the visit. When Lord Clarendon confronted Churchill about this on 3 December, Churchill denied it vociferously, saying:

he would venture his life in defence of his [the king's] person; that he would never be ungrateful to the King; that he had never left him, but that he saw our religion and country were in danger of being destroyed.

Correspondence of Henry Hyde, 2.211, 214

Churchill and his co-conspirators in the army may have thought there was a lingering chance of effectively brokering a negotiation between James and William. Churchillstayed with James as long as he dared, but was clearly in danger, and many suspected his intentions. His brother George had been the first of the family to defect when he brought his ship, HMS Newcastle, into Portsmouth. Nearly simultaneously during a war council at Salisbury on 23 November, the king rejected Churchill's military advice to advance toward William's forces and favoured Feversham's recommendation to retreat. The king's decision may have suggested to Churchill that no possibility remained for James to open negotiations with William or to call a freely elected parliament. At the same time his brother's defection put even more pressure on him to act.

In the early morning of 24 November 1688 Churchill, along with the duke of Grafton, Colonel Berkeley, and some 400 officers and men left the camp at Salisbury and rode 50 miles to Crewkerne. From there they sent word to William's headquarters at Axminster that they had shifted allegiance. At Salisbury Churchill left a letter to James,acknowledging his great personal debt to the king and explaining that his defection to William 'could proceed from nothing but the inviolable dictates of my conscience, and a necessary concern for my religion' (Churchill, 1.299). That evening Prince George also defected to William, and on the following morning the king sent orders to London to seize Churchill's belongings. After hearing this, Sarah and Princess Anne moved quickly. On Bishop Compton's advice they sought refuge in Nottingham, narrowly escaping orders for their confinement. Opposed by his daughters and deserted by his long-serving and closest member of household, James despaired and thought only of escape. On 11 December he fled to the coast, attempting to create anarchy as he threw the great seal into the Thames, and ordered the fleet to disperse and the army to disband.

William gave Churchill the important task of reassembling and reconstituting the army in the face of the impending war with France. He also ordered Churchill to London, where he arrived in mid-December, some days ahead of William. Yet while Churchillacted as de facto head of the army under Marshal Schomberg's nominal command, William reiterated his long-standing disapproval of the Churchills, telling Lord Halifax, 'Lord Churchill could not govern him nor his wife as they did the Prince and Princess of Denmark' (Foxcroft, 2.203). In domestic politics Churchill carefully avoided some of the most controversial votes on the Bill of Rights and the regency by retreating to his home at St Albans in January 1689. After his return to London in early February he voted against declaring the throne vacant, and in favour of William and Mary as joint sovereigns. During this period John and Sarah played a joint role in persuading Princess Anne to accept William's right of precedence to the throne, ahead of her own, in the event of Mary's death.

Under William and Mary, Churchill found far less personal favour than he had under James II. Meanwhile, considerable rivalry arose between the Churchills and the new favourites at court, Hans Willem Bentinck and Elizabeth Villiers. Nevertheless, the new sovereigns appointed Churchill a privy councillor on 14 February 1689 and a gentleman of the king's bedchamber. Then on 9 April 1689, two days before their coronation, they created Churchill earl of Marlborough, Wiltshire, taking the title from a distant connection his mother had to the wife of the childless James Ley, third earl Marlborough of the first creation. The new earl took his seat in the Lords on 13 April.


In May 1689 England joined the Dutch republic in declaring war on France. While the king was on campaign in Ireland, Marlborough was ordered to Flanders to command the 6000 English troops in the allied army under the prince of Waldeck. On his arrival at the end of May, he immediately began training his troops and quickly earned Waldeck'spraise for his results. While Marlborough was abroad, Sarah on 15 July 1689 gave birth to a girl, Mary (d. 1751), whom she named after the queen. Having got his troops in the field in August, Marlborough soon played a part in the battle of Walcourt on 25 August, the allies' only military success during that campaign. During the battle he directed his English contingent in an attack on the east side of the town. In recognition of this, William sent him a personal letter of thanks and made him colonel of the 7th regiment of foot (Royal Fusiliers). While Marlborough was abroad, Sarah worked successfully to establish Princess Anne's financial independence from William and Mary, as their heir apparent, with a parliamentary grant for life in December 1689. The political manoeuvrings this involved brought the Marlboroughs Anne's continued favour, but added another measure of distance in their relationship to William and Mary.

When William left to command in person the forces in Ireland in June 1690, he appointed Marlborough to the council of nine to advise Queen Mary and additionally made him commander-in-chief of the army in England. While William faced James II'sforces at the battle of the Boyne on 1 July, Mary and the council were simultaneously facing a crisis at home occasioned by the French victory over the Anglo-Dutch fleet under Torrington off Beachy Head on 30 June. With the queen and council deeply concerned about Torrington's loyalty as well as the threat of a French invasion of England, Marlborough quickly organized 6000 troops into an effective defence, encouraging enthusiastic militiamen to support the regulars. The French failed to seize the opportunity for an invasion, and once the threat had passed Marlborough saw an opportunity to capitalize on the strategic situation in Ireland by using ports in Munster to attack James's forces from the rear. When he presented his imaginative plan to the council, six of the nine disapproved, thinking it too dangerous to allow further troops to leave England. Mary forwarded Marlborough's plan to William for his consideration and he approved it on 14 August, appointing Marlborough to command.

As Marlborough was preparing to leave, Sarah gave birth on 19 August 1690 to their second son, Charles (d. 1692). A week later Marlborough left London, and he embarked with the fleet and troop transports at Portsmouth on 30 August. Delayed by bad weather and contrary winds, the eighty-two-ship expedition carrying about 6000 soldiers finally sailed on 17 September and reached Cork on 22 September, by which time two of William's other generals, Godert van Reede, heer van Ginkel (later earl of Athlone), and Ferdinand-Wilhelm, duke of Württemberg-Neustadt, had already massed 5000 troops there. The presence of a Dutch and a German general raised issues of precedence in overall command for Marlborough, who adroitly used his skills as a courtier to promote co-operation through rotating overall command on a daily basis among the three. The allied forces made an assault on Cork, taking it on 27 September. Immediately after the success, Marlborough and the allied forces turned to an assault on Kinsale. Advance forces seized the town ahead of Marlborough's arrival on 1 October, while the Old Fort, across the BandonRiver, fell the following day, and the larger and better-equipped New Fort was taken under siege, surrendering on 15 October. As Marlborough had foreseen, the capture of Cork and Kinsale was a strategic stroke that denied French forces any port to support further Irish resistance. After appointing his brother Brigadier Charles Churchill as governor of Kinsale, Marlborougharranged winter quarters for the English troops and sailed for Deal, where he arrived on 28 October.

In September 1690 a pamphlet entitled The Dear Bargain appeared, the first to suggest Marlborough's duplicity. This recounted how since December 1688 Marlborough had made approaches to James II while serving William III and in 1690 was spurred in this by his apparent alarm that the parliamentary election that year had seen the return of a number of crypto-Jacobites. During the months that followed Marlborough was further discredited. Suggestions were made that he misused his military position for financial extortion, and there were hints of his betrayal of Princess Anne's interests in order to gain favour with William and Mary. Marlborough was deeply disappointed not to receive any of the appointments that rumour suggested would be showered on him: knight of the Garter, master-general of the ordnance, and commander-in-chief in Ireland for the coming campaign. Instead, his military success bred envy among his rivals. Marlborough saw his promotion blocked as William gave the knighthood and the command to Dutch generals, Athlone and Waldeck, while a civilian, Henry Sidney, became master-general of the ordnance. When William left England for The Hague in early 1691 to preside at a grand alliance conference, Marlborough was left behind in London to supervise army recruitment for the coming campaign. With the king absent he became frustrated with Danby's inefficiency as lord president and increasingly critical of the government, asking the king to return, 'after which I shall beg never to be in England when you are not' (Churchill, 1.349).

As observers saw Marlborough apparently sliding from favour, the Jacobite agent Henry Bulkeley met Marlborough in St James's Park and, in January 1691, was received as an old friend in his lodgings in the Cockpit. Sarah, too, renewed contact with her sister Frances, lady of the bedchamber to Queen Mary of Modena at St Germain, while Lord Ailesbury made a secret visit to her at St Albans. Through such connections, Marlborough began a secret, personal correspondence directly with James II, and with the illegitimate son of his sister Arabella by James, the duke of Berwick. Although Jacobite leaders distrusted Marlborough and were suspicious of his sincerity, Jacobite agents continued to maintain contact with him. They saw his connections to Anne as something of possible future use and also believed that if William continued to disregard Marlborough's ambitions, it might force him to become a sincere Jacobite supporter.

In May 1691 William III returned to Holland to open the campaign and Marlboroughaccompanied him to command the English corps. At the outset, Marlborough served under Waldeck, while William remained at Het Loo; then, in June, William took overall command of the allied army. Both the French and the allied armies manoeuvred, but no major action occurred. As troops on both sides began to retire to winter quarters, French troops under the duc de Luxembourg made a cavalry attack on the allied rear in mid-September, as they marched from Leuze to Grammont. Marlborough and the English troops had already passed the scene of the attack, but quickly returned, only to have the French disengage before they could launch their attack in the only action of the campaign.

At the end of October 1691 William returned to England, landing at Margate. Going by carriage, Marlborough and Bentinck, now earl of Portland, accompanied him, as crowds welcomed their return. When the carriage reached Shooters Hill, it overturned and all its occupants were shaken by the accident. Marlborough was injured, and initially it was feared that he might have broken his neck. Soon William was involved in English politics again. Among the many issues that faced him at this time was the desire of Lord Godolphin to retire from the Treasury, perhaps to remarry. While Godolphin had grave doubts about serving William, the king found him to be one of the few Englishmen he trusted completely. In dealing with Godolphin, William turned to Marlborough to persuade him to remain in office. Although Marlborough and Godolphin had long known each other and had even worked together in the duke of York's service as early as 1678, their close connection for the future dated from this point in 1691. This coincided with the beginning of Sarah's regular consultations with Godolphin regarding Princess Anne's affairs. As she did this, she became increasingly impressed with the soundness of Godolphin's outlook and the way in which he quietly demonstrated his deep understanding of finance, politics, and broad international relations.


During the remaining months of 1691 the king made it clear that he would assign Marlborough to his personal staff during the next campaign, but he would neither appoint him master-general of the ordnance nor give him the commands in Flanders that he wanted, which were given to a Dutch and a German officer, Athlone and Count Solms. Marlborough was not alone when he openly expressed his concern and privately sought to organize a mass protest among English army officers. At the same time he was involved with a similar resentment against William that appeared momentarily among members of both houses of parliament, leading to the possibility that when parliament returned it might force the king to dismiss his Dutch and German officials in the army and council. In this pre-session intrigue, Marlborough allied himself with dissatisfied whigs such as Shrewsbury and Montagu and solicited support from crypto-Jacobites, but this manoeuvring failed to produce any result.

Meanwhile, in December 1691 Marlborough advised Princess Anne to reconcile herself with her father. This gesture of sentimentality earned Marlborough a pardon from James II, but remained a highly suspicious act, which, if it had become public during the invasion crisis of late April and early May 1692, might have been extremely damaging. William and Mary had certainly become suspicious of Marlborough. Giving no warning, on the morning of 20 January 1692 Secretary of State Nottingham passed to Marlborough the monarchs' message dismissing him from office and creating for him a serious financial loss of £7000 to £11,000 in annual income. No official explanation was made, but those close to the king made it known that Marlborough'srecent correspondence with James II had been discovered and that Marlborough was suspected of having disclosed to the Jacobites William's secret plan to attack Dunkirk. In addition William was said to have been offended by Marlborough's open criticism, which fuelled the jealousy between Dutch, German, and English officers, and raised the possibility of a mutiny among English officers serving under Dutch generals. Finally, mention was made of Sarah's influence in reputedly alienating Princess Anne from her sister, the queen. William and Mary began to put pressure on Anne to dismiss Sarah, forbidding any member of their own household to have contact with Sarah. In spite of this, Anne stubbornly refused to comply. In April 1692 the Marlboroughs left their lodgings in the Cockpit and took up residence again in Jermyn Street.

On 4 May 1692 during an invasion scare Mary and the council, acting on information from Robert Young, ordered Marlborough to be arrested, with several others, on suspicion of high treason and taken to the Tower of London. Within two weeks of his imprisonment, Marlborough's one-year-old son Charles became ill and suddenly died on 21 May. After the Anglo-Dutch fleet defeated the French off Barfleur and La Hogue, Marlborough's situation eased. On 25 May he petitioned for release, as no formal indictment had been made, although the government seemed determined to prosecute him. At first the council denied his request while members examined further information, all of which proved to be based on forged letters. On 15 June Marlboroughwas finally released on £6000 bail, but Mary retained her suspicions and personally struck his name from the list of privy councillors, along with the names of those who had stood his bail.

The Marlboroughs went immediately to St Albans, but shortly afterwards Sarah left to accompany Princess Anne to Bath. When Anne returned to London in mid-October Sarah retained her nominal position in Anne's household, but in reality had retired from court to be at St Albans with her husband and children. During the winter of 1692–3 Marlborough returned to London regularly and played a leading role in making opposition attacks against the government in the Lords, convinced that the government had been deliberately plotting against him for several years. The government spy Richard Kingston reported in November 1692 that Marlborough had told him shortly after his release from the Tower:

that King William … exercised a more arbitrary and tyrannical power than King James did; and therefore his government was not to be endured any longer, but every good man ought to lay his hand to put an end to it.

Finch MSS, 4.501

As Marlborough turned more strongly toward the Jacobites at this time, he became known in their correspondence as ‘the Hamburg merchant’.

On 3 May 1694 a Jacobite, Major-General Edward Sackville, sent James II a translation into French of a deciphered letter that Marlborough was supposed to have written to James. It confirmed that William III's forces were preparing a landing at CamaretBay, near Brest, and betrayed the fact that the force, under Admiral Edward Russell and General Thomas Talmash, was supposed to sail with forty ships within ten days. This document was not publicly known at the time and did not affect the outcome, though it might well have done if the French had not already known of the plan. Marlboroughcertainly had sufficient motives for betraying the operation, given that he was still excluded from office and jealous of Talmash as the only English officer whom William III had so far entrusted with command. However, since the original documents have not survived, it is unknown whether Marlborough actually wrote the letter.

For much of the period between 1692 and 1694 it seemed that the Marlboroughs had ended their careers at court and in public service. The death of Queen Mary from smallpox on 28 December 1694 was the first step towards change. Princess Anne, as William's immediate heir, was suddenly thrust into the limelight. In mid-January 1695 Anne took the first step toward reconciliation with the king by making a visit of condolence. A few days later she reappeared in London. Slowly, Sarah was drawn back into Anne's circle as the principal member of her household. Anne persuaded Williamto readmit Marlborough to court, where he kissed hands on 29 March 1695, although the king remained deeply suspicious of Marlborough and offered him no employment.

