Churchill, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (1660 -1744)

Sarah, the future Duchess of Marlborough, and close friend of Queen Anne, was the daughter of Richard Jennings (or Jenyns), a Member of Parliament, and Frances Thornhurst. In 1673 she entered court as a maid of honour to James, Duke of York’s second wife, Mary of Modena, and became acquainted with Princess Anne, whose mother, Anne Hyde, James first wife, had died in 1671. In 1673 Sarah, when only fifteen, met John Churchill, ten years her senior, and in 1677, because of their families’ opposition to the match, married in secret. When Sarah became pregnant the marriage was announced publically, and she retired from the court. The child, a daughter, died in infancy. During the Popish Plot, James exiled himself to Scotland, taking with him John Churchill and Sarah. Because of their loyalty, Charles II rewarded John with the Barony of Eyemouth in Scotland, while Sarah was appointed a Lady to the Bedchamber to Anne after her marriage to Prince George of Denmark in 1683. In 1685 James ascended the throne. In 1688 after the birth of a Catholic heir, John Churchill changed allegiances, and approved of the plan to invite William of Orange to invade England and seize the throne. With William and Mary now on the throne, John was rewarded with an earldom, becoming the first Earl of Marlborough, but Mary demanded Anne to dismiss Sarah. Anne’s refusal opened up a large rift between herself and Mary that never healed. Sarah was responsible for gaining for Anne a Parliamentary annuity under William and Mary. When Mary died from smallpox in 1694, William restored Anne to the accession. In 1702 William III died, and Anne became Queen. John Churchill was offered a dukedom with annuities. Sarah was created Mistress of the Robes–the highest office in the royal court that could be held by a woman. Sarah's frankness and indifference for rank, so admired by Anne earlier in their friendship, was now seen to be intrusive. Anne was a Tory, and Sarah was a Whig, known as the party which supported Marlborough's wars. The Queen did not want this difference to come between them; but Sarah, always thinking of her husband, wanted Anne to give more support to the Whigs, which she was not prepared to do. In 1708 on the death of Anne’s husband, Prince George of Denmark, Sarah displayed insufficient grief, which greatly added to the strain on their relationship. In her role as advisorand confidant to Anne, she was replaced by Abigail Masham, who was flattering, subtle and retiring - the complete opposite of Sarah, who was dominating, blunt and scathing. Abigail was also the cousin of Robert Harley, Earl of Oxford, a prominent Tory. Sarah was kept in all of her offices–purely for the sake of her husband's position as Captain-General of the army–but the tension between the two women lingered on until early in 1711, when Sarah was stripped of the offices of Mistress of the Robes and Groom of the Stole and was replaced by Elizabeth Seymour, Duchess of Somerset. Abigail was made Keeper of the Privy Purse. The Marlboroughs also lost state funding for Blenheim Palace, and construction of the building came to a halt. Now in disgrace, they left England and travelled Europe. As a result of his success in the War of the Spanish Succession, the Duke of Marlborough was a favourite among the German courts and with the Holy Roman Empire, and the family was received in those places with full honours. Queen Anne died on 1 August 1714 at Kensington Palace. The Act of Settlement of 1701 ensured a Protestant succession by passing over more than fifty stronger Roman Catholic claimants and proclaiming Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover (the great grandson of James I through his mother Sophia of Hanover), King George I of Great Britain. King George had a personal friendship with the Marlboroughs; the Duke of Marlborough had fought with him in the War of the Spanish Succession, and John and Sarah made frequent visits to the Hanoverian court during their effective exile from England. Marlborough was restored to his old office of Captain-General of the Army. Sarah's relationship with her children was also strained. Although she had a good relationship with her daughter, Anne Spencer, she became estranged from her daughters Henrietta, Elizabeth and Mary. When John Churchill died at Windsor in 1722, daughter Henrietta inherited the title Duchess of Marlborough. At the new court Sarah became friendly with George I and his wife Queen Caroline, but her friendship with Caroline ended when she refused the Queen access through her Wimbledon estate, which resulted in the loss of her £500 income as Ranger of Windsor Great Park. Sarah was also rude to King George II–making it clear that he was "too much of a German"–which further alienated her from the court. Sarah died immensely rich. She managed to marry off members of her family to England’s greatest aristocratic dynasties. Among the more famous descendants of the Marlboroughs were Winston Churchill, and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Seat / Residence(s): Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire
Stamp(s) Stamp Information
Monogram: S M
Coronet: Duchess