John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

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The Duke of Marlborough in the regalia of the Order of the Garter, portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller , c. 1705.

Churchill's signature:Signature John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.PNG

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Prince of Mindelheim, KG , PC (born May 26, 1650 in Ash , Devonshire , † June 16, 1722 in Cranbourn Lodge , Berkshire ) was an English general in the War of the Spanish Succession and the first Duke of Marlborough .



His father was Sir Winston Churchill († 1688), landlord of Glanville Wotton in Dorset , who had fought for Charles I in the Civil War and was therefore robbed of his property by Cromwell and driven into exile. From the marriage of Winston and Elisabeth Drake († 1690) came several children, including John and Arabella Churchill . John was probably born on the Ash estate in Musbury parish , Devonshire, and received his first lessons from the local chaplain, who taught him the foundation of his Protestant faith, and he also learned early on in Latin and French. From 1662 to 1665 he attended St Paul's School in London .

Ascent at the royal court

After his sister Arabella became the favorite of the Duke of York , later King James II , in 1665 , she got her 15-year-old brother the job of a page at his court. In 1666 he volunteered with the English fleet against the Moors in Tangier . Soon after returning to England, he aroused the interest of Charles II's mistress at the time , Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine , who later became the 1st Duchess of Cleveland . To keep this competitor from the Countess at a distance, the King gave him a post in the Guard.

Early military career

The family of the Duke of Marlborough, to the left of the Duke Elizabeth and Mary, the Duchess Sarah, Henrietta, Anne and John Churchill

John Churchill's real military career began in 1667 when he joined the Guard. In 1672 he was promoted to captain, on June 7, 1672 he took part in the naval battle of Solebay on board the flagship Price Royal . In the French campaigns from 1672 to 1677 in the Netherlands, he accompanied the allied French armies to the gates of Amsterdam , the struggle for survival of the united Netherlands later brought him great military experience in the art of siege. During the siege of Nijmegen and the following year off Maastricht , his skills were already evident. Appointed Colonel of the French Army on April 13, 1674, he commanded an English regiment on the Upper Rhine. Under his French teacher, Marshal Turenne , he fought in the battle of Sinsheim (June 1674), Enzheim in October and Türkheim in January 1675. On January 5, 1675, Churchill was promoted to lieutenant colonel in Colonel Charles Lyttleton's regiment . On August 12 of the same year he was sent to Paris on his first diplomatic mission. On February 17, 1678, John Churchill rose to become a real colonel in the English army.

At the turn of the year from 1677 to 1678 he married Sarah Jennings , who as a lady in waiting was a close friend of the future Queen Anne . Sarah (1660-1744) was born the daughter of MP Richard Jenyns of Sandridge and his wife Frances Thornhurst. On December 21, 1682, King Charles II raised him to Lord Churchill of Eyemouth , of Eyemouth in the County of Berwick, in the Peerage of Scotland .

Under King James II , Churchill became Brigade General in 1685 . When the Monmouth Rebellion was put down in June 1685, he was instrumental in the Battle of Sedgemoor . In gratitude for this he was promoted to major general on July 3, and the king elevated him to Baron Churchill of Sandridge , of Sandridge in the County of Hertford, in the Peerage of England on May 14, 1685 . Between 1685 and 1692 he achieved further high income as the third governor of the Hudson's Bay Company .

Churchill, along with the Duke of Grafton and other officers, had gone over to the side of the Prince of Orange during the Glorious Revolution , who landed in England in November 1688 by mutual agreement. On December 20, 1688, he signed an act of association in favor of Orange and was then appointed lieutenant general. He explained to the new ruler Wilhelm III. of Orange his loyalty and this elevated him on April 9, 1689 to Earl of Marlborough . A necessary reorganization of the English army took place under the direction of Marshall von Schomberg . In May 1689, war was declared on France , with Marlborough's troops subordinate to the allied army under the command of the Prince of Waldeck . On August 25, 1689, the 8,000-strong English contingent played a key role in the victory over the French at the Battle of Walcourt . After Wilhelm's victory in the Battle of the Boyne , Marlborough forced the surrender of the fortified port of Cork in his first independent field command in September 1691 . Because Churchill continued to have written contact with King James II, he fell out of favor with the new ruler from January 1692, and from May 4 to June 15, 1692 he even had to stay in the Tower of London . In 1695, after the death of Queen Mary, an agreement was reached between William of Orange and the designated heir to the throne, Anna Stuart. Sarah and John Churchill worked on Anna to give up her right to the throne in favor of Wilhelm, if Maria died before him. In doing so, they secured Wilhelm the crown for life and ensured political stability. It was not until June 16, 1698, that Marlborough was rehabilitated by the King and reinstated as a member of the Privy Council .