As a result of Anne's reconciliation with William, the king offered her a new residence in St James's Palace. She took advantage of this offer in December 1695, and with her the Marlboroughs also acquired lodgings overlooking the park in the south-eastern corner of the palace, which remained their residence until spring 1711. In the winter of 1696–7 the discovery of a plot to assassinate the king and the subsequent arrest of Sir John Fenwick created a public scandal. In maintaining his innocence Fenwick tried to implicate Marlborough, Godolphin, Shrewsbury, and Admiral Russell as traitorous Jacobite intriguers. Enraged by the attack on Shrewsbury and Russell the whigs completely discredited Fenwick. This did not interfere with Marlborough's gradual reconciliation with the king, for William had already discounted Fenwick's allegations against Marlborough.

Godolphin, who lost office over the Fenwick affair, now became even closer to the Marlboroughs and to Anne. In 1697 he spent the summer at St Albans, then followed the Marlboroughs to Anne's court at Tunbridge Wells and back to St Albans in the autumn. During this period the connections between the two families were strengthened when Godolphin's eighteen-year-old son, Francis, became engaged to Henrietta, the Marlboroughs' eldest daughter. Their marriage took place on 28 April 1698. Anne offered to provide a £10,000 dowry, but Sarah arranged for it to be divided in half, one portion for Henrietta with another, at a future date, for her younger sister, the princess's god-daughter and namesake. Soon after the marriage the newly married Godolphins moved in with the Marlboroughs at St James's Palace and Henrietta became a lady-in-waiting to Anne.


William III fully restored Marlborough to favour on 19 June 1698, appointing him to the privy council as well as making him a cabinet minister, master of the horse, and, most significantly, governor in the newly established household for Princess Anne's young son, the eight-year-old duke of Gloucester. A month later, when William sailed for Holland, he appointed Marlborough one of the lords justices of England, who acted as regents in the king's absence from 20 July to 3 December 1698.

In another politically important marriage on 2 January 1700, the Marlboroughs married their second daughter, Anne, to a rising whig politician, the widowed Lord Charles Spencer, son and heir of Robert, second earl of Sunderland. The marriage joined the Spencers to the existing Churchill–Godolphin family alliance, and, ultimately, proved to be the key for the succession of Marlborough's honours and titles.

Marlborough acted again as one of the lords justices during the king's absence in Holland from 2 June to 18 October 1699 and from 27 June to 18 October 1700. While the king was away Marlborough's key role was to counter the continuing domestic political pressure to reduce the army in size and to discontinue the Dutch military connections within the British army following the satisfactory conclusion of the second partition treaty and the momentary lowering of European international tensions. The king had been in Holland for only a month in 1700 when Princess Anne's eleven-year-old son, the duke of Gloucester, contracted smallpox and died on 30 July. Gloucester's death raised the urgent need for parliament to settle firmly the issue of the succession. In November 1700 another issue was raised by the death of King Carlos II of Spain and Louis XIV's recognition of his grandson, Philippe d'Anjou, as the heir to the entire Spanish empire as King Felipe V. This was a rejection of the second partition treaty that William had negotiated and which had been ratified in March 1700. This series of events made it highly likely that the question of the succession to the English crown would, once again, be settled in the context of great tension with France, as it had been after 1688.

In this context William gradually came to the opinion that Marlborough's knowledge of foreign and military issues, alongside his influence with Anne, made him a key figure in England. On this basis he arranged for Marlborough's counterpart in the Dutch republic to be his own long-time confidant: Anthonie Heinsius, raad pensionarus of Holland. Heinsius already had years of experience behind him, while Marlborough had been excluded from influence for long periods.

On the king's return from Holland in October 1700 Marlborough was initially disappointed not to become a secretary of state, but the king did reappoint Godolphinto the Treasury. Parliament passed the Act of Settlement in February 1701, clearly establishing the protestant succession. In the same month French troops moved to occupy the barrier fortresses that the Dutch had held for their own protection under the 1697 treaty of Ryswick. Then, after a bitter political debate, the tory majority in parliament eventually succeeded in voting to send 10,000 men to aid the Dutch against further French aggression and recommended that the king enter into negotiations to re-establish the grand alliance with the Dutch republic, Austria, and other powers to defend Europe against France's attempt to gain control over Spain and its empire. The king appointed Marlborough ambassador-plenipotentiary on 28 June 1701 to be England's chief negotiator for the new treaty of grand alliance and, at the same time, commander-in-chief of the 10,000 English troops sent to support the Dutch. Attached to these appointments was a salary of £2000 a year, plus £1500 for equipage, an allowance for entertaining, and a supply of appropriate gilt and white plate. In July Marlborough accompanied the king when he sailed for Holland. When they arrived in The Hague, the states general of the United Provinces provided the elegant Mauritshuis for Marlborough to use as his residence.

Fighting had already broken out between the French and Austrians in northern Italy when Marlborough began his two sets of negotiations. On the one hand, he was working with Dutch and Austrian diplomats to re-establish the grand alliance, and on the other, he was negotiating with the French ambassador at The Hague, the comte d'Avaux, to reach an accommodation with France. The discussions with French representatives failed early in August. Early in September Sarah joined Marlboroughwith their two youngest children, Elizabeth and Mary. With a French attack on the Dutch seemingly imminent, the allied representatives signed the treaty of grand alliance on 7 September 1701. After settling the main objectives for the alliance, the diplomats turned to the dénombrement, which enumerated the men that each ally was required to contribute. Among the three allies, the agreement for England's 40,000 men was the smallest number, while Austria provided 82,000, and the Dutch republic 100,000. Once this core alliance was secured, Marlborough and others sought to encourage other principalities and states to join and to contribute forces, where necessary with Dutch or English subsidies.

Political approval in England for Marlborough's work was spurred by the death of James II at St Germain on 16 September 1701 and Louis XIV's subsequent recognition of James's son James Francis Edward Stuart (the Old Pretender) as king of England. For Englishmen, Louis XIV's recognition of James was a direct violation of French agreement to William's succession in the treaty of Ryswick as well as a rejection of the English parliament's right to have enacted its recent Act of Settlement. Outraged, those in England who had earlier doubts about Marlborough's diplomacy changed their views and joined in asking for an additional article to the alliance treaty.

While these issues were in progress William III returned to England, leaving Marlborough to continue negotiations with Denmark, Hanover, Hesse-Cassel, Prussia, and others. In November 1701 Marlborough, with his wife and family, returned to England, just as the country was in the process of a general election, which was eventually won with a slight whig majority. Following the election, the king dismissed his tory ministers, including Godolphin, leaving Marlborough and Robert Harley, speaker of the House of Commons, as the key tories in major positions. Then, on 8 March 1702, William, already ill and in declining health for some time, died of complications following a broken collarbone from a riding accident.

With William's death Anne succeeded to the throne, bringing her closest personal advisers to positions of key importance. Marlborough was one of the most important figures in English military and diplomatic affairs in the period 1702–10. However, the many earlier historians who describe Marlborough as if he acquired dictatorial powers of a type that were foreign in the context of English early eighteenth-century government are mistaken. He operated within the framework and machinery of English constitutional government, with its characteristic forms of court, cabinet, committee, parliament, and governmental bureaucracy, involving both patronage and party politics. Marlborough was not only a brilliant and successful military commander. He combined his military success and skills as a courtier and diplomat with his connections to friends and family in politics so as to enhance his influence in government during the first half of Anne's reign.

Immediately upon her accession to the throne Anne turned to Marlborough, his wife, and Godolphin as her closest formal and informal advisers. Sarah played a particularly important role not only in serving as the direct link between the queen, Godolphin, and Marlborough, but also as an independent political force in her capacities as groom of the stole, mistress of the robes, and keeper of the privy purse, the three key positions in the queen's household. To this relationship Marlborough added his recent experience as the chief English negotiator for the grand alliance and for the allied military preparations on the continent, the de facto and most highly informed leader of the political faction in England that supported the continuation of William III's foreign policies, thus instantly creating for himself a national and international position of responsibility. He initially wanted to build a larger national government of key political leaders, including the earls of Rochester and Nottingham as tory party leaders, and Robert Harley as speaker, and effective leader, of the House of Commons. However, the resulting tory government disappointed Marlborough, who had hoped to have a more widely based executive that included the whig leader, the duke of Shrewsbury, while being aware that Rochester and others might become major obstacles. The new government immediately committed itself to pursue William's war policy, precluding any serious consideration of the alternative policies that William might have entertained to avert a continent-wide war with France.


Shortly after the new queen met the privy council on her accession day, 8 March 1702, Marlborough told the imperial envoy, Count Johann Wenzel Wratislaw, that England intended to carry forward William's commitment to the emperor. On the same day, in his role as ambassador to the states general, Marlborough made the same commitment to the Dutch in a letter to Heinsius. On 9 March Anne appointed Marlborough knight of the Garter and 'Captain-General of her majesty's land forces and commander-in-chief of forces to be employed in Holland in conjunction with troops of the allies', and then on 14 March master-general of the ordnance (Dalton, 5.15). On the queen's instructions, Marlborough travelled immediately to The Hague, leaving Godolphin as his representative and spokesman, although at that point Godolphin held no formal appointment.

Early in April Marlborough obtained Dutch and Austrian acceptance to the additional article to the treaty of grand alliance, which bound the allies in agreement to deny recognition of the claim of the ‘pretended prince of Wales’ to England's throne. At the same time the allies secretly agreed jointly to declare war against France on 4 May os. At this point the English and Dutch could still not agree on who should succeed William III as the commander of their land forces when operating together. The queen wished to have her husband, Prince George of Denmark, appointed, and she instructed Marlborough to obtain this appointment. However, the Dutch had serious reservations about George's abilities and a variety of other more highly experienced senior commanders to propose, including the commander of their own army, the prince of Nassau-Saarbrücken.

Marlborough returned to England to be present for William III's funeral and Anne'scoronation. At the same time he and Sarah both worked to persuade Godolphin to accept appointment as lord treasurer and head of the government. War was declared as agreed earlier among the allies on 4 May, and this was the signal for the French to concentrate their main offensive effort in Italy, while other French forces were ordered to Flanders and to the lower Rhine, creating a serious threat to the Dutch. On 12 May Marlborough left London for Holland, but he was delayed at Margate by contrary winds until 20 May. On reaching The Hague on 26 May Marlborough faced a difficult situation where many decisions had yet to be made. Frederick I of Prussia had offered his services for the vacant position of commanding the allied troops, but his offer was not acceptable in London. At this critical moment the Dutch saw the importance of forcing the English to commit themselves to the defence of the republic and, for this reason, were willing to allow Marlborough a higher role. Although the Dutch had serious reservations about Marlborough's inexperience, the states general appointed him captain-general of the allied forces when they were operating together, with a salary of £10,000. By a further secret resolution on 30 June, the states general carefully defined Marlborough's responsibilities and circumscribed his powers: the four or more Dutch field deputies who accompanied him when he was exercising this combined appointment were empowered to withhold his authorization to use Dutch troops at any time they thought prudent. The reason for this reticence was quite practical. Marlborough did not have extensive experience in such operations. The Dutch army was operating in areas well known to it and on its country's borders. In preceding years the prince of Waldeck and William III had trained and equipped the Dutch army with modern weapons, including flintlocks and bayonets fixed around the barrel. As in all allied operations in which Marlborough commanded during the War of the Spanish Succession, Dutch troops and troops in Dutch pay made up the bulk of the allied army. Its logistics, including those for English troops and foreign troops in English pay, were largely provided and transported under the management of the Dutch raad van state, and all the heavy siege artillery came from the Dutch armouries at Delft and Dordrecht, with forward magazines at Bergen op Zoom and Maastricht. Any success Marlboroughcould have was entirely dependent upon joint co-operation with Dutch officials.

During the first campaigning season of the War of the Spanish Succession Marlboroughtook up his combined position with both Dutch and English troops at Nijmegen on 2 July 1702. Initially, he wanted to undertake bold offensive operations by sending a detached force into Brabant and attacking the fortress at Antwerp, thereby forcing the French to withdraw from their threatening forward position. Recent experience a month earlier had shown the Dutch the danger that such detached operations posed and convinced many Dutch officials that such attempts were imprudent. Marlborough'sadvocacy of similar operations confirmed suspicions that many had about his lack of experience. To mollify his critics he agreed to use some of his army to support the defences at Nijmegen, but by 10 July moved with the remainder of the allied army across the MaasRiver to threaten the supply lines of the French army under Boufflers. Marlborough's move forced the French to retire to the west of the Maas. Then, making what was to become a characteristic fast march for Marlborough, the allied army manoeuvred the French into a position that Marlborough had designed to bring them into a general battle on 2–3 August. The Dutch field deputies did not agree to this, seeing no reason to risk the gains they had already made in forcing the French into retreat and removing the threat to Nijmegen. Now in a central position, Marlboroughmoved into a series of small offensive operations, taking Venlo on 25 September, Stevensweert on 2 October, Roermond on 6 October, and Liège on 29 October. These actions during his 1702 campaign removed the French threat from the Maas, placing the allies in a strong position to begin the next year's campaign.

Marlborough left the army in its winter quarters and travelled by boat down the Maas to The Hague. En route on 6 November, a French patrol from Guelder stopped Marlborough and his party to examine their documents. All but Marlborough had them. While Marlborough was being interrogated, one of his clerks, Stephen Gell, managed to slip into his hand a pass that had been intended for Marlborough's brother. After detaining them for five hours, the young officer in French service, by chance an Irishman who had deserted from the Dutch and was amenable to a deal, allowed his valuable prize to escape to cheering crowds on his arrival at The Hague on 7 November. Marlborough was grateful and generous. The young officer soon reappeared, pardoned and promoted, in Dutch service, while the clerk, Stephen Gell, had safe employment and a pension for life.

Marlborough returned to London from The Hague on 28 November. The main political issue of the moment was the first Occasional Conformity Bill; he voted for it but showed his lukewarm attitude by doing nothing else to support it. As a reward for his successful conduct in the first campaign Queen Anne created him on 14 December 1702 marquess of Blandford, Dorset, and duke of Marlborough. From this date Anne granted Marlborough £5000 a year for her lifetime. He first took his seat in the Lords with his new titles on 18 December. Soon afterwards, opposition in parliament forced the queen to withdraw her request for payment of the grant in perpetuity to Marlborough and his heirs. Furious at this defeat, she offered from the privy purse an additional £2000, which Marlborough declined.

Before leaving England for the campaign of 1703, the Marlboroughs' only surviving son, John, died of smallpox at the age of seventeen. His parents were at his bedside when he died on 20 February at King's College, Cambridge. Considered to have been 'the finest young man that could be seen' (Memoirs of … Ailesbury, 2.558), he was buried in King's College chapel, where a monument to him stands. Immediately following their son's death, the Marlboroughs went, in grief, to St Albans, where they seriously considered retirement. The queen appealed to them both not to desert her and Prince George, pleading that 'we four must never part till death mows us down with his impartial hand' (Letters … of Queen Anne, 125). Meanwhile, the war situation in the Low Countries demanded Marlborough's military and diplomatic skills, and he reluctantly left for The Hague on 4 March, increasingly irritated by tory criticism of the war effort.

