Portrait of John Churchill (1650-1722), 1st Duke of Marlborough (1702), Earl of Marlborough (1689), Prince of Mindelheim (1705-1714), First Lord of the Treasury (1702-1710), Commander-in-Chief of the Forces (1690-1691; 1702-1708), Captain-General of the British Army (1702-1711; 1714-1717), Master-General of the Ordnance (1702-1712; 1714-1722)
General John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1st Prince of Mindelheim, 1st Count of Nellenburg, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire (26 May 1650 – 16 June 1722), was an English soldier and statesman whose career spanned the reigns of five monarchs. From a gentry family, he served first as a page at the court of the House of Stuart under 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, but he was a key player in the military conspiracy that led to James being deposed during the Glorious Revolution. Rewarded by William III with the title Earl of Marlborough, persistent charges of Jacobitism led to his fall from office and temporary imprisonment in the Tower of London. William recognised his abilities by appointing him as his deputy in Flanders before the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701 but it was not until the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 that he secured his fame and fortune. Marriage to Sarah Jennings and her relationship with Anne ensured Marlborough's rise, first to the Captain-Generalcy of British forces, then to a dukedom. As de facto leader of Allied forces in the Low Countries, his victories at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709), ensured his place in history as one of Europe's great generals. 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 was forced from office and went into self-imposed exile. He returned to favour with the accession of George I to the British throne in 1714, but a stroke in 1716 ended his active career. Marlborough's leadership of the Allied armies fighting Louis XIV from 1701 to 1710 consolidated Britain's emergence as a front-rank power, while his ability to maintain unity in the fractious coalition demonstrated his diplomatic skills. He is often remembered by military historians as much for his organisational and logistic skills as tactical abilities. However, he was also instrumental in moving away from the siege warfare that dominated the Nine Years' War, arguing one battle was worth ten sieges. John Churchill is also the ancestor of the 20th-century British prime minister Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill was the second but oldest surviving son of Sir Winston Churchill (1620–1688) of Glanvilles Wootton, Dorset and Elizabeth Drake, whose family came from Ash, in Devon. Winston served with the Royalist Army in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms; he was heavily fined for doing so, forcing his family to live at Ash House with his mother-in-law. Only five of their children survived infancy: Arabella (1648-1730), who was the eldest; followed by John; George (1654-1710); and Charles (1654-1714). Another brother, Theobald, died in 1685. After the 1660 Restoration of Charles II, Winston became Member of parliament for Weymouth and from 1662 served as Commissioner for Irish Land Claims in Dublin. On returning to London in 1663, he was knighted and received a position at Whitehall, with John attending St Paul's School. The family fortune was made in 1665 when Arabella Churchill became maid of honour to Anne Hyde and began an affair with her husband, James, then Duke of York. This lasted over a decade and James had four acknowledged children by her, including the Duke of Berwick (1670-1734). Their relationship led to appointments for her brothers; John was appointed page to James and in September 1667 made an ensign in the Foot Guards. Claims Churchill served with the Tangier Garrison cannot be confirmed but he is recorded as being with Sir Thomas Allin in the Mediterranean from March to November 1670. He returned to London, where in February 1671 he engaged in a duel with Sir John Fenwick. He allegedly had an affair with Barbara Villiers, also a mistress of Charles II and may have fathered her daughter, Barbara Fitzroy, although he never formally acknowledged her.
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