Saturday, April 28, 2007

Churchill's Origins - 1

When the first Duchess of Marlborough read the first history of the Churchill family just before her death in 1744, she wrote,

This History takes a great deal of Pains to make the Duke of Marlborough’s Extraction very ancient. That may be true for aught I know; But it is no matter whether it be true or not in my opinion. For I value nobody for another’s merit.
That last sentence carried her point. But the sentence immediately preceding it unintentionally revealed another. In just three generations the Churchills had come from nowhere to the top of society.

1st. Generation
When the first Churchill to enter our story was born sometime around 1600 the family was blacksmiths or something similar. John Churchill went to London and became a successful lawyer.

2nd. Generation
This enabled his son, Winston Churchill (the first one) to make an advantageous marriage with Elizabeth Drake. The Drake family had connections with the higher reaches of society. A century earlier, the family had included Sir Francis Drake, the buccaneer.

The Civil War broke out in 1642. The 21 year old Winston Churchill joined the king’s army. He fought for the king throughout the war. The cause was lost. Others deserted. Not Churchill. He fought on. As the king’s followers dwindled, he raised Churchill to the rank of Colonel.

By 1646 it is was all over. Defeat was total. In 1649 the king was beheaded. Oliver Cromwell ruled.

The discredited Royalist retired to the home of his mother-in-law, Lady Drake. The bad news for him was that he had to spend the next ten years living in his mother-in-law’s home. The good news was that she had supported Parliament and Cromwell in the war. Thus Winston got by and here a new generation of Churchills was born. John was born in 1650.

In 1660 came The Restoration. Charles II took back the throne. He remembered Winston Churchill, who had stayed with his father to the bitter end.

3rd. Generation
His son John was presented at court and granted a commission in the army. Over the next two decades John’s abilities at court and in the field propelled him to higher and higher levels of command. By 1674 he was Colonel. By 1682 he was a Lord; by 1685 a Baron, and Major General in the army.

In the Revolution of 1688 he supported William (the winner). In 1689 he was made a privy councilor and Earl of Marlborough.

Then came the fall.

John’s wife Sarah (the one quoted above) was Lady in Waiting to the Queen’s sister, Princess Anne. Throughout these years, John, Sarah, and Anne were close friends.

The King and Queen quarreled with the Princess and blamed the Churchills. All three were banned from the Court and from public life.

In 1702 everything changed. The King died. He left no children. The throne was vacant. Princess Anne succeeded to it. Also in 1702 the French launched their greatest bid for world domination until Napoleon a century later. When the Spanish Empire joined the French, it looked like nothing could stop them.

Marlborough was promoted from Earl to Duke and from Major-General to the head of the army and sent to the continent. Back in London, Sarah and Queen Anne, together with the Churchills’ close associate, Sidney Godolphin, ran the government.

Britain, The Netherlands, The Hapsburg Empire and lesser powers composed Marlborough’s Grand Alliance. Marlborough marched his army in daring thrusts and parries. He won every battle he fought; he captured every fort he besieged. Still, the French side was so strong that the war raged for 11 years.

At war’s end, grateful rulers throughout Europe showered gifts upon him for his deeds. He built the magnificent Blenheim Place in Woodstock.

John died in 1722 and Sarah in 1744.

Excerpt from a book in progress. Churchill Stories. (from Chapter 1.)