In planning for the new campaign the English and Dutch generals agreed to form two armies of equal size, one on the MaasRiver and based at Maastricht and the other on the Rhine and based at Koblenz. First Marlborough would be with the Rhine army and capture Bonn. Then the two armies would carry out the 'great design' to seize Antwerp and Ostend, creating an independent logistical base for English forces as well as establishing allied control over the Scheldt River and the waterways that led to Brabant and Flanders. It is uncertain how far Marlborough was personally responsible for originating this plan, but he fully embraced the concept. To undertake it, the allied army divided into four separate parts in order to carry out co-ordinated manoeuvres and attacks that would force the French into taking risks, with potential serious losses that would benefit one or more of the allied forces. One force was to attack Ostend, a second to pass through the French lines, and a third to attack Antwerp, while Marlborough with the main allied army moved north to engage the main French army in a major battle.

To carry out this plan Marlborough made a rapid tour of the fortifications on the Maas and then on 25 April began operations at Bonn, which surrendered on 15 May. By 19 May he was at Maastricht to begin the next phase. Troops and supplies were moved into place, but the plan did not come to fruition, as he had crossed the JekerRiver before sufficient forage supplies were in place, and those available were quickly exhausted. Because of this allied forces hesitated in their planned movements against Ostend, while heavy rains and bad weather hindered other plans. Taking advantage of the situation, the French under Boufflers attacked and defeated the force under the Dutch General Wassenaer-Opdam at Ekeren, just north of Antwerp, on 30 May. Dutch forces under Slangenburg were able to fight an effective action to preserve their retreating force, but the battle effectively ended Marlborough's plan. Not willing to give up entirely, Marlborough advocated an offensive attack on the main French army under Villars near Antwerp. The defeat at Ekeren emphasized the risks involved, and Marlborough's advice showed his penchant for high-risk offensive operations that could be costly and uncertain.

To redeem himself with his Dutch allies Marlborough agreed to a safer operation and attacked the castle at Huy, on the Maas, which surrendered on 26 August, and then moved on to Limburg, which surrendered on 27 September. Meanwhile, the government in London ordered three of Marlborough's regiments to be detached to prepare for service in Portugal. This, along with the frustrations Marlborough felt in failing to have his ‘grand design’ accepted by the Dutch, began to affect his health. He returned to England on 10 November, and at Windsor he participated in the ceremonial welcome to the Austrian Archduke Karl, the allies' candidate for the Spanish throne as King Carlos III.

The winter of 1703–4 was difficult for Marlborough, with so many demands on him that he rarely had time for personal matters. During this period Sarah's strong and intransigent views on the latest version of the Occasional Conformity Bill began to irritate the queen and to create the first beginnings of a rift between the two. At the same time Sarah began to worry about her relationship with her husband, and was disappointed not to have another child. All this led her to quarrel with Marlborough, but the demands upon him prevented him from dealing with these domestic issues directly; he tried to calm her through correspondence.

Despite his varied frustrations Marlborough had shown himself during his first two campaigns with the Dutch as a successful commander of allied forces and had effectively helped to reverse the insecure position of the Dutch republic two years before. The experience of the 1703 campaign, however, had underscored the need to widen the strategy of the war and not merely to deploy Marlborough in operations limited to the lower Rhine and the MaasRiver regions. With Portugal's entry into the grand alliance in May 1703 the way became clear to use the Mediterranean to support the emperor from the south, to oppose directly French designs in Spain, and perhaps even to draw Savoy into the war as an additional ally. In all of this, England's grand strategy for the grand alliance was to surround France with a ring of military and naval threats that would prevent her, with Europe's most powerful army, from concentrating her strength in any one single area. If this could be implemented the combined forces of the allies had a realistic chance of defeating a major French army, which would necessarily be reduced in strength to meet simultaneous threats from allied forces in widespread theatres. To achieve this the allies needed to deploy major armies in Flanders, on the Rhine, in Portugal, and in Spain, while also mounting amphibious operations in northern, western, and southern France as well as in the American colonies. Thus, the operations of Marlborough's army comprised only one of several major elements in England's grand strategy. Marlborough played an additional role in serving as the main English diplomatic negotiator at The Hague. His diplomacy focused on co-ordinating the wider war strategy, but he was not single-handedly directing England's war effort. Many contemporaries, particularly those abroad who did not understand the English governmental system and the complex ways in which decisions were reached within it, overestimated his personal power and attributed things to him that, in reality, were done through political coalitions and the machinery of cabinet government decision-making.


At various points during the War of the Spanish Succession events within Europe threatened the viability of the English concept of grand strategy. The critical question for the allies in 1704 was whether Austria could continue as an active ally, faced on one side by a rebellion in Hungary and, on the other, by a military threat from Bavaria. This was the matter at stake in Marlborough's famous military campaign in 1704. From the outset of the war, the position of Maximilian II Emanuel, the elector of Bavaria, was an important issue in European politics. Ambitious to raise his Wittelsbach dynasty to regal status, as his fellow electors in Saxony, Brandenburg, and Hanover had recently done, Maximilian thought he had succeeded when his son became heir to the Spanish throne in the partition treaty of 1698. The young prince's death in 1699 destroyed this opportunity, and Bavaria, a significant military power, was willing to make an alliance with any power that could fulfil the elector's desire. In 1702 Bavaria courted both Austria and France with this objective in mind. When the emperor rejected Maximilian's offer of exchanging Bavaria for the crown of Naples, Maximilian immediately aligned with France and attacked imperial positions, distracting the emperor's forces from fighting the French. Austrian diplomats requested assistance in forcibly crushing the Bavarian threat as early as 1702, but English officials, including Marlborough, demurred. They initially preferred leaving Austria to provide a solution, hoping she could entice Bavaria into bringing her valuable forces over to the allies.

Early in January 1704 a number of princes of the empire met in Frankfurt to discuss the forthcoming campaign. They concluded that the war had reached a critical stage. As a number of the German princes in the upper Rhine area were threatening to shift allegiance to Bavaria and France, it was felt that the strategy of the grand alliance would fail unless the emperor's forces and the German princes could co-operate and place a strong army in the upper Rhine area to oppose the French. On 26 January Marlborough returned to The Hague to begin discussions on the forthcoming campaign. By early February English and Dutch diplomats were reporting the urgent need to solve the Bavarian problem, and both governments directed their diplomats to join in the negotiations. Marlborough returned to England on 23 February, but when the negotiations with Bavaria failed in March, the English and Dutch governments agreed to an Austrian proposal for military action on the Moselle. On 8 April Marlborough sailed from Harwich to Holland, accompanied by the Austrian envoy Count Wratislaw.

With serious reservations about how far English and Dutch forces should go to support the political goals of the Austrian court within the empire, Marlborough was instructed to press the Dutch into helping defeat Bavaria by operations on the Moselle. Meanwhile, Prince Ludwig von Baden proposed to Vienna that three armies should operate in conjunction for this purpose: one under Prince Eugène of Savoy on the western border of Bavaria near Donauwörth; a second under Ludwig himself to enter Bavaria across the IllerRiver south of Ulm; and the third, the Anglo-Dutch force under Marlborough, to lay siege to Ulm. Having left The Hague for the army's field headquarters on 5 May, Marlborough agreed only to march as far as Koblenz, but conditionally to continue to the Danube and to Ulm if necessary. As the allied army moved from Roermond and crossed the Maas on 14–15 May, a French army under Villeroi began to parallel its movements 60 to 100 miles to the west to join another force under Tallard then to move from Landau through the Black Forest into Bavaria.

Although the Austrians had fully convinced the government in London of the necessity of a campaign on the Danube, and London had given Marlborough full authority to proceed with it, Marlborough decided not to reveal the full plan to the Dutch until after he had crossed the Rhine at Koblenz on 26 May. By that time French and Bavarian forces had joined in the Black Forest. Confronted with this situation, the states general agreed to the plan, reserving some forces to defend the Dutch republic on the lower Rhine. By the time Marlborough's allied army left Wiesloch early in June, his plan was known widely. His movement to the Danube was made possible by masterly allied logistical planning and organization, especially through the work of the Dutch raad van state and its key administrators, van Rechteren-Almelo and Geldermalsen. Camps, hospitals, bridges, food and forage, clothing, and other necessities were all supplied at short notice and in a timely manner, which facilitated their march and contrasted sharply with the greater difficulties the French faced in maintaining their own logistical support. Nevertheless, the opposing armies moved at similar speeds, averaging 6–8 miles per day when on the move.

On 10 June at the army's camp at Mündelheim, south-east of Stuttgart, Marlboroughmet Prince Eugène of Savoy for the first time. On 13–14 June at Gros Heppach, Prince Ludwig von Baden joined them, and the three principal commanders co-ordinated diplomatic with military plans. As the allied armies approached the Danube, Austrian, Dutch, English, and Prussian diplomats used the military advance march to back their negotiations with the elector of Bavaria so as to dissuade him from continuing with the French. Marlborough, himself, was also given letters of credence and full diplomatic powers for this purpose. On 20 June the Austrian envoy to England, Count Wratislaw, suggested that the emperor bestow the greatest honour he could upon Marlborough, that of prince of the empire, as the duke appeared likely to save the empire from the Bavarian threat. By late June, although diplomats reported they had reached a tentative agreement with Bavaria, the elector placed his army in a strategically advantageous position, giving Marlborough and English officials in London the impression that Bavaria engaged in such diplomacy only to gain time for a military advantage.

The combined allied forces under Prince Ludwig and Marlborough, amounting to some 44,000 men, moved as quickly as they could to storm the 10,000-man Franco-Bavarian garrison at the SchellenbergHeights adjoining Donauwörth on 2 July 1704. In the action the allies lost 1295 men killed and 3735 wounded, while the Bavarians and French lost 3000–4000 men, with 8000–12,000 captured. This battle provided the allies with a place to cross the Danube into Bavaria, while at the same time establishing a fortified terminal and depot for supplies coming south from Nördlingen. But it was not decisive, since French forces under Tallard had crossed the Rhine at Strasbourg and were already marching to support Bavaria before the action occurred. With this prospect of aid, the Bavarian army based at Augsburg continued to defy the allies.

Still wanting to detach Bavaria from France and gain the advantage of the Bavarian army as part of the grand alliance, Marlborough sought to increase the pressure on the elector. With allied armies in control of the Danube valley from Ulm to Passau and in a position to enter Bavaria, Marlborough began a campaign of burning and destroying the Bavarian countryside with the object of using force to back up his diplomacy. The French and Bavarian armies joined at Augsburg, creating a force of some 60,000 men, and then moved north to Biberach and west to Lauingen to try to isolate Marlboroughfrom Prince Eugène's forces, who were approaching from the north-west. At a conference on 7 August, Marlborough and Eugène persuaded Prince Ludwig to take 15,000 troops to secure a critical alternative crossing of the Danube at Ingolstadt, while they covered the movements of the Franco-Bavarian army. When it became clear that the allies could not succeed in detaching Bavaria from France, Marlborough and Eugèneagreed to seek a battle. The two commanders made no attempt to recall Ludwig. While making a reconnaissance tour, they stopped to view the battlefield area from the Tapfheim church tower on 12 August and agreed to make a surprise assault on the Franco-Bavarian force encamped behind the River Nebel near the village of Blindheim, 5 miles north-east of Höchstadt. On 13 August ns a force of 52,000 men under the combined command of Marlborough and Eugène forced the 56,000-strong Bavarian and French armies under Elector Maximilian II Emanuel and Marshal Tallard into a day-long battle. Typical of Marlborough's forces, 10,786, or only one-fifth, of the allied army under his overall command were British, while allied soldiers, including Dutchmen, Hanoverians, Hessians, Danes, and Prussians, made up the majority.

In the battle, known ever since in English as Blenheim and in German as Höchstadt, Marlborough displayed his brilliance in tactical command. Although the slightly larger Franco-Bavarian army occupied a strong natural position, on higher ground behind marshy land along the NebelRiver with its flanks protected on one side by the Danube and on the other by woods, Marlborough saw a flaw in its position. His army directly faced Tallard's French army, while Eugène's force was on Marlborough's right, facing troops under the elector and Marsin. Tallard's force did not present a single battle line, but had a weak centre with two practically independent wings, one near Blindheim and the other near the village of Oberglau. As the action unfolded Marlboroughdemonstrated firm and flexible control in his overall command of the action, intervening personally at critical moments when needed. In this, Eugène accepted Marlborough's overall command and willingly supported him. In addition, highly capable subordinate generals took their own initiative in backing Marlborough to create an integrated, multi-national allied army that contrasted sharply with the situation in the Franco-Bavarian force under Tallard.

Making his initial advance under cover of darkness, Marlborough acted to prevent the French wings from reinforcing the centre by first ordering Lord Cutts to move against the French position at Blindheim. Once the French were fully occupied, Marlboroughordered the prince of Holstein-Beck to contain the enemy wing near Oberglau. Then he ordered his brother General Charles Churchill to move the allied centre across the Nebel and take up a position in an unusual formation, four lines deep with infantry battalions in close support to cavalry, on the French side of the river. In the early afternoon the French cavalry succeeded in penetrating the allied position on Charles Churchill's right flank. At this point Marlborough urgently requested Eugène to send assistance. Even though his forces were heavily engaged on the other side of Oberglau, Eugèneimmediately responded with a brigade of Austrian cuirassiers, who effectively drove the French back. By four in the afternoon Marlborough's forces were solidly positioned within Tallard's centre. Although Marsin's and the elector's forces were superior in number to Eugène's, they declined to reinforce Tallard. Tallard attempted a cavalry charge, which slowed the allied advance momentarily, but Lord Orkney's battalions were able to support the allied cavalry successfully. Forced back, more than 3000 French horsemen drowned as they tried to swim the Danube. As Tallard was trying to reach the protection of the French garrison in Blindheim, Hessian cavalry captured him. Meanwhile, Marsin and the elector withdrew their forces toward Höchstadt and Marlborough ordered allied forces under Charles Churchill to complete the encirclement of Blindheim, where Orkney bluffed the leaderless garrison into surrendering. In the action the Franco-Bavarian army lost approximately 13,000 men, 1150 officers, and 40 generals as prisoners, with about 20,000 killed or wounded; the Anglo-Dutch forces lost approximately 4500 killed and 7500 wounded; and the imperial losses were about 4200 killed and wounded. As evening fell on 13 August Marlborough had a moment to scrawl his famous message on the back of a tavern bill that Colonel Daniel Parke carried immediately to Sarah in London: 'I have not 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–Godolphin Correspondence, 1.349).

In one of the most dramatic actions of the age, the French army suffered a major defeat for the first time in forty years and had its commander-in-chief captured. Blenheim was a decisive battle in that it successfully removed the major obstacle that Bavaria presented in diverting the allies from carrying out their broader grand strategy for the war. English leaders now turned to persuading their allies to focus on the larger task of implementing the English concept of grand strategy through several complementary theatres of war. Among the very first honours that fell to Marlborough following the victory was Emperor Leopold I's order on 28 August to create him sacri Romani imperii princeps, or prince of the Holy Roman empire (BL, Add. MS 61143, fol. 153v). When informed of the honour Marlborough was flattered, but asked that the honour be made a substantive one with lands of a specific principality attached to the title that would give him income, status, and a vote in the imperial diet. The request was duly granted in the following year, when he was awarded the lordship of Mindelheim.

Meeting Prince Ludwig von Baden on 25 August, Marlborough agreed to join in besieging Landau as a preliminary to the next operations in Flanders. Immediately leading the allied army back to the north, the English retraced their march from Ulm to Bruchsal. Other forces used two alternative routes to the area near Philippsburg, where they crossed the Rhine on 5–8 September and established themselves in positions favourable for a resumption of operations on the upper Rhine and the MoselleRiver in the following year. Marlborough's forces took Trèves on 26 September, and began a six-week siege at Trarbach that ended on 20 December.

