To understand Winston Churchill, it is necessary to visit Blenheim Palace. While Chartwell is the house with which he is most closely associated, Churchill did not purchase his estate in Kent until he was nearly fifty. The ducal lifestyle of Victorian Britain and Blenheim, where he was born and spent much time throughout his formative years, were the factors that shaped the man. In exploring these themes, we are honored to have His Grace the twelfth Duke of Marlborough introduce this issue.
Churchill himself wrote about the establishment of the family seat during the reign of Queen Anne when he composed his multivolume biography of his illustrious ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough. The seventh Duke sat in residence when his grandson Winston was born in a small room off the Great Hall. Fred Glueckstein introduces us to this imposing figure. Read More >
His Grace the Duke of Marlborough was born in Oxford on 24 November 1955 and educated at Harrow School and the Royal Agricultural College. He was styled the Earl of Sunderland until the death of his grandfather, the tenth duke, in 1972 and thereafter was styled the Marquess of Blandford until succeeding his father, the eleventh Duke, in 2014. His Grace married Edla Griffiths in 2002. Together the Duke and Duchess have two children, and His Grace has one son from a previous marriage.
The Duke and Duchess, together with their children and Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames, hosted HRH The Duchess of Cornwall at the dedication of the Winston Churchill Garden on the grounds of Blenheim, 9 June 2015.
In his multi-volume biography of his ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, published from 1933 to 1938 as Marlborough: His Life and Times, Winston Churchill described the creation of the ancestral seat.
The background: during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), King Louis XIV of France and the Elector of Bavaria sought to knock Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I out of the war by seizing Vienna in the summer of 1704 and gaining a favorable peace settlement. This plan ended in failure in August with the catastrophic defeat of French and Bavarian forces at the Battle of Blenheim at the hands of British and Austrian armies led by the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene of Savoy. The battle altered the course of the war, which nevertheless continued to rage for another decade.
Following his spectacular victory at Blenheim, Marlborough returned home from Bavaria in the autumn as “The Conquering Hero” of Queen Anne’s realm. For the moment he was showered with honors, but the protracted conflict later turned political opinion against him. Here follows Winston Churchill’s account of the Duke’s homecoming. Read More >
Lord Derby’s Cabinet, 1867 – The Seventh Duke of Marlborough (seated at the table with head in hand) Lord Derby (standing with hand on despatch box at the right)
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Fred Glueckstein
Fred Glueckstein is a frequent contributor to Finest Hour and author of Churchill and Colonist II (2015).
John Winston Spencer-Churchill was born on 2 June 1822 at Garboldisham Hall, Norfolk. He was the eldest son of George Spencer-Churchill, the sixth Duke of Marlborough, and Lady Jane Stewart, who was the daughter of the eighth Earl of Galloway. From his birth until the death of his grandfather—the fifth duke—in 1840, John held the family courtesy title Earl of Sunderland. This changed when he became first in line to succeed to the dukedom and was raised to the courtesy title Marquess of Blandford.
John Spencer-Churchill was educated at Eton and then Oriel College, Oxford. He served as a lieutenant in the 1st Oxfordshire yeomanry in 1843. On 12 July of that same year, he married Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane, eldest daughter of the third Marquess of Londonderry.
The young Spencer-Churchills had eleven children. Their third son, Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill, was born in London at 3 Wilton Terrace, Belgravia on 13 February 1849. Lord Randolph would become the father of Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill. Read More >
Churchill with his squadron of the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Douglas S. Russell
Douglas Russell is author of Winston S. Churchill: Soldier, The Military Life of a Gentleman at War (2005).
From the time of the first Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722) each succeeding generation of Spencers, Churchills, and Marlboroughs was active in the military service of Great Britain, and Blenheim Palace has been a part of that tradition. Each duke from the first in the seventeenth century to the eleventh in the twenty-first century held an officer’s commission.
The Spencer-Churchill family began its long and active role in the Oxford Yeomanry in 1803 when Lord Francis Spencer, brother of the fifth duke, raised the Woodstock squadron of cavalry only five years after the regiment was formed.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Oxford Yeomanry had reached regimental strength and was one of thirty-eight Imperial Yeomanry cavalry units. It was known as the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, a title granted by Queen Adelaide—the wife of King William IV—in 1835. Commonly referred to as the Q.O.O.H., the regiment was organized in four squadrons located at Henley, Oxford, Woodstock, and Banbury, with its headquarters at Oxford. Read More >
The ninth Duke of Marlborough with his first wife, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and their children, as depicted by John Singer Sargent
Finest Hour 187, First Quarter 2020
By Hugo Vickers
Hugo Vickers’ biography The Sphinx: The Life of Gladys Deacon, Duchess of Marlborough was published by Hodder & Stoughton/ Zuleika in January 2020.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Winston Churchill could have become the tenth Duke of Marlborough, and thus custodian for life of Blenheim Palace. He was heir presumptive to the title between 1895 and 1897, since at that time his first cousin the ninth Duke had no children, and Winston’s father Lord Randolph Churchill had died in January 1895.
This prospect was evidently of some concern to Frances, Dowager Duchess of Marlborough, a daughter of the third Marquess of Londonderry, though this may have been exaggerated by Consuelo Vanderbilt in her somewhat misleading and self-serving memoirs The Glitter and the Gold. That was the book from which she emerges as the poor, unloved American bride, forced by her mother to marry Sunny, the ninth Duke, in 1895—his only motive to obtain Vanderbilt money to keep Blenheim going. In her book, Consuelo described her husband’s grandmother as “a formidable old lady of the Queen Anne type… [with] large prominent eyes, an aquiline nose, and a God-and-my-right conception of life.” Read More >
Winston Churchill wrote his biography of his great ancestor John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, ostensibly to counter the claims of Thomas Babington Macaulay and other historians about Marlborough’s apparent failures as a military commander, his corruption and selfishness, his reliance upon Prince Eugene’s professional knowledge for his victories, and sheer luck. All culminated in what Churchill characterized as “Macaulay’s story of the betrayal of the expedition against Brest” that was “an obstacle I could not face.”1 Churchill faced and repudiated it along with the other charges and presents Marlborough instead as the greatest military and political leader Great Britain has ever known.
More than Churchill’s attempt to save Marlborough’s reputation, however, what strikes the reader with this biography, published first in 1933 with subsequent volumes appearing up until 1938 (the time of the Munich Agreement), are the parallels Churchill draws with his contemporary situation. Marlborough was written during the important “wilderness years” and led his wife Clementine to claim that writing it had taught him patience.
From Student to Practitioner
Churchill applied many lessons from Marlborough to his own fight against Hitler. The main threat to British liberty and security was a despot in the middle of the continent; Marlborough had to lead an alliance of continental nations against that despot and encircle him on several fronts; naval control of the Mediterranean was necessary before engaging the enemy on the continent (an instance of requiring patience); there was necessity for a vast network of personal spies; Marlborough had military command but lacked leadership of the House of Commons, which Churchill would make a point of combining when he became prime minister; there was a necessity of keeping friendships and covenants with allies as a way of preserving not only national honour but also national security and prosperity; and perhaps most important of all, friendship with one’s greatest ally with whom to share a Clausewitzian coup d’œil of the whole scene and to inspire member armies to fight “as if they were the army of a single nation.”2
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
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