In the War of the Spanish Succession

After the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession , Marlborough was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the English troops on May 31, 1701. On June 28th, because of his great diplomatic skills, he was appointed Ambassador to the United Provinces. In July 1701, his efforts brought about a new grand coalition with the States General and the Emperor against Louis XIV. When Queen Anne ascended the throne in March 1702, the renewed rise of Churchill began, he received the supreme command of the united land forces in the Netherlands against the French and was accepted into the Order of the Garter on May 14th . On his recommendation, Sidney Godolphin was appointed by the Queen to the Treasury , this time as Lord High Treasurer . The first campaign on the mainland, which found its first coronation with the siege of Kaiserswerth (1702) , earned him the English titles Duke of Marlborough and Marquess of Blandford on December 14, 1702 . At the beginning of the campaign of 1703 he received news of the death of his 17-year-old son John Churchill, who died of an illness on March 20th.

Campaign on the Danube

At the beginning of the campaign of 1704, the main armies of the enemy on both sides of the Dutch border found themselves in an untenable stalemate. At the same time, a second strong Franco-Bavarian army threatened Vienna , the capital of the emperor, who was allied with the Netherlands and England. On May 20, 1704, 21,000 men set out under the command of Marlborough and marched south. This was followed by the march of the English from the Dutch border to the Danube , which was significant in military history . Not only the British fought in this army, but also the Dutch, as well as the Danes and Germans who were paid for by the sea powers. By almost completely exposing the defense of the Netherlands, Marlborough first moved south along the Rhine with the bulk of the army and by skillful maneuvering could leave the French enemy in the dark for a long time about his real goal - the relief of the threatened emperor - he forced the French armies, for the most part, to follow his route at a certain distance so that they could not take any initiative on the Dutch border. The army reached Heidelberg via Cologne , Koblenz , Mainz and Darmstadt . On June 29th, the Danube was crossed near Ulm , after having united with the troops of Margrave Ludwig Wilhelm von Baden shortly before . Churchill's march on the Danube is still regarded today as a prime example of clever strategy with which even a numerically clearly superior opponent can be defeated. On July 2, after the Battle of Schellenberg , he forced the Danube crossing and achieved union with the imperial army under Prince Eugene of Savoy , who became a reliable ally and personal friend for the next few years.

Together with the imperial army, Marlborough was able to defeat the united French and Bavarians under Marshals Tallard and Marsin on August 13, 1704 in the Battle of Höchstädt (English Battle of Blenheim ). From then on Churchill was considered a hero of the fatherland. As a thank you, Queen Anne gave him a large piece of land in Woodstock , near Oxford, as well as the necessary means to build a befitting house. The donation was linked to the condition that a replica flag of the defeated French troops would be sent to the royal family on each anniversary of the battle. A monument of grandeur and strength emerged, Blenheim Palace , designed by England's most influential Baroque architect, John Vanbrugh . The tradition of sending flags still exists today. Allegedly the Dukes of Marlborough's ownership of the park and Blenheim Castle is still based solely on following this tradition, so that even today's successors to John Churchill could lose their lands to the British Crown if they should forget the flag.

Campaign years 1705 to 1712

Depiction of the Battle of Malplaquet, 1709

The campaign of 1705 was less successful, a planned connection to the imperial contingents on the Moselle did not succeed. For his previous service in the War of the Spanish Succession, he was elevated to imperial prince by the Roman-German Emperor Leopold I on April 28, 1704 , and on November 18, 1705, he was transferred to rule over the newly created Principality of Mindelheim . Before it fell back to the Electorate of Bavaria in 1714, it was given the Principality of Nellenburg instead .