Before completing the siege at Trarbach, Marlborough began negotiations for the 1705 campaign. He left Weissemburg on 10 November and travelled to Berlin to negotiate a treaty with the Prussian king, Frederick I, to send 8000 troops to Italy for the duke of Savoy. After a week in Berlin, on 22–9 November, he travelled to Hanover, where on 2–4 December he met with Electress Sophia, allaying her doubts about him and charming her with his courtly manner. Next, in Amsterdam and then The Hague, he had extensive talks with Dutch leaders on allied plans for an offensive military campaign up the MoselleRiver and into Lorraine.

Marlborough finally returned to London on 25 December 1704, and on 28 January 1705 the queen granted him the former royal manor of Woodstock, with its historical associations as the birthplace of the Black Prince and of the romantic liaisons of Henry II with his mistress, Rosamond Clifford. The grant included the hundred of Wotton, comprising together a total of some 22,000 acres in Oxfordshire, then estimated to produce revenue of about £6000 a year. In addition, on 5 February, parliamentapproved the queen's proposal that the grant of £5000 made in 1702 should be made permanent for the duke's lifetime; it also granted the funds to construct a house at Woodstock that would be not only the duke's family seat, but a national memorial commemorating and named after the battle of Blenheim. For a symbolic quitrent Marlborough and his descendants were required to present annually to the sovereign at WindsorCastle, on the anniversary of the battle, a facsimile of the silk standard of the French royal household troops, the corps du roi, which Marlborough's troops had taken during the battle. In addition, Marlborough received £600 of the Blenheim bounty payment to officers serving in the battle.

About Christmas 1704 Marlborough personally chose John Vanbrugh as architect for his new house, initially to be called BlenheimCastle. A former soldier and Sir Christopher Wren's assistant at the board of works, Vanbrugh had as his assistant surveyor Nicholas Hawksmoor. In 1705 Marlborough and Vanbrugh chose the site for the building and clearing began. The queen's gardener, Henry Wise, laid out the grounds and selected the plantings. Clearly related to Vanbrugh's design for the earl of Carlisle'sCastle Howard, Blenheim became his greatest work, with its 187 rooms and courtyards covering 7 acres and the cost far exceeding the initial estimate of £100,000.

With his own financial position assured, Marlborough transferred the remaining portion of Sarah's inheritance from his name into her own. In March 1705 the Marlboroughs witnessed the marriage of their youngest daughter, Mary, to John Montagu (later second duke of Montagu), an event which created a political connection through a cousin of the bridegroom to Lord Halifax, one of the whig junto. Sarah began to exploit this connection, creating difficulties that soon damaged her cordial relations with the queen. Just as the public began to admire her as the person reconciling Anne to the whigs, Sarah was actually approaching a breaking point with the queen that eventually affected her husband's career. Although Marlborough's instincts were to stand clear of party politics, Sarah remained capable of influencing his thinking.


Shortly after his daughter's marriage, Marlborough sailed from Harwich on 30 March. On arrival at The Hague he immediately began to initiate the military campaign that had been planned at the end of 1704. The Dutch continued to refuse him the degree of independence he wanted in commanding allied troops, while other allies were slow in producing the promised number of men. Allied relations with Austria were slowed by the death of Emperor Leopold I and the succession of Joseph I. At the same time England's continuing support for the Hungarian protestants had begun to be a major irritant in English relations with Catholic Austria, and slowed Austria's co-operation in supporting the broader aspects of allied grand strategy. While Marlborough dealt with these issues, Sarah became interested in the building works at Woodstock. In May Godolphin employed Henry Joynes as comptroller of works and, on 9 June, authorized the first £20,000 payment towards construction of Blenheim. Vanbrugh laid the foundation stone, measuring 8 feet square, at the east end of the new building as early as 18 June. Soon nearly 1500 men were employed on the site, constructing the building and its courtyards and creating gardens in the 7000 acrepark. At this point Godolphin began to investigate the projected costs and discovered that the queen and parliament had made an unrealistically generous gift from a Treasury that was also funding a major war. While both Sarah and Godolphin suggested that plans be scaled back, Marlborough refused and demanded that they proceed.

By summer 1705 Marlborough realized that he could not carry out his original plans for the campaign, but decided instead to take the field with a 60,000-man force, smaller than planned. After leaving The Hague on 3 May he travelled to Maastricht, Rastadt, and then Trèves. From there he and the allied army marched to Consaarbruck and then crossed the Moselle and Saar rivers. Between 6 and 11 July he successfully besieged Huy. That completed, he began operations to pass the fortified French positions and complex of earthworks, barricades, and entrenchments linking an extensive network of fortifications between Antwerp and Namur known as the lines of Brabant. In completing this under cover of darkness on 17–18 July, he captured Tirlemont to the west of the lines and routed a Franco-Bavarian army at Elixheim. Owing to lack of forage he was unable immediately to exploit his victory, creating indecision and further delay within the allied command. He moved into camp at Meldert and waited until mid-August to begin a new offensive, moving to cross the River Yssche and to threaten Brussels. After reaching the Yssche, he abandoned further offensives on 19 August and returned the army to Meldert, in the face of delays in bringing the artillery to bear and further indecision among the allied commanders on how to proceed. Deeply disappointed with the military campaign of 1705, Marlborough expressed his frustration to officials at home, and with greater reserve told Heinsius that he could not exercise effective command under the current restrictive arrangement. Late in September 1705 the queen revoked the earl of Abingdon's commission as lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire and replaced him with Marlborough, who eventually received his patent in 1706. At the same time Godolphin urged Marlborough to return home in order to help him deal with parliamentary issues and help avoid political problems with the Scots parliament, but Marlborough preferred to avoid domestic politics and turned, instead, to a diplomatic offensive in planning for the next year's campaign.

After discussions at The Hague, Marlborough travelled in October to Düsseldorf, where he met the elector palatine to discuss the employment of palatine troops in Italy, then journeyed on to Frankfurt, where on 31 October he conferred with Prince Ludwig von Baden, and met bankers and other diplomats. He then moved on to Regensburg and embarked in the emperor's barge on 6 November for a six-day journey down the Danube to Vienna. On arrival on 13 November he assisted in arranging loans for both the imperial government and Prince Eugène's army in Italy. In preparation for his arrival, Emperor Joseph I signed on 14 November 1705 the formal diploma creating the duke and his heirs, male or female, princes of the Holy Roman empire and additionally granting them the augmentation of the imperial eagle to the display of the Marlborough arms. Moreover, on 17 November Joseph raised the lordship of Mindelheim, 15 miles wide and with about 2000 inhabitants in upper Swabia from the lands confiscated from Bavaria, into the 'ohnmittelbare Reichsherrschaft Mindelheim', a principality and immediate fief of the emperor. This he granted to Marlborough and his male heirs as Reichsfürst zu Mindelheim, entitling them to a seat and vote on the diet of the empire and the Swabian circle.

On 23 November Marlborough and his son-in-law Charles, third earl of Sunderland, left Vienna for Berlin, where they arrived on 31 November. There Marlboroughattempted to persuade Prussia to concentrate on the war against France as the primary threat to the peace of Europe and to maintain Prussian troops in Italy rather than fighting in the Great Northern War that involved Sweden against Saxony-Poland, Russia, and Denmark. After leaving Berlin he travelled to Hanover, where he presented drafts of the bills to naturalize the dowager Electress Sophia and her son, George, the elector, as English citizens in the event of the queen's death and worked to convince them both of the government's intentions of maintaining the protestant succession. While in Hanover, Marlborough turned momentarily to military matters in settling a dispute among allied commanders concerning winter quarters.

After moving on to The Hague on 8 December, Marlborough joined Dutch officials in preparing for the campaign of 1706 and then returned to London on 31 January. Frustrated by the Dutch, he turned his initial thoughts to marching English troops over the Alps to join Prince Eugène for a campaign in Italy, but the first events of 1706 quickly shattered this idea. The French army's early offensive moves in Italy and on the Rhine made a march from Flanders to Italy impossible. On 13 May Marlborough joined the allied army, which marched westwards from Maastricht on 15 May, crossing the demolished lines of Brabant at Merdop, and was following the general course of the MehaigneRiver with the thought of threatening Namur and forcing the French into battle. Meanwhile, the French had already moved out from their entrenched lines in the Southern Netherlands, expecting the allies to be as ineffective as they had been the previous year. Advance forces from both sides reported each other's presence on 19 May, but had no exact knowledge of each other's location. Shortly after midnight on 23 May Marlborough ordered Cadogan to move ahead to find a campsite. Two hours later the army broke camp and began to march, still unaware of the enemy nearby. About eight in the morning Cadogan met a small French group near Merdorp and glimpsed massed forces beyond them. Facing a 60,000-man French army, including units of Bavarian and Spanish troops, under Villeroi and Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria, Marlborough quickly put his 62,000 allied troops in position to fight a battle on the plain, near the village of Ramillies, that commanded the area between the MehaigneRiver and the Great Gheete. It was an unusual situation, not only in that each side was unaware of the other's movements, but also in that both sought a major battle at the opening of a campaign. During this battle Marlborough distinguished himself with his flexible overall management of his forces, having worked out a clear battle plan and taking tactical initiative with a clear understanding of events as they unfolded on the battlefield. The allies had some 4000 casualties, while the French lost about 6750 killed with an additional 8250 captured. While Marlborough was engaged at Ramillies, the way had been cleared for his entry into the imperial and Swabian diets, where he consistently ordered his representatives over the following years to use his votes to support the interests of the allies, particularly Hanover, Prussia, and the emperor. George Stepney travelled to Mindelheim and formally took possession of the principality in Marlborough's name on 26 May 1706 and installed Marlborough's administrators in office.

Meanwhile the victory at Ramillies allowed the allies to retrieve the initiative lost the previous year. Immediately after the battle the allies made additional conquests, as weak fortifications and local populations defected to them. Some places surrendered without a siege, handing over French provisions that sustained the allies as they pursued the French from one fortification to another. During the first thirteen days after the battle the allied army took Louvain on 25 May, Lier and Mechelen on 26 May, Aalst on 30 May, Ghent on 2 June, Oudenarde, Damme, and Bruges on 3 June, Antwerp on 6 June, and finally Lortrijk on 19 June. When the weak French positions had been overrun, the initial and limited defection of the local population was spent. In the second stage of the campaign Marlborough turned to a series of successful siege operations at Ostend (19 June–9 July), Menin (22 July–22 August), Dendermond (27 August–9 September), and Ath (16 September–1 October). With Menin, the allies entered the French fortified zone, creating the need to conquer systematically French fortifications that threatened their own lines of communication. Among the remaining major French positions the allies could not attack Nieuwpoort, which had inundated its approaches and prevented the allies from undertaking a siege.

The campaign of 1706, with its major battle and four major sieges, marked the most successful campaign of Marlborough's career and established the basis for the allies to control the entire Southern Netherlands for Carlos III. In the immediate wake of the military operations Marlborough turned again to diplomacy and secretly renewed the efforts he had begun in 1704 to persuade the elector of Bavaria to bring his troops over to the allies. At the same time Louis XIV opened preliminary peace discussions on the basis of dividing the Spanish empire between Felipe V and Carlos III. Neither initiative was successful.

On 18 June 1706 the emperor appointed Marlborough as Spain's governor-general in the Southern Netherlands, using the authority Carlos III had granted him and a blank patent the king had signed on 18 May. Marlborough was attracted by a post with an estimated income of £60,000 a year and much patronage, and the queen and government in London approved. However, the Dutch made it clear that the appointment was entirely unacceptable. In their eyes the Southern Netherlands should not be returned immediately, but administered by a council under the joint direction of England and the Dutch republic in Carlos III's name. Marlborough's acceptance of the post would have divided England and the Dutch, jeopardizing Dutch plans to create an effective fortress barrier against future attack. Marlborough eventually declined the post, and instead he and George Stepney became the first two English regents of the Anglo-Dutch condominium for governing the Southern Netherlands.

On Marlborough's return to London on 26 November from the victorious campaign, he was met with a torrent of rewards. Shortly thereafter the whigs forced the queen to assent to the appointment of Marlborough's son-in-law the earl of Sunderland as secretary of state. Godolphin, too, had been separated from the tories and was now dependent on whig support to continue in office. In reaction the queen began to shift her reliance from Godolphin and Sarah to Robert Harley. Despite these portents of future trouble, the victory at Ramillies helped to assuage temporarily the hostility that had steadily grown between the queen and Sarah, but political issues soon drew them apart again. Since Marlborough now had no surviving male heir, he requested that all honours bestowed on him in Anne's reign, including the titles of marquess of Blandford and duke of Marlborough, pass to his daughters, in priority of birth, and to their heirs. In addition he petitioned that the grant of £5000 a year be made a perpetual grant on his heirs. Parliament granted these requests, which received the royal assent on 21 December 1706, 'it being intended that the said honours shall continue, remain and be invested in all the issue of the said duke, so long as any such issue male or female shall continue' (6 Anne cap. 7), retaining the duke's precedence as established by the letters patent of 14 December 1702. With this settled and with his political support slipping at home, Marlborough grew increasingly tired of his heavy burden as commander-in-chief and ambassador at The Hague and began to long for retirement. However, there were no ready alternative candidates to take up his posts, and he left from Margate for Holland on 2 April 1707 to open the new campaign.


With France on the defensive along the Rhine and in Flanders, the allies planned a strategy for 1707 in which Marlborough undertook an offensive from the Southern Netherlands into France, while Prince Eugène undertook a similar campaign from Italy, supported by the Anglo-Dutch fleets in the Mediterranean, against Toulon. Shortly after Marlborough's arrival in The Hague, allied plans for the northern theatre were delayed by events in Saxony.

