John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough : biography
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Prince of Mindelheim, KG, PC ( often ; 26 May 1650 – 16 June 1722 O.S), was an English soldier and statesman whose career spanned the reigns of five monarchs. Rising from a lowly page at the court of the House of Stuart, he served James, Duke of York, through the 1670s and early 1680s, earning military and political advancement through his courage and diplomatic skill. Churchill's role in defeating the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 helped secure James on the throne, yet just three years later he abandoned his Catholic patron for the Protestant Dutchman, William of Orange. Honoured for his services at William's coronation with the earldom of Marlborough, he served with further distinction in the early years of the Nine Years' War, but persistent charges of Jacobitism brought about his fall from office and temporary imprisonment in the Tower. It was not until the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 that Marlborough reached the zenith of his powers and secured his fame and fortune.
His marriage to the hot-tempered Sarah Jennings – Anne's intimate friend – ensured Marlborough's rise, first to the Captain-Generalcy of British forces, then to a dukedom. Becoming de facto leader of Allied forces during the War of the Spanish Succession, his victories on the fields of Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709), ensured his place in history as one of Europe's great generals. But his wife's stormy relationship with the Queen, and her subsequent dismissal from court, was central to his own fall. Incurring Anne's disfavour, and caught between Tory and Whig factions, Marlborough, who had brought glory and success to Anne's reign, was forced from office and went into self-imposed exile. He returned to England and to influence under the House of Hanover with the accession of George I to the British throne in 1714.
Marlborough's insatiable ambition made him the richest of all Anne's subjects. His family connections wove him into the fabric of European politics (his sister Arabella became James II's mistress, and their son, the Duke of Berwick, emerged as one of Louis XIV's greatest Marshals).
His leadership of the allied armies consolidated Britain's emergence as a front-rank power. He successfully maintained unity among the allies, thereby demonstrating his diplomatic skills. Throughout ten consecutive campaigns during the Spanish Succession war Marlborough held together a discordant coalition through his sheer force of personality and raised the standing of British arms to a level not known since the Middle Ages. Although in the end he could not compel total capitulation from his enemies, his victories allowed Britain to rise from a minor to a major power, ensuring the country's growing prosperity throughout the 18th century.
Later life (1700–22)
War of the Spanish Succession
With the death of the infirm and childless King Charles II of Spain on 1 November 1700, the succession of the Spanish throne, and subsequent control over her empire, once again embroiled Europe in war – the War of the Spanish Succession. On his deathbed Charles II had bequeathed his domains to Louis XIV's grandson, Philip, Duc d'Anjou. This threatened to unite the Spanish and French kingdoms under the House of Bourbon – something unacceptable to England, the Dutch Republic and the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, who had himself a claim to the Spanish throne. With William's health deteriorating (himself estimating he had but a short time to live), and with the Earl's undoubted influence over his successor Princess Anne, the King decided that Marlborough should take centre stage in European affairs. Representing William III in The Hague as Ambassador-Extraordinary and as commander of English forces, Marlborough was tasked to negotiate a new coalition to oppose France and Spain.Holmes: Marlborough: England's Fragile Genius, 192–93
On 7 September 1701, the Treaty of the Second Grand Alliance was duly signed by England, the Emperor, and the Dutch Republic to thwart the ambitions of Louis XIV and stem Bourbon power.Gregg: Queen Anne, 126: Marlborough was also to settle the number of soldiers and sailors each coalition partner was to contribute, and supervise the organisation and supply of these troops. In these matters he was ably assisted by Adam Cardonnel and William Cadogan. However, William was not to see England's declaration of war. On 8 March 1702 (O.S.) the King, already in a poor state of health, died from injuries sustained in a riding accident, leaving his sister-in-law, Anne, to be immediately proclaimed as his successor. Although the King's death occasioned instant disarray amongst the coalition, Count Wratislaw was able to report that – "The greatest consolation in this confusion is that Marlborough is fully informed of the whole position and by reason of his credit with the Queen can do everything."Barnett: Marlborough, 24 This 'credit with the Queen' also proved personally profitable to her long-standing friends. Anxious to reward Marlborough for his diplomatic and martial skills in Ireland and on the Continent, Anne made him the Master-General of the Ordnance – an office he had long desired – a Knight of the Garter and Captain-General of her armies at home and abroad. With Lady Marlborough's advancements as Groom of the Stole, Mistress of the Robes, and Keeper of the Privy Purse, the Marlboroughs, now at the height of their powers with the Queen, enjoyed a joint annual income of over £60,000, and unrivalled influence at court.Gregg: Queen Anne, 153. £ in today's money.
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