In the campaign of 1706 he defeated the French in the battle of Ramillies . This victory forced the withdrawal of the French from the Spanish Netherlands, giving up the cities of Bruges , Antwerp and Ghent and secured the existence of the Spanish Netherlands .

In the campaign of 1708, which again took place in close cooperation with the imperial family under Prince Eugene, victory in the battle of Oudenaarde on July 11th was achieved and the siege of Lille was initiated. The fortress surrendered on December 11, 1708.

In the campaign of 1709, the advance via Mons on Paris was planned, together with Prince Eugene followed on September 11, 1709 at Malplaquet a new victory over the French, which was paid for with heavy losses on both sides. In the war year 1711, the Duke of Marlborough pushed the French under Marshal Villars of Cambrai and captured Bouchain . When Emperor Joseph I died unexpectedly on April 17, 1711 , British policy changed radically. The war itself had now lost its meaningfulness, and, despite great successes, France's military power could not be permanently broken. The free-fought States General were divided, the opposition in England believed that they could no longer gain anything by continuing the war and were already seeking secret negotiations with Louis XIV.

Descent and end of life

The Queen's break with Sarah Jennings ushered in the decline of Marlborough. Though a fan of the Tories himself , the almighty treasurer Godolphin was instrumental in bringing the Whigs to supremacy in league with Marlborough. On August 7, 1710, however, the queen pushed Godolphin's power out of office. The election victory of the Tories in 1710 meant that Churchill had to give up his political offices and went to Hanover in 1711 . At the end of 1711, the Duke was recalled as military commander in chief on the continent and replaced by the Duke of Ormonde in January 1712 .

After the political change, Marlborough received its offices back in 1714 under the reign of King George I and the Whigs . On April 15, 1716, his second daughter, Anna, Countess of Sunderland, died of pneumonia. On May 28, 1716, Marlborough himself was struck by a stroke that for a time deprived him of the ability to speak. Although he recovered after a cure in Bath , his will to live was completely broken after the death of another daughter Mary, Duchess of Montagu, on May 14, 1719 at the latest.

Because of the feared loss of his intellectual powers, he submitted through his son-in-law Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, a request for dismissal from all his offices, which was granted by the new king. On November 27, 1721 he appeared again in the upper house of parliament. In June 1722 he died after another stroke, now completely paralyzed at Cranbourn Lodge. He was first buried in Westminster Abbey , but later reburied in a mausoleum in the chapel of Blenheim Palace.

Due to a special inheritance regulation passed by the English parliament on December 21, 1706 , his English nobility titles were also hereditary in the female line due to the lack of male descendants and fell to his eldest daughter Henrietta as 2nd duchess on his death . His Scottish and German titles expired for lack of a male heir.

Marlborough was an ancestor of the future British Prime Minister and Nobel Prize for Literature Sir Winston Churchill , who also wrote a biography of him. Also include Diana and Prince William to his descendants.


An indirect tribute is the French mockery song Malbrough s'en va-t-en guerre , written after the battle of Malplaquet in 1709, when the news spread in France that the successful British general had fallen.

The city of Churchill (Manitoba) with Churchill Lake (Saskatchewan) and the Churchill River (Hudson Bay) are named after him .


Web links

Commons : John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Francis Joseph McDonnell: A history of St. Paul's School. Chapman and Hall, London 1909, p. 228.
  2. ^ William Arthur Shaw: The Knights of England. Volume 1, Sherratt and Hughes, London 1906, p. 40.
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica . Volume 17, p. 739.
predecessor Office successor
James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth Commander in Chief of the British Army
Meinhard von Schomberg
New title created Lord Churchill of Eyemouth
Title expired
New title created Baron Churchill of Sandridge
Henrietta Churchill
New title created Earl of Marlborough
Henrietta Churchill
New title created Duke of Marlborough
Henrietta Churchill
New title created Prince of Mindelheim
Title expired
New title created Prince of Nellenburg
Title expired