Karl XII of Sweden had marched the Swedish army into Saxony in an effort to force its elector, Augustus, to relinquish the Polish throne to Stanislaw. The Swedish presence in Saxony raised fears that war might occur between Austria and Sweden. With this in mind the government in London ordered Marlborough to undertake a personal diplomatic mission to Karl XII in his camp at Altranstädt, near Leipzig, to prevent Austro-Swedish hostilities and to obtain Sweden's support for the grand alliance. Leaving the Dutch general Nassau-Ouwerkerk in charge of combined allied military preparations, Marlborough went to Hanover on 24 April, then on to Altranstädt on 26 April, joining the English envoy to Sweden, the Revd John Robinson, and his Dutch colleague for successful discussions with Karl XII. These laid the initial groundwork for a diplomatic agreement between Sweden and Austria that was eventually signed in the autumn. Marlborough obtained Karl XII's promise to remain neutral in the war against France, while Marlborough promised allied support for Sweden in her negotiations with Denmark and Austria, providing recognition of Stanislaw as king of Poland with guarantee for the Austro-Swedish treaty of Altranstädt. On 27 April Marlboroughbriefly left the Swedish camp to dine with Augustus in Leipzig. He left Altranstädt on 29 April and travelled on 1 May to Berlin, where he worked to dissuade King Frederick from making a treaty with Sweden that might distract Prussia from fighting France. After returning to The Hague on 8 May, he travelled to Brussels on 13 May, and then joined the army at Lebecq on 21 May. Meanwhile, allied military setbacks on the upper Rhine and in Spain forced Marlborough to dispatch troops under his command to support operations in those areas. The French made the first move against Marlborough's allied army, when Marshal Vendôme advanced towards Huy and forced Marlborough to guard him with his smaller force. Marlborough moved his headquarters to Meldert on 1 June, but neither the French nor the Dutch were prepared to engage in battle unless certain of the outcome. Beginning on 10 August Marlborough undertook a series of manoeuvres during the campaign, based from Soignies until 31 August, then from Helchin 7 September to 10 October, which helped maintain the allies' position, but he was unable to undertake any siege or battle because of the need to protect the large cities of Brabant, particularly Brussels. With the campaign at an end he left the army on 14 October and went to Frankfurt on 21 October, then returned to The Hague on 3 November. Meanwhile in London on 31 August 1707 Queen Anne granted to trustees, for Sarah'sbenefit, a crown lease on property in St James's Park adjacent to St James's Palace originally known as The Friary. Close to her lodgings in St James's Palace, Sarahinitially thought of building a town house for herself. The duke thought the site too small and her plans more costly than she anticipated, but he initially agreed to contribute £7000 to her project on the understanding that it would eventually devolve upon the Marlborough heirs, or would become security for repaying that sum to his heirs. Disenchanted with Vanbrugh's ongoing work at Blenheim, Sarah chose Sir Christopher Wren as her architect, but made little immediate progress on the building in London.


Marlborough returned to London in November 1707 to find the ministry's work brought almost to a standstill by attacks from both parties. The failure at Toulon, the loss of Admiral Shovell at sea, the charges of maladministration at the Admiralty, and an uneventful campaign in Flanders all provided fodder for political attacks. By January 1708 it was clear that Robert Harley was attempting to replace Godolphin as first minister. When this became apparent Godolphin refused to serve in the cabinet with Harley and demanded that the queen choose between them. During this political crisis Marlborough told the queen that he could serve with anyone, including Harley, but Godolphin could not be persuaded to back down. As the crisis deepened Marlboroughtold the queen that he would resign if Godolphin left office. Sarah, also, made the same point to the queen, adding a request that her offices in the royal household be divided among her daughters. Still hoping that Marlborough would serve without Godolphin, the queen waited to make her final decision. Then Marlborough pushed the point further, telling the queen that he would resign if the queen did not dismiss Harley. MPs as well as cabinet ministers made it clear to the queen that Marlborough's loss would be too much. Finally, the crisis passed on 10 February 1708 when the queen dismissed Harley as secretary of state, along with a number of his supporters including Henry St John. As a result of this power struggle between individual office-holders, the war policy that had been a national bipartisan one for six years now became a whig policy.From February to March 1708 the danger of a French-supported Jacobite invasion of Britain from Dunkirk delayed Marlborough's return to The Hague. Finally, he sailed on 29 March, clearly wanting to deal with international and military issues and to avoid if possible the party politics in which Sarah was deeply involved at home. On his return to The Hague on 10 April he and Prince Eugène participated in a series of meetings with Dutch leaders to plan the campaign of 1708. At this point it seemed that the French intended to make an attack on the Southern Netherlands their main objective, having appointed the duke of Burgundy to command jointly with Marshal Vendôme the 110,000-strong French army in Flanders in an effort to improve the French bargaining position for a compromise peace. To meet this threat the allies made a secret plan for Eugène to command an army on the Moselle that would appear ready to support a second army commanded by the elector of Hanover on the Rhine, but that, in reality, would move on to Flanders to join Marlborough for a major battle with the French. This would involve all available forces, including the garrison in the allied stronghold at Brussels, relying on the waterways of Flanders instead of Brussels as the key connection to Holland. In order to complete this arrangement, Marlborough and Eugène stayed in Hanover from 26 April to 2 May for discussions with the elector, but, in order to maintain their secret plan, deliberately deceived the elector into thinking that the major effort would still be on the Rhine.Marlborough returned to The Hague on 6 May and then went to Brussels, where he stayed from 14 to 25 May, before returning to the army. Little happened until, suddenly, on 4 July, Vendôme's army marched from Mons in heavy rain directly towards Ghent, taking Marlborough completely by surprise. The French seized the city, with 300 English soldiers in the castle, at daybreak. By capturing Ghent, which controlled the waterways of Flanders, the French made it impossible for the allies to abandon Brussels, as planned, since it now remained the only connection to Holland.

The loss of Ghent added to Marlborough's reputation among the Dutch for imprudence. He soon recovered from this bad start to the campaign by luring the French into a major encounter at Oudenarde on 11 July. Having pretended to be in a weak position, Marlborough employed his superior generalship and the terrain to bring new formations quickly into action, creating a continually changing tactical situation in which he exploited the confusion and misunderstanding between the force commanded by Vendôme and Louis, duke of Burgundy (elder brother of Felipe V). During the action an allied army of about 80,000 under Marlborough and Eugène fought against Vendôme's and Burgundy's 85,000-man French army; the allies lost   825 killed and 2150 wounded, of which only 175 were British, to French losses estimated as high as 6750 killed and 7000 captured. The battle of Oudenarde allowed the allies to regain the strategic initiative they had lost to the French in July and to take the offensive and put the French on the defensive.

In the next operation Marlborough moved into position to take the city and fortress of Lille on 2 August; he eventually captured it, after 120 days of siege, on 10 December in one of the bloodiest actions of the time, with the total number of killed and wounded reaching 15,000 allies and 7000 French. In order to support this difficult operation against Vauban's masterpiece of fortification Marlborough needed extensive siege supplies and depended on supply lines, which the French methodically worked to cut off. After opening a direct and new line from the port of Ostend, a convoy sufficient to support the siege for a fortnight left there on 27 September. To protect it, Marlboroughdetached Major-General John Webb, and later General Cadogan, with cavalry for the convoy's further protection, having learned that a vigilant French force of 23,000 under La Motte was already attempting to waylay the supplies. In a wooded area near Wijnendael, Webb, with only 6000–8000 men—including a large Dutch contingent under General Nassau-Woudenberg—brilliantly defeated the French on 28 September. Cadogan arrived at the end of the action and the French retreated on seeing his forces. On hearing the news, a relieved Marlborough immediately sent off a note of congratulation to Webb and Cadogan. Incensed that Marlborough had given equal credit to Cadogan, Webb immediately objected, creating a political issue at home. He soon left the army and became a vocal political critic of Marlborough.

The long siege at Lille and the operations to support it took a heavy personal toll on Marlborough, putting him under continuous daily pressure for more than three months. As the operation progressed he grew increasingly irritable with both his subordinates in the English army and his Dutch colleagues. In the remainder of the campaign he was able to forestall a French attack on Brussels through manoeuvre and then retook Ghent, which fell after a fifteen-day siege on 2 January 1709. With its surrender the French at Bruges also evacuated their position.As Marlborough had intimated the previous spring at the opening of the campaign of 1708, he wanted to stay away from political struggles at home as long as possible and had advised his wife to avoid giving political advice to the queen. Meanwhile, the tories in the Commons passed a vote of thanks to Webb, then another to Marlborough and Eugène together, infuriating Sarah and the whigs by giving no separate recognition to Marlborough.


From mid-December 1708 to late March 1709 Europe experienced one of the most severe winters on record. Ice choked the waterways and harbours, wildlife died, crops were ruined, and people starved. In the army, soldiers and horses died on the march and could not survive outside or in tents. In these circumstances Marlborough agreed to command the army during January and most of February in order to manage the difficult logistical problems that the winter presented. Late in February Prince Eugènerelieved him so that he could make a brief trip to London, where he arrived on 11 March. His stay there was short, and he returned to The Hague on 9 April.

It was probably during this visit to London that Marlborough made the first of his requests for a life appointment as captain-general, a position he had held only at the queen's pleasure since 1702. Increasingly exhausted by his work, seeing his prestige declining in parliament, and with Sarah's relations with the queen increasingly strained, he realized that his military and diplomatic appointments might soon come to an end. While the success of the last campaign remained in the public mind, he thought it a good time to ask the queen directly for the permanent appointment. The queen demurred, replying that it would be useful to find a precedent.

On Marlborough's return to The Hague he learned that Heinsius had entered peace negotiations without his knowledge, giving the impression in England that Marlborough no longer held the confidence of the Dutch. Meanwhile, in Vienna the same reports led officials there to think it was Marlborough who was secretly conspiring with the Dutch against the Austrians. To end this crisis within the alliance English officials directed Marlborough to insist that an Anglo-Dutch agreement on peace was essential before any negotiations with France could be entertained. At the same time he and Eugène agreed not to discuss the Dutch barrier question until the Franco-Dutch talks had been cancelled, which pressurized the Dutch into discontinuing their negotiations with the French.

When Heinsius opened barrier treaty discussions with Marlborough, the duke was reluctant to participate, as he opposed Dutch demands. Feeling that he could not come to agreement with them, he returned to London on 1 May to ask the government to appoint a separate negotiator, who could be accountable to the whigs. The cabinetconsidered several candidates and settled on Charles, second Viscount Townshend. Accompanied by Townshend, Marlborough returned to The Hague on 18 May. By that time the French had realized that they could not reach a separate peace with the Dutch and initiated general peace negotiations with the allies. The marquess de Torcy, Heinsius, Marlborough, Townshend, and Eugène were among the participants.

Meanwhile, in London Sarah laid the foundation stone of Marlborough House on 24 May 1709, but the duke was quick to remind her of the source of her funds and to ask that her project not interfere with Blenheim, 'for we are not so master of that as of the other' (Marlborough–Godolphin Correspondence, 3.1269). Initially, however, Sarahsecured the money to begin the project by borrowing nearly £22,000 from the privy purse funds, relying on her husband's promise to her to pay the entire cost for the large house—which eventually amounted to £40,000–£50,000.

By 13 June it became clear that the peace talks had failed on one major issue. Louis XIVspecifically rejected the allies' requirement that France ensure that Felipe V relinquish all parts of the Spanish monarchy to Carlos III, believing this to be beyond French power. Having rejected the proposals, France began to prepare to continue military operations at a time when the allies had been convinced that she had no choice but to accept peace. In response Marlborough, Eugène, and the Dutch began to gather their forces after the difficult winter and the shortages it produced. To open the campaign Marlborough's and Eugène's 40,000-man allied army undertook the siege of the city and fortress of Tournai, which fell after sixty-nine days on 3 September with casualties mounting to 5340 allies and 3800 French. On entering the citadel Marlborough saw a 30 ton marble bust of Louis XIV over the gate and ordered it to be taken down and shipped to Woodstock as a trophy. There, it dominates the top of Blenheim's south portico over the taunting inscription 'Europæ haec vindex genio decora alta Britanno' ('The assertor of the liberties of Europe dedicates these lofty honours to the genius of Britain'; Green, 249).

The allies continued their military pressure on France as a means of renewing peace negotiations. By 6 September they had moved about 30 miles to the east and begun the siege of the fortress at Mons. On hearing this Louis XIV reacted violently. Declaring that the salvation of France was at stake, he immediately ordered Marshal Villars to spare no means in relieving Mons, authorizing him to engage in a major battle if necessary. Villars immediately marched from Douai to take up a strong position and established his field headquarters near the village of Malplaquet, not far from the allied armies covering the siege.

Early on 11 September 1709 the allied army of 110,000 men under Marlborough and Eugène attacked the Franco-Bavarian army under Villars and Boufflers, who were holding an extremely strong entrenched position with 80,000 men for their intended intervention in the siege at Mons. Allied forces opened the battle by storming the French position, but were repulsed with very heavy casualties. After renewing the assault Marlborough eventually forced the French to weaken their centre to support their left wing and make a counter-attack against the allies. Early in the afternoon he and Eugène were able to mobilize some 30,000 horsemen to advance on the French centre. The French drove the allies back half a dozen times, until they began to give way to the huge allied cavalry force and retreat onto the plain around Malplaquet. Exhausted after a day of extremely hard fighting, the two opposing armies separated, and each remained intact without any clear victor, with each claiming a technical advantage. The cost in casualties was probably the highest for the entire eighteenth century. No exact figures are known, but it is estimated that about 24,000 allies were killed and wounded, and approximately 15,000 killed and wounded among the French. Marlborough was deeply shocked, appalled to have 'so many brave men killed with whom I have lived these eight years, when we thought ourselves sure of a peace' (Marlborough–Godolphin Correspondence, 3.1381). The experience shook the allied troops, and they ceased to be the confident force they had been before the engagement. At home both houses of parliament voted Marlborough their thanks, and the whigs declared this his greatest victory.

After the battle Villars and his army took up a position behind the defensive line of Rhonelle, while on 20 September the allied army resumed its siege at Mons, which surrendered on 20 October. The armies entered winter quarters in October, two months earlier than they had the previous year. In late September Marlborough resumed his thoughts about gaining a life appointment as captain-general. In mid-September he drafted a letter to the queen, and on 10 October he sent the final version to Godolphin to give to the queen. On Lord Chancellor Cowper's advice, the queen refused his request, but when Marlborough became angry, she temporized and left the matter open.

Marlborough returned to London on 8 November 1709 to find that the whigs still exaggerated Sarah's influence with the queen. On the counterproductive advice of Arthur Maynwaring, Sarah had done things that repeatedly angered the queen, rather than influenced her decisions. By this point the queen had become so irritated with Sarah that she allowed Abigail Masham to assume most of Sarah's substantive functions.


Early in January 1710 Marlborough discovered that his own relations with the queen were no better than those of his wife. Following Lord Essex's death in January his posts as constable of the Tower and colonel of the Oxford dragoons fell vacant. Normally the captain-general customarily advised the queen on such appointments, and Marlborough had settled upon the duke of Northumberland and Lord Hertford as Essex's successors. On Robert Harley's advice, Earl Rivers applied to Marlborough for appointment as constable of the Tower, but was told that another post would be more suitable. Shortly afterwards, at an audience with the queen, Marlborough made his recommendation of Northumberland as constable of the Tower, only to be told that it was too late as she had already assigned the post to Lord Rivers. When Marlboroughasked that the appointment be cancelled, the queen declined. Later that same day Annewrote to Marlborough with her wish to give the dragoon regiment to Colonel John Hill, Abigail Masham's brother. Marlborough was outraged that the queen had completely ignored his advice as captain-general. On 14 January the Marlboroughs left London without taking leave of the queen and went to Windsor Lodge.Godolphin and other moderate ministers were deeply disturbed by the domestic and international consequences of this quarrel. From Windsor Marlborough wrote a draft letter to the queen declaring that he 'deserved better than to be made a sacrifice to the unreasonable passion of a bedchamber woman' (Snyder, The duke of Marlborough's request, 77). Godolphin and others repeatedly urged him to acquiesce, but Marlboroughwas determined to vindicate himself. In order to prevent a future recurrence of the incident he wanted parliament to vote him life appointment as captain-general and demanded that the queen dismiss all four members of the Masham family who were in her service. On 23 January he returned to London and began to seek political support among parliamentary leaders for his plan. Lord Somers advised the queen of Marlborough's intentions, and she immediately began to consult privately with tory party leaders, senior generals, and peers. Asking for their personal loyalty to the crown, she pressed them to oppose Marlborough's plan. By this appeal the queen and the whigs won such broad and impressive support that Marlborough was forced to pretend that he had never intended to make an ultimatum. The quarrel was temporarily patched up, and Marlborough agreed to return to command the army. He departed for The Hague on 19 February and was not present in England for the outpouring of tory sentiment that followed the Sacheverell trial and the impetus it gave to the overthrow of the whig-dominated government.

Once he had arrived at The Hague Marlborough concentrated on plans for the campaign of 1710. His initial thought was to open a siege at Douai and, when that was completed, to move on to Arras to open an avenue to the channel coast. With this established, a joint operation with the navy could possibly follow with the objective of seizing Boulogne and Calais. As military commanders in the allied army made plans, diplomatic discussions with the French opened at Geertruidenberg on 8 March to try to resuscitate the peace proposals of 1709. At this point Marlborough was approaching his sixtieth birthday and was deeply discouraged by everything around him. News from London added to his gloom as the shift towards tory sentiment forced more whigs from office and the government advised foreign representatives that a change in ministers did not mean a change in England's war policy.

On 23 April Marlborough and Prince Eugène opened siege operations at Douai with 60,000 troops that lasted sixty-three days and cost 8009 allied casualties and 2680 French casualties before the fortress fell on 25 June. Shortly afterwards Marlboroughheard news that his son-in-law Sunderland had been dismissed as secretary of state. Looking to the next phase of the campaign, he and Eugène observed that the French had destroyed all the forage near Arras, making the planned siege there difficult. In its place they first made a foray to the west of Vimy Ridge near Arras. Finding that the French did not pursue them, the allied army marched on to Béthune, opening the trenches there on 17 July for a forty-three-day siege that ended on 29 August.

Just as the siege ended Marlborough learned that, nine days before, the queen had dismissed Godolphin as lord treasurer and had opened an investigation into his ministry's financial conduct. As the tory wave swept through the cabinet, Eugène, Heinsius, Godolphin, and the elector of Hanover all urged Marlborough not to resign his command of the army in the middle of the campaign. Reluctantly he agreed, beginning siege operations first at St Venant from 5 to 29 September and then at Aire from 6 September to 8 November. With the campaign at an end, the allied army had gained control of a large area through its siege operations, but there was no sign that the war was any closer to an end.

Marlborough left The Hague on 3 January 1711 and reached England at Southwold after a difficult three-day passage across the North Sea. The queen received him formally and impersonally. Assuring Marlborough that she wished him to remain in command of the army for the next campaign, she strongly advised him not to seek any vote of appreciation from the new tory parliament. Marlborough intended to retain command, but he hesitated to agree formally in the hope that he could use his delay to maintain Sarah in her offices in the queen's household. The queen had made it known to her advisers that she wished to dismiss Sarah. Two of the advisers, lords Shrewsbury and Hamilton, advised Marlborough that the queen might listen to a personal appeal from him to maintain Sarah in office. On Marlborough's advice Sarah wrote the queen an apologetic letter, which on 17 January Marlborough personally gave to the queen, but Anne refused to consider it. Concerned about the effect of Sarah's dismissal on his position abroad, Marlborough asked the queen for two weeks' grace to persuade Sarahto resign. Exasperated by the continuation of the matter, the queen demanded that Sarah surrender her keys of office. On the evening of 18 January Marlborough delivered Sarah's keys to the queen, formally ending her quarter-century-long mercurial relationship with Anne's household that had so influenced his own career.

Later that spring Sarah vacated the lodgings the Marlboroughs held in St James's Palace, and for a few weeks lived in an apartment at Montague House before moving into one of the outbuildings at Marlborough House, which was still being built. Meanwhile, Marlborough returned to The Hague on 4 March and found, as he had feared, that Sarah's dismissal and the change in ministry had seriously weakened his prestige and authority.

Marlborough returned to army field headquarters on 26 April to prepare for the campaign. Two days later preparations halted when news arrived that Emperor Joseph Ihad suddenly died of smallpox in Vienna on 17 April. Joseph's death meant that his younger brother, King Carlos III of Spain, became Emperor Karl VI. Carlos's candidacy for the Spanish throne was a fundamental basis for the grand alliance and had originally been the key to re-establishing a balance of power in Europe in 1701. This change in international politics created an imbalance in favour of Austria that was further complicated by the civil war within Spain and the domestic political and international treaty commitments to the idea of ‘no peace without Spain’.

The campaign of 1711 was necessarily delayed while arrangements were made to elect the new emperor. Finally, in June allied leaders held a conference to discuss the forthcoming campaign but, pointedly, Marlborough was not invited. When the campaign began, a series of complex French moves and allied countermoves took place around Arleux, a fortified position and part of what was known as the non plus ultralines, a 160 mile series of river defences, forts, earthworks, and inundations that extended from the channel to the foothills of the Ardennes. With only 15 miles that were not marsh, river, or flood plain, they presented an apparently impregnable defence.

Historians have debated whether Marlborough's movements at Arleux were a planned and successful ruse or merely an accident that had the effect of covering his intention to besiege Bouchain. After a series of manoeuvres Marlborough with an army of 80,000 allied troops suddenly struck the lines at Arleux on 5–6 August and passed through them with few, if any, casualties. Then, instead of seeking a battle with Villars's 90,000 troops, he directed a march to nearby Bouchain and took it under siege on 9 August. After thirty-four days and 4080 allied and 2500 French casualties, Bouchain surrendered on 12 September. Its capture gave the allies a launching point for the next campaign and a base from which to attack Cambrai, which blocked the allied advance into France. With this in mind, Marlborough urged the allies, without success, to put the army in winter quarters at Bouchain.

Meanwhile, in London the ministry under Robert Harley was secretly negotiating a new basis to end the war in the light of a changed international power relationship. Preparing for Marlborough's return to London, Sarah had completed Marlborough House. Marlborough left Holland on 24 November and found on his return that the Harley ministry's peace negotiations were public knowledge and that the ministry had completely abandoned the old formula of ‘no peace without Spain’, which he continued to support. For Marlborough, the continuation of the war was necessary in order to maintain the protestant succession in England.

On the heels of this political change Jonathan Swift published his Conduct of the Allies in late November, arguing that the whole war had been a whig plot led by Marlboroughand his foreign friends to enrich themselves at the expense of England's Treasury. More than 11,000 copies of Swift's work circulated, which devastated Marlborough'scredibility and led to charges of corruption. In December the commissioners for the investigation of public accounts called the allied army's bread contractor, Sir Solomon de Medina, from Holland to testify that he and his predecessor, Antonio Alvarez Machado, had paid 2.5 per cent of the contract to Marlborough between 1702 and 1710 for a total of £64,410 3s. 6d. In response Marlborough asserted:

this is no more than what has been allowed as a perquisite to the general, or commander-in-chief of the army in the low countries, even before the Revolution, for the service of the public in keeping secret correspondence, and getting intelligence of the enemy's motions and design.


According to Swift, Marlborough was no hero, but a friend of selfish, grasping foreigners who enriched themselves from war, the worst of whom were the Dutch, who had long been rivals to England's growth. Moreover, Marlborough had clearly profited by the war, amassing a fortune that Swift estimated at more than half a million pounds. Given the heated atmosphere of party politics during the parliamentary recess and the charges of improper conduct that were brewing, the queen dismissed Marlboroughfrom all his offices on 30 December 1711.


In the following months Marlborough was publicly attacked from all sides in the press. When parliament returned in January 1712 he presented a defence, but on 24 January the Commons voted by 265 to 155 that his conduct was 'unwarranted and illegal' (Cobbett, Parl. hist., 6.1077). Shortly afterwards the ministry permitted Marlborough'ssuccessor, the duke of Ormond, the same percentage payment from army bread contracts, and the government did not pursue Marlborough's legal prosecution, although it maintained it as a threat. Treasury payments for the works at Blenheim stopped in June, and the Marlboroughs left London for Holywell House, where Godolphin joined them. There on 15 September Godolphin died from kidney failure.

With the death of his closest friend Marlborough decided to leave England, something he had been considering since October 1711. He applied to Harley, now Lord Oxford, for a pass to travel through Holland and Germany and to settle in Italy. His mention of Italy as his ultimate destination was deliberately misleading, for his main aim during his exile was to consolidate his position with the elector of Hanover, in preparation for his succession to Anne.

Marlborough left England at the end of November 1712. On 13 December he set out for Antwerp, then travelled to Maastricht and on to Aix-la-Chapelle, where Sarah and William Cadogan, who became Marlborough's key representative in exile, joined him in February 1713. At the end of April they moved on, passing Koblenz en route for Frankfurt, where they established residence. Using Frankfurt as a base, Marlboroughvisited his principality of Mindelheim, for the first and only time, in the second week of June 1713. He was received with the honours due to a ruling prince and resided in the castle of Mindelburg, near Mindelheim, reporting that he 'stay'd but four days at Mindelheim, which place I liked much better then expected but not so, as to think of living there' (Barber, 70). On 19 July 1713 Marlborough and Cadogan met Prince Eugène, who confirmed that both the emperor and the prince of Savoy would act to prevent a Stuart restoration in Britain. On his return to Frankfurt Marlborough decided to return to Antwerp at the end of August so as to be closer at hand to England, in hope that an election would change the political landscape. The failure of this, with an increased tory majority in parliamentand the probably unjustified speculation that Oxford would impeach Marlborough, led Mary of Modena to send a Stuart agent to contact Marlborough at Antwerp in August. For the next year Marlborough tried to develop further contacts with the Pretender'sentourage as a precautionary Jacobite protection against impeachment. At the same time he continued to encourage Hanoverian opposition to the Oxford ministry.

In March 1714 the treaty of Rastadt was signed, ending the war between France and Austria. By its terms the elector of Bavaria was restored to his lands; on 25 January 1715 the elector's representatives took possession of Mindelheim. Marlborough petitioned the emperor to replace his loss, but Karl VI took no immediate action. Meanwhile, although the hope of a whig victory in the parliamentary elections proved to be illusory, by April 1714 Sarah's homesickness and a series of illnesses among their children and grandchildren led the couple to decide to return to England in order to be near their family. With Bolingbroke and Oxford engaged in their rivalry for political supremacy in England, each began secretly corresponding with Marlborough, who offered to support whoever could safely secure the succession. In the months that followed the Marlboroughs uncovered Oxford's duplicity and arranged publication of the letters that exposed his double-dealing with Hanover. The queen dismissed Oxford on 27 July, but Anne delayed forming a new government in hope that Marlborough could lead it on his arrival. The Marlboroughs embarked at Ostend for England on 28 July 1714 but, hampered by heavy winds and high seas, their journey across the channel took three days and four nights. While they were approaching Dover on 1 August the queen died, and George I was proclaimed king the same day. Marlborough received a tumultuous welcome on arriving in London on 4 August, when many politicians and courtiers scrambled for his favour. Six weeks later George I arrived at Greenwich, where the peers of the realm gathered at the riverside to greet him. On receiving Marlborough the king said warmly, 'My lord Duke, I hope your troubles are now over' (Churchill, 4.627). The first warrant the new king signed restored Marlborough, on 4 September 1714, as captain-general of the land forces. Then, on 26 September, he was restored as colonel of the 1st foot guards, on 1 October as master-general of the ordnance, and subsequently as governor of ChelseaHospital and a privy councillor. Despite this warm welcome, the duke and duchess were unable to re-establish the monopoly of favour they had enjoyed in the early part of Anne's rule. During the first year of the new reign Marlborough House became the place for the duchess to launch her granddaughter into society, while the duke remained active in the king's inner circle of advisers and was closely involved in supervising military affairs in the inner cabinet as ministers dealt with the suppression of the Jacobite rising in 1715. Finally, late in March 1715, Karl VI reportedly gave Marlborough a new territory in place of Mindelheim, the principality of Nellenburg, with its main centre located at Stockach in Hegau, Swabia, between LakeConstance and Switzerland. Formal confirmation of this title as Fürst zu Nellenburg never materialized, however, and Marlborough continued to request a replacement for Mindelheim  until October 1717. Despite Sarah's suffering her first serious illness in spring 1715, the couple frequented, in addition to Marlborough House, Holywell in St Albans and the lodge in Windsor Park—as well as visiting Blenheim regularly to oversee progress, which resumed in 1716. On 28 May 1716, shortly after the death of his 32-year-old daughter, Anne, countess of Sunderland, Marlborough suffered a paralytic stroke at Holywell. After a period of recovery at Bath, the Marlboroughs went to Blenheim, where in November, while staying in a house on the estate, the duke suffered a second stroke, which left him speechless for a time. Although some relatively minor effects remained, Marlboroughrecovered. The king declined to accept his resignation and Marlborough continued to hold his offices and make occasional appearances in the House of Lords, although the effects of his illness were clear. In September 1717 the Jacobite Lewis Innes reported to the earl of Mar that 'Lord Churchill is turned a mere child and driveller at Tonbridge, his lady, little concerned, games from morning to night' (Stuart Papers, 5.35). The Marlboroughs occupied Blenheim for the first time in 1719 and again in 1720–21.

The duke of Marlborough died on 16 June 1722 at Cranbourne Lodge, Windsor. For nearly a month after her husband's death Sarah lay exhausted at Marlborough House, while arrangements were made for the duke's lying in state. A full state funeral took place on 9 August 1722. At noon, eight horses drew a black-draped funeral car, with a suit of full armour on the coffin, through crowd-lined London streets from Marlborough House to Westminster Abbey. A procession followed that included the family mourners, seventy-two Chelsea pensioners, one for each of the duke's years, horse and foot guards, and heralds. With an artillery salute in St James's Park and the service in the abbey, Marlborough was temporarily laid to rest in the vault at the east end of Henry VII's chapel on the same day. In his will he directed that his final resting place was to be the chapel at Blenheim, which was not yet complete. This provision was carried out twenty-two years later, on 3 November 1744.

On Marlborough's death the barony of Churchill of Eyemouth in the Scots peerage, which had been granted for his service to James, duke of York, became extinct, as did his unconfirmed title Fürst zu Nellenburg. By the terms of his 1705 grant from the emperor, Marlborough's heirs retained the title Hochgeboren Reichsfürst, and by the act of parliament of 21 December 1706 his English titles passed to his eldest daughter, Henrietta, countess of Godolphin. Her son William Godolphin, marquess of Blandford, having died in 1731 without heirs, the titles passed at Henrietta's death, on 24 October 1733, to the surviving son of her sister Anne, Charles Spencer, who became third duke of Marlborough. The family name remained Spencer until George, fifth duke of Marlborough, changed it to Spencer-Churchill. On the first duke's death his property and investments were estimated to be worth about £1,000,000, half of which was invested in short-term loans to the exchequer; this sum remained in a trust managed after his death by trustees, who included the duchess, Marlborough's two former business associates, William Clayton and William Guidot, and his three sons-in-law: the earl of Sunderland, the duke of Bridgewater, and the duke of Montagu.


During Marlborough's lifetime and immediately after his death a number of his friends and associates published accounts of his achievements. First among them was the Revd Dr Francis Hare, who was tutor to the duke's son John, marquess of Blandford, chaplain-general with Marlborough's army, and eventually bishop of Chichester. He was the author of pamphlets defending Marlborough's conduct in 1711 and 1712 and of The life and glorious history of John, duke and earl of Marlborough … containing a relation of the most important battles (3 vols., 1705). Also during the duke's lifetime 'An old officer of the Army' published A short narrative of the life of his grace, John, duke of Marlborough, from the beginnings of the revolution to this present time, with some remarks on his conduct(1711). Another anonymous work followed, probably by Arthur Maynwaring, and arguably completed after his death by Richard Steele: The lives of two illustrious generals, John, duke of Marlborough, and Francis Eugène, prince of Savoy (1713). This work clearly reflects Marlborough's own vision of himself. The final account by a person close to the duke was that of Thomas Lediard, a secretary to Marlborough during his mission to Karl XII of Sweden in 1707, The Life of John, Duke of Marlborough, with Original Letters and Papers (3 vols., 1736; revised and enlarged, 1743). This was the first full biography, and was based on personal knowledge as well as original materials to which Lediardhad access. After the duke's death Sarah began to concentrate on completing Blenheim as the major memorial to her husband, although it was not a place she herself enjoyed. In 1723 she had Hawksmoor design the triumphal arch at the Woodstock entrance to the grounds in order to commemorate her devotion to completing the unfinished fabric of the palace. About the same time Lord Burlington gave her the idea for the 134 footcolumn of victory. The first of its sort in Britain, it was built between 1728 and 1731 at the summit of the grand avenue leading from the north side of the palace, surmounted by Robert Pitt's lead statue of Marlborough. In1728, after considering several authors, Sarah persuaded Lord Bolingbroke to write  the inscription for the column, which incisively described the duke's great achievements. In 1733 the chapel in the palace was completed, containing the tomb designed by William Kent and executed by Michael Rysbrack. Sarah chose to have the black marble sarcophagus flanked by figures of History and Fame, crushing Envy. Below the portrait statues, each 7 feet tall and depicting the first duke and duchess with their two sons, John and Charles, there is a marble bas relief depicting Marshal Tallard surrendering to Marlborough in 1704. Following these

commissions, Rysbrack made a portrait bust of Marlborough, and a statue of Queen Anne was installed in 1738.Having completed Blenheim, Sarah turned to defending herself and her husband in a book, written with the assistance of Nathaniel Hooke and entitled An Account of the Conduct of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough from her First Coming to Court to the Year 1710 (1742). In a personal justification, rather than an insider's history of Anne's reign, Sarah attempted to show that she saved the queen £100,000 through her good management as mistress of the robes. The book's publication elicited a number of anonymous politically motivated responses that provided further details of the duke's life and career and became sources of reference for early historians. The most important of these were James Ralph's The Other Side of the Question (1742), J. Robert'sA Review of the Late Treatise (1742) and his Continuation of the Review (1743), and Henry Fielding's defence in his anonymously published A Full Vindication of the Dowager Duchess of Marlborough (1742).Sarah died on 18 October 1744, aged eighty-four, at Marlborough House. In accordance with the instructions in her will the duke of Marlborough's remains were removed from Westminster Abbey on 30 October and sent to Woodstock. On the following day her casket followed. Two days later, on 3 November 1744, the two were buried together in the vault of the chapel at BlenheimPalace.


Marlborough's ultimate achievement in becoming one of the greatest generals in British history could not have been easily foretold. He reached the greatest heights of military accomplishment without prior extensive experience in high command. Physically handsome, he rose to power through his personal service as a very successful courtier, having the talent for stylish manners and courtly conversation that easily lent itself to success in both public and private diplomacy and high-level management in government. His entire early experience and subsequent success was built upon obtaining and maintaining royal favour, and upon acting as an adviser using his deep understanding of military and international affairs. Thus, both in outlook and in temperament he was unprepared for dealing with the blow to his influence inflicted at the end of his career. He had, however, shifted with remarkable success in royal favour from James II, to William III, and to Anne, while still balancing contact with both Hanoverians and Jacobites. In all this it was his interrelated personal, political, and family connections, combined with those his wife developed, that were the key elements in reaching and sustaining his positions of power.

As a general and as the allied commander-in-chief during the War of the Spanish Succession, Marlborough based his success on his ability to co-operate effectively with the Dutch, who had the largest number of troops under his command, paid the largest share of the military effort, and controlled the army's logistics. As a field commander he was noted for promoting mobile warfare, manoeuvring to engage in decisive battle, using effective operational intelligence, planning long-range logistical support, and having a remarkable ability to analyse and to react to changing tactical situations in the heat of battle. Some of these same characteristics led contemporaries to see him as impulsive, imprudent, and reckless in terms of eighteenth-century warfare. Seen at a distance of three centuries, these characteristics appear much more appropriate to warfare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nevertheless, in viewing him at long range, some military specialists have applied anachronistic values that distort the view of Marlborough within his own time.Aside from his natural talents as a courtier, diplomat, and soldier, Marlborough's direct personal connections with the sovereign, which were further supported by prevailing political interests, gave him his substantial influence abroad with foreign princes, diplomats, and military leaders. While clearly not the sole director of the English government nor of the grand alliance, he very effectively used this image to develop and maintain English interests at The Hague, where so much of the key diplomatic and military planning of the War of the Spanish Succession was done in close co-operation with Dutch leaders.


Artist biography

John Closterman,  (1660–1711), history and portrait painter, was born in Osnabrück, a prince-bishopric in north Germany, from 1648 ruled alternately by a Roman Catholic bishop and a Hanoverian Lutheran prince. 'Mr. Tiburing', a fellow townsman, gave George Vertue Closterman's place and year of birth (VertueNote books, 1.44). Houbraken stated in his biography of 'Kloosterman' that he was born at Hanover in 1656 (Houbraken, 3.284). This may be the birth date of John Baptist Closterman [see below]John's brother, also a painter, who was alive in 1713 when Houbraken visited England.

Family and early years

In his outline biography of John ClostermanVertue gives his death date as '171..' and only once cites 'Bapt. Closterman <face painter>', as a subscriber to the 1711 London Academy (VertueNote books, 2.140, 6.168). Certainly after Houbraken's biography Johnand John Baptist Closterman were conflated. This became apparent only in 1964 with the publication of John's will leaving the bulk of his estate to 'my Deare and Loveing Brother John Baptist' (Stewart, John and John Baptist Closterman, 307).

John Closterman was the 'son of a painter' (VertueNote books, 1.44), perhaps Hermann Cloisterman, elected burgher of Osnabrück on 22 December 1656, who died on 27 January 1682 and whose wife died on 14 June 1669. Tiburing and John Closterman went 'in … 1679. to Paris, where they staid about 2 years & wrought for de Troyes [François de Troy]'; 'by some of [Closterman's] portraits done after his first coming into England, it is very apparent he had much studyed [de Troy's] manner' (ibid., 1.44, 3.29). In de Troy's Marie-Anne de Bourbon, Princesse de Conti (Musée des Augustins, Toulouse), we see the draperies with flickering highlights, ivory flesh tones, and an elegant sprightliness, all characteristics of Closterman's best early English work.

Doubtless Closterman and Tiburing went to England because of the death of Sir Peter Lely, principal painter to Charles IIVertue states that they came in 1681 (VertueNote books, 1.61). He also mentions Closterman's portrait of John Saunders, master of the Painter–Stainers' Company, London, dated 1680, implying that the painter may have arrived late in that year (ibid., 2.30; Rogers, no. 84). The picture survives, but is in poor condition. A signed pair of oval busts of an unknown man and woman of 1682 (ibid., nos. 109, 120) and the three-quarter-length Sir William Petty (c.1683; no. 76) show the impact of the dourness of late works by Lely.

Partnership with John Riley

Closterman went into partnership with John Riley: 'had not Riley died [in 1691] he [Closterman] might have been in debt & the other grown rich because Riley did 10 heads to one whole lenght. or two half lenghts. & for each head Closterman was only to have 30 shillings for the Drapery' (VertueNote books, 1.61). This garbled account seems improbable. Closterman knew the portraiture market, and later displayed a shrewd head for business. There are independent works by him through the 1680s; and in 1688–9 the painter Jacques Parmentier (1658–1730) did work (presumably drapery painting) for him (ibid., 3.46).

Yet the partnership seems confirmed by the composite character of portraits like the three-quarter-length of Katherine Elliott (d. 1688)—in the Royal Collection—described in a Queen Anne inventory as 'Ryley ye Head Closterman ye Drapery' (Millar, no. 331). Also in the Royal Collection is the remarkable full-length of another royal servant, Bridget Holmes (1686), waving a broom at a backstairs page-boy, who dodges behind a curtain. The humour recalls Dutch genre pictures. The Bridget Holmes bears a strengthened Riley ‘signature’, yet as Christopher Lloyd has noted: 'the drawing is unusually accurate for [Riley]' (Lloyd, no. 33). The figures have volume and weight and move easily in space whereas Riley's signed three-quarter-length portrait of a scullion (Christ Church, Oxford) shows a flat, cramped static figure. The Bridget Holmes also contains an urn with a relief of dancers borrowed from Polidoro da Caravaggio, and an unidentified relief of Roman soldiers on the plinth below it.

The composition, forms, learned allusions, and humour of the Bridget Holmes seem beyond Riley's powers. But they are found in Closterman's works, such as his mid-1680s full-length 1st Earl Poulett (Paul Mellon Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut; Rogers, no. 78). Dressed elegantly like the royal page, Closterman'ssmiling boy stands in a landscape, nonchalantly cradling a flint-lock musket, his dog at his side. The picture recalls Lely's Arcadian child portraiture, but Closterman uses contemporary dress. Yet the classical portico behind suggests that the painter also knew the mythological origin of hunting: 'Game and hounds are the invention of gods, of Apollo and Artemis' (Xenophon, 367).

Closterman's three-quarter-length John Dryden (priv. coll.) was painted about 1683. Behind the bulky, powerfully modelled, smiling sitter is a relief of Poetry being garlanded, an adaptation from Cesare Ripa's allegorical handbook Iconologia. The painting was engraved as a small illustration in a 1709 edition of Dryden's Virgil (nearly a decade after Dryden's death) as the work of Riley. But its quality, style, and learned accessories seem more consistent with Closterman.

Closterman's first piece 'that gain'd much Credit' was his three-quarter-length portrait of Grinling Gibbons, the woodcarver, and his wife, Elizabeth (VertueNote books, 1.61), now known only from John Smith's mezzotint (1691; Rogers, no. 38). It is a complex composition, with an elaborate curtain, dramatically foreshortened columns, and a relief of putti (whose meaning is enigmatic). Yet there is lively informality in the crossing diagonal poses of the sitters.

An oblong three-quarter-length (an unusual format) portrait of Mary Morrice, wife of Sir John Carew, bt (Antony House, Cornwall), presently attributed to Riley, is surely also by Closterman. The lighting, drapery forms, learned accessories, and diagonal pose recall the Gibbons portrait. Lady Carew leans on a draped funeral urn carved with cupids, one caressing a dog (symbol of faith); she grasps part of a cupid-and-dolphin (the latter a symbol of resurrection) fountain at the right. Her mourning posture and the images of consolation suggest that the portrait was commissioned after her husband's death in 1692.


The three-quarter-length portrait of Sir Christopher Wren (Royal Society, London) was once attributed to Riley. But its easy, dynamic composition, elegant drapery forms, firm modelling, and (again enigmatic) putto relief proclaim it as Closterman's work of the mid-1690s. Closterman's portrait of Henry Purcell is lost, but known from an engraving of 1698 and a powerful black chalk, life-size head study (NPG), the only identifiable drawing by Closterman. The large-scale head study was reintroduced into England by Kneller in the 1680s, and Closterman's use of this type shows contact with his studio. Both artists came from north Germany; and by 1692, symbolic of his new eminence, Closterman had moved into The Piazza, Covent Garden, where Kneller also rented a house from 1682 to 1703.

In 1689 Riley was nominated steward of the St Luke's Club feast, an occasion founded by Van Dyck 'for men of the highest character in Arts and Gentlemen Lovers of Art' (VertueNote books, 3.120) [see Society of the Virtuosi of St Luke]. But Riley 'then being much indisposed of an illness of which he died [March 1691; his place] was supplyd by his friend and companion Mr. John Closterman' (Vertue, BL, Add. MS 39167B, fol. 75).

Closterman inherited much of Riley's clientele, including Charles Seymour, sixth duke of Somerset, who, says Vertue, 'took Closterman with him [to auctions] to have his judgment on the pictures' (VertueNote books, 4.21). On Closterman's advice the duke bought a Guercino for 200 guineas 'when Guineas was raising [from 20] to 26 shillingsa piece'. When the picture was delivered the auctioneer demanded more money, which the duke refused to pay. Closterman himself bought the painting but Somerset 'became his greatest enemy and from him went to [Michael] Dahl'. Of the duke and his duchess (the latter with a child) Closterman painted full-lengths, and also a large, lively group portrait of their children (Petworth House, Sussex; Rogers, nos. 89, 90, 92). Although these works have been said to be of the mid-1690s, they must have been completed by 1694, the year the guinea peaked in value.

Of 1696 is Closterman's Children of John Taylor (NPG; Rogers, no. 97), a picture of rhythmic grace and ravishing colour: harmonies of green and gold, deep orange and silver, mauve and grey. The colour shows Closterman's French training but the composition reflects Van Dyck's Pembroke Family. The picture illustrates the family motto: 'Fame is sweeter than a white rose'. The oldest boy, Brook, is seated at the left (the heraldic right), being crowned by two sisters who hold trumpets of fame; another sister distributes white roses. Brook Taylor holds a recorder, doubtless an allusion to his grandfather Nathaniel Taylor, recorder (judge) of Chester. The Taylor group demonstrates the period's love of witty allegory, and Closterman's light-hearted brilliance at expressing it.

In 1699 Samuel Pepys named only two artists for his proposed gift of a picture of the mathematician Dr Wallis to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, 'Sir Godfry Kneller' and 'Cloysterman' (Letters and the Second Diary, 274). (In the event, Kneller was chosen.) Closterman's eminence in literary-artistic circles is further demonstrated by his subscription to Dryden's Virgil (1697). The 100 first subscribers, mostly nobility and gentry, paid 5 guineas, and each received the dedication of a plate inscribed with his name and arms. Plate 85 was dedicated to 'Mr John Closterman'; his ‘arms’ (which also appear on his 1702 bookplate; Franks Collection, BM) show a unicorn rampant. They were perhaps ‘canting’ arms, wittily alluding to the painter's name and place of birth. Closterman (literally cloistered man) is close to the word Closterbruder, German for monk, whose vow of chastity would make the unicorn an appropriate emblem. Yet the unicorn, save for its horn, recalls the heraldic white horse of Hanover. Kneller was the only other artist who was a first subscriber. Both were ‘gatherers’ of second subscribers, being indebted to Dryden for publishing his Parallel between Painting and Poetry together with his own translation of Roger De Piles's French version of C.-A. Du Fresnoy's De arte graphica in 1695. Second subscribers paid 2 guineas and just had their names listed.

Visit to Spain and Italy

According to Vertue, 'having a desire further to distinguish himself in the Art [Closterman] went to Spain' (VertueNote books, 2.139), the first artist from England to go there. He is documented in Madrid between November 1698 and April 1699 in letters from his host, the British resident, the Hon. Alexander Stanhope, to his son James, afterwards Earl Stanhope (Stewart, John and John Baptist Closterman, 307). (As 'Col. J. Stanhope' he was a second subscriber to Dryden's Virgil.) As a present for JamesClosterman painted the father, full-length in Spanish court dress, with a page (compositionally a re-working of the Bridget Holmes). Through the resident Clostermangained introduction to court, where he painted, in competition with Luca Giordano, a dwarf, and full-lengths of Carlos II and his queen, Maria Aña of Neuberg, 'in a rich hunting dress, a gun in her hand', a present for his host . Sadly only the portrait of Alexander Stanhope survives (Chevening, Kent). Also missing are letters which Closterman wrote to Richard Graham 'concerning paintings in Spanish palaces' (VertueNote books, 5.61).

From Madrid Closterman travelled to Rome, stopping at Florence, where he wrote on 19 August 1699 to Lord Ashley, a friend of James Stanhope's, and also a second subscriber to Dryden's VirgilAshley had asked Closterman to obtain statues of virtues for a monument, probably to his grandfather, the first earl of ShaftesburyClosterman said that he had been unable to find anyone 'in all Lombardy … for your purpose' because 'the[y] all want drawing'. However, he hoped to be in Rome 'the first of october where I shall in mediatly see for a master for your ocasion … I hope to stay in rome six mounths and to see them [the statues] done' (O'Connell, 159).

Closterman wrote to Lord Ashley again from Rome ('where I did long for these manny years'), enclosing drawings of Prudence and Justice by the sculptor Domenico Giudi, but was lukewarm about them. The painter confessed that 'my eyes see so many noble things of the ancients that I cant like nothing else', although he was also enthusiastic about Bernini's works. Ashley had evidently written 'his thoughts for a family pictor, and that I shall perform it as sune I come home … and to goe into the contry is better still then we shall have howly our thought together' (Wind, 67–8).

In Rome, Closterman met the leading painter Carlo Maratta (perhaps through Kneller, who had studied with him in the 1670s) and painted Maratta's portrait (Richard Graham's sale, 6 March 1712; Rogers, no. 63). Closterman gained access to Maratta'sdrawings collection, which included 1800 sheets by Domenichino (then considered to be a second Raphael) and drawings by the Carracci and Raphael himself. Furthermore, Closterman negotiated the purchase of this remarkable collection for a deposit of 1000 scudi, and 4000 scudi on receipt of the drawings. By a dramatic avviso (28 April 1703) Pope Clement XI (Albani) bought the drawings himself, refunding the deposit to the 'inglese'. Houbraken told the story in 1718, stating that Closterman was acting for an 'English Lord' (probably either the second duke of Devonshire or Lord SomersHoubraken, 2.236–7); Jonathan Richardson also published an account in 1724. Despite his failure Closterman deserves great credit for his enterprise in furthering the taste for old master drawings, then still relatively novel in England. In 1762 James Adamsbought the Albani collection for George III, since when it has been one of the great jewels of the Royal Collection.

John Closterman is recorded on 23 July 1700 in the day book of the third earl of Shaftesbury (as Lord Ashley had become in November 1699) at his Dorset estate, Wimborne St Giles. Vertue says that Closterman:

went to Italy returned to England brought over several fine pictures. & went again to Italy. & made an additional Collection to his Pictures. came back & livd with great splendor at his house in Covent Garden haveing improvd his Fortune <considerably>.

Vertue, Note books, 2.139–40

Closterman's second Italian trip is confirmed by an auction catalogue of a sale of eighty-nine lots of pictures on 26 December 1702 at the painter's house in Covent Garden. Had Closterman brought the pictures from Rome in 1700, it is inconceivable that he would have waited for nearly two years to sell them. To obtain the latter collection of pictures, he must have gone to Rome again, probably in the summer of that year.

Later works

John Closterman was doubtless at Lord Shaftesbury's Dorset estate in July 1700 to paint the 'family pictor' referred to in the painter's letter from Rome, a double full-length portrait of the earl and his brother Maurice (NPG; Rogers, no. 86) dressed in neo-Greek tunics and caps. The brothers' pose derives from the Hellenistic sculpture of Castor and Pollux (mythical twins of transcendent virtue), now in the Prado, Madrid, but then in the Odeschalchi collection, Rome.

Closterman also painted separate full-lengths of Lord Shaftesbury and his brother (priv. coll.; Rogers, nos. 87, 5). The earl in a gown, representing contemplative life, holds a book; Maurice (active life) appears in a landscape, flintlock in hand, with a groom below holding a horse. The portraits are linked by a figure behind Shaftesburycarrying the peer's parliamentary robes, illustrating the Neoplatonic doctrine that 'active righteousness is only the prerequisite of contemplative illumination' (E. PanofskyStudies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance, 1962, 192). The robes may commemorate a rapid journey to London which the earl made in February 1701 to vote on the second partition treaty. Shaftesbury leans on a plinth on which are more volumes, two labelled Plato, and another Xenophon, who wrote treatises in praise of hunting (noted above), but also on horsemanship and statesmanship (the Cyropodeia, which Maurice had translated). The twin portraits develop a theme begun in England with Van Dyck's Lords Digby and Russell (also indebted to the Castor and Pollux) which Closterman must have known.

Another picture, also possibly painted for Lord Shaftesbury, is the three-quarter-length Lady Ashe as St Cecilia (priv. coll.; Rogers, no. 4), startling in its grisaille colouring—sober greys and browns, subtly relieved by pinks. Vertue says that 'about the beginning of Queen Annes Reign [Closterman] lost him self much; especially as to colouring. for from a strong lively manner. he fell into a grey uncertain colour entirely disagreeable' (VertueNote books, 3.29). Actually Closterman was following Pliny the younger's doctrine of a restricted palette—an idea cited with approval in the seventeenth century by JuniusKneller, and Lord Shaftesbury, and later by Benjamin Haydon. Yet among English baroque painters, only Closterman seems to have applied the doctrine consistently throughout a whole painting.

In his fourth treatise Shaftesbury revealed his unbounded enthusiasm for Closterman. He dismissed the 'face painter … (as CooperSir Godfrey KnellerRiley, etc.)', because the patron (supposedly) saw everything—'nothing when their back is turned':

But when a subject is given to a real painter, a heroic great subject: Good heavens! what toil! What study! … What restless nights! What … rabiosa silentia[mad silences]! Here remember what said of MichelangeloDomenichino … so my painter [Closterman] going into his picture when in the dark and standing long before it.

Shaftesbury, Second Characters 131–2

Vertue says that:

being a Man of great Ambition. [Closterman] was by some disgust against Sir G Kneller. sett up by a party of his [Closterman's] Freinds in Oppossition. & recommended to … Queen [Anne]—<at Guildhall a large Picture painted by him> the Duke of Marlbro' <a large Picture on Horseback with Aligroriall figures> whose pictures he drew & many other people of Quality.

Vertue, Note books, 2.139

The London Guildhall commission was won in May 1702 in competition with four other painters, including Kneller and Jonathan Richardson. Perhaps because of Closterman'ssecond Italian trip, the painting was not delivered until February 1703 (Stewart, John and John Baptist Closterman, 308–9). It is known only from a three-quarter-length studio version (NPG) and John Faber junior's mezzotint. From these it seems to have been a stiff, even clumsy composition, showing the queen standing in robes, holding the sceptre and orb. Yet it impressed the Dutch painter J. C. Weyerman, who was in England in 1709 and later wrote enthusiastically that the viewer 'heard the golden fabrics and other costly silk stuffs crackle' (Weyerman, 3.190).

In October 1703 Kneller nearly lost another commission to Closterman. The diarist Luttrell noted that the archduke Charles was visiting and 'Mr. Closterman, the famous picture-drawer, is goeing to Portsmouth to take his picture' (Stewart, John and John Baptist Closterman, 309). In the event the archduke sat to Kneller (the portrait is in the Royal Collection), but the fact that it could even be mooted that this distinguished visitor would be painted by anyone other than the principal painter shows the seriousness of Closterman's rivalry.

The equestrian Duke of Marlborough cited by Vertue was engraved (head and shoulders only) with the date 1705 and is now at the Chelsea Royal Hospital, London, having been given first in 1852 to the London Drapers' Company by 'Mr William Lyle', when it was stated to have been painted for 'a Duke of Buckingham' (Rogers, no. 66). Perhaps this was the second duke of Buckingham and Chandos (son of a daughter of the last duke of Chandos) who went bankrupt in 1848 and sold many of his possessions at Stowe. The 1725 inventory of Cannons, the Chandos house, lists only one picture on the staircase wall, 'the Duke of Marlborough by Closterman' (SimonEnglish Baroque Sketches), almost certainly the equestrian portrait.

The design of the Marlborough derives partly from Rubens's George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (owned by Closterman's client Sir Francis Child) though vertical, rather than horizontal, and more open and airy. The colour, much of it pale, anticipates the rococo, although the handling of paint has none of the brilliance of Kneller's at this date. Above at the right of Marlborough flies Fame; directly above him is an eagle with a laurel wreath; at the left is Victory, extending a palm to the duke and a profile medallion of Queen Anne. The last motif was a French practice, known as le portrait en tableau (a portrait in a painting).

About 1705 Closterman painted the Unknown Hunter (priv. coll.; Wilton, no. 22), a full-length wrongly inscribed as by Kneller, and representing the duke of Marlborough. The design is a reworking of the portrait of Maurice Shaftesbury, but the pose is more energetic and the lighting more dramatic. The sublime, wild, brightly lit rocky scenery derives from Salvator Rosa, whom Closterman had copied in Italy for Sir John Cropley. Similar rocky backgrounds occur in Closterman's Duke of Argyll (1704; priv. coll.) and another three-quarter-length, of about the same date, identified as his work only towards the end of the twentieth century, probably representing Sir Richard Temple, afterwards Lord Cobham (Fairfax House, York).

The enthusiasm for Rosa may have been inspired by Henry Cooke (c.1642–1700), who had been Rosa's pupil. Cooke made his 'loveing friend John Closterman' an executor of his will; Closterman in turn named Henry Cooke junior an executor of his own will. Closterman's sale in 1702 included three Rosas, two of which, nos. 17 and 26, because of the subjects and sizes, are almost certainly the Drunkenness of Noah (priv. coll.; Salerno, no. 223) and Landscape with Bathers (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut; Salerno, no. 147). In furthering the taste for RosaClosterman was again in the van; Rosa was to become extremely popular with English collectors as the century progressed.

On 6 August 1705 Closterman advertised that:

being obliged at Christmas next to go to Hanover, and afterwards to several Courts of Germany; so that it is uncertain whether he will ever return to England. Such Persons of Quality and others, as have lately sat to him, are desired to take notice, that their pictures will be finished out of hand, and deliver'd as they shall best please to order them.Daily Courant, 6 Aug 1705Ashton, 281

In April 1706 Closterman advertised again that he, 'being oblig'd to leave England very suddenly, will sell all his pictures by Auction'.

Closterman's decision to go to Hanover may have been connected with events there. In August 1705 the duke of Celle died, his heir being his nephew George Louis, the elector prince of Hanover, whose increased income led to further artistic patronage. As a Hanoverian, Closterman may have hoped for a share of this. Whether he went, and for how long, is unknown.

However, Closterman did paint Richard Newdegate, who had died aged less than a year on 18 March 1706. The child is shown at length, asleep on a cushion, with angels' heads above (priv. coll.; Rogers, no. 71). The design appears to derive from an engraving by Pieter Jode the younger, after Artemisia Gentileschi's Child Sleeping (Bissell, fig. 113).

In 1708 Closterman acted again as steward for the St Luke's Club feast (Vertue, BL, Add. MS 39167, fol. 75v). One of Closterman's latest datable pictures is a portrait of Mathew Prior (priv. coll.), presently called School of Kneller. It is a sombre-coloured yet boldly lit work, showing the poet in cap and open-necked shirt, with his hand on an upright volume labelled 'PRIOR', presumably his Poems on Several Occasions (1709). He continued his picture-dealing career, advertising a sale for as late as 28 February 1711 (Ashton, 281).


Closterman's last days were tragic, something hinted at by Vertue: 'sometime before he died he was a little delirious & <not rightly in his senses>' (VertueNote books, 2.140). Closterman had buried his wife, Hannah, on 27 January 1702. Later, according to J. C. Weyerman, he took a beautiful mistress who, while he was away in the country, robbed him of his valuables and disappeared, actions which drove the painter into madness. He was buried in St Paul's Church, Covent Garden, on 24 May 1711. His will of 19 August 1710 was probated on 11 June 1711. It shows that he had a sister 'Margareta Catherina Gruter', wife of his 'Servant' (assistant) 'Philipus ffranciscus fferdinandus Gruter'. Probably the Gruters lived in the Closterman house in Covent Garden. Another sister, 'Anna Maria Muino', was 'liveing at the Hague' (Stewart, John and John Baptist Closterman, 306). John Closterman left his assistant £100 and each sister £500, the residue of the estate going to his brother John Baptist Closterman (b. 1656?d. in or after 1713), painter.

John Baptist Closterman is known from two full-lengths, 1st Duke of Rutland (c.1703), signed ‘J. Baptist Closterman’, and the portrait of the second duke, signed 'J. Baptista Closterman, Pinxit Ano 1703' (both priv. coll.). The draperies of the former are painted in a coarsened version of John Closterman's style, and neither shows the sense of structure or handling of space seen in John Closterman's work. John Baptist was clearly a very inferior painter.

Several other documents mention John Baptist Closterman, the earliest recording him in July 1700, with his brother, at Wimborne St Giles. With Margaret, his wife, he had a daughter, Catherine, who was baptized at St Paul's, Covent Garden, on 15 November 1711. The month before, in Amsterdam, Egbert and Abraham Edens, art dealers, were instructed by 'Jan Baptiste Closterman painter' of London to go to the house of Matheus Crackau, open some boxes left there for safe keeping by 'Mons. Frans de Gruter also painter at London', and make a list of the contents (Bredius). The pictures listed are mostly copies after Poussin and Jacques Courtois, known as Borgognone, and Closterman portraits. The latter included a copy of a portrait of the 'dead Closterman'. This was perhaps after one of the self-portraits recorded by Vertue: 'Mr John Closterman his picture painted by himself in the hands of Mr. Cope. Another in possession of Mr. Tiburin' (VertueNote books, 1.29). No portrait of either brother is known to have survived.


John Closterman's tragic end presaged that of his reputation. For over 250 years his identity and œuvre were conflated with those of his brother. John Closterman's early partnership with John Riley further confused the situation. From late twentieth-century research it is clear that John Closterman was an extremely fine painter, with considerable range. The 1st Earl Poulett, the Shaftesbury portraits, and the Unknown Hunter are equal to Kneller's best full-lengths. The Chelsea Duke of Marlborough is the only equestrian portrait of the period to rival Kneller's, while Closterman's Children of John Taylor is undoubtedly the finest group portrait of the period. Closterman also deserves recognition for his enterprise as an art dealer, especially for furthering an English taste for Salvator Rosa, and for his near acquisition of the Maratta drawings collection.


  • J. Douglas Stewart  DNB