Two volumes of the life of the dynamic wife of a great soldier
John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough was without question one of the finest military commanders the British Isles has ever produced. He was singular in several ways, but he was also fortunate in those about him. In Eugene of Savoy he had a military man of such capability and stature that it is incredible that the two men were contemporaries, let alone allies. He had close relations with Godolphin and was a prized confident of Queen Anne. But in his marriage he was doubly blessed. Sarah Churchill was not only his wife but the love of his life and their mutual affection and commitment to each other endured beyond the flush of youth. Additionally Sarah Churchill was not made of the material that readily prepared an aristocratic lady made for a life of idleness. Hers was a volatile strong willed personality and she was, in many ways, centuries ahead of her time. She aided Godolphin and her husband in support of the Queen and campaigned vigorously for the Whig party never shrinking from confrontations which often threw her out of favour with the powerful and influential. Always she was her husbands agent on the home front as he engaged in the memorable battles of the War of Spanish Succession. These two volumes chronicle the life of this remarkable woman and provide essential detail and context to students of the life and campaigns of the Duke of Marlborough himself. Available in soft cover or hard cover with dust jacket.
The Countess of Marlborough, ten years younger than her distinguished husband, though past the bloom, could scarcely have lost the attractions of her surpassing, and what is more remarkable, unfading beauty of face and form. Perhaps the “scornful and imperious” character of her countenance, described by Horace Walpole, may have assumed its fixed expression about this time, when she discovered the extent of her influence, and was betrayed into a forgetfulness of what was due to her own station, and to majesty. “Her features and her air,” says her sarcastic censor, “announced nothing that her temper did not confirm;” and he seems to consider it doubtful which of these two attributes had the greatest influence in “enslaving her heroic lord.”<br>
Until an advanced age, Lady Marlborough possessed evident remains of remarkable loveliness; her fair hair, so celebrated, was unchanged by time; her most expressive eyes still lighted up her countenance; her flashes of wit enlivened her natural turn for communicating those reminiscences of former days, which could scarcely have appeared tedious under any circumstances, but which the shrewdness and talent of this extraordinary woman rendered exceedingly diverting. There was one feature in the Duchess of Marlborough’s composition which contributed to enhance the charms of her conversation, and which, probably, strengthened the influence which she acquired over the minds of others. This was her fearless plain-speaking. The style of her Vindication shows her candour; the matter of that amusing work, with certain exceptions, establishes her character for truth. Even her worst enemies appear in their replies to have been unable to disprove, or even to deny, most of her statements, but were forced to content themselves with abusive comments. The same honesty and openness, we are told, were manifested in the Duchess’s conversation as in her writings.<br>
“This might proceed,” observes the editor of a recent publication, “partly from never thinking herself in the wrong, or caring what was thought of her by others.”<br>
It might also proceed from that knowledge and that tact, which, during “sixty years of arrogance,” as Horace Walpole terms her career, she must have acquired; and which, perhaps, taught her, that needless explanations are, in conversation, as in print, the worst of policy. But, with all her faults, duplicity has never been alleged against the lofty Duchess of Marlborough. It was foreign to the generous warmth of her nature; it was foreign to the audacity, for no milder term can be applied, of her temper. Evasion would scarcely have suited her purpose with the placid, subservient, but also somewhat manoeuvring Anne, who was born not to rule, but to be ruled, and who was daunted by the arrogance and fearless truth of her groom of the stole. Disingenuousness would have destroyed her influence over the just and honourable Marlborough,—an influence which even coldness, conjugal despotism, nay, fiercer passions, could not destroy, but which would have sunk directly, had the foundation of that faulty but lofty character been found defective. It was not Lady Marlborough’s beauty, it was not her native, though untutored ability, it was not her wit, which prolonged her influence over her husband; but it was her truth, her contempt of meanness, her abhorrence of flattery, and her genuine fidelity to friends.<br>
She was, as Doctor Johnson has expressed it, “a good hater;” and if that signify “a hater” without the garb of dissimulation—a hater who eschews false alliances, and hangs out true colours—one may be allowed to feel a certain respect for the character, even whilst we condemn the principle of hatred. No one ever accused the Duchess of Marlborough of smiling to betray. She could have torn her foes to pieces, sooner than have accorded to them one reverence which her heart conceded not. Her insolence to the Queen, her contempt of Anne’s understanding, and her presumption and arrogance, cannot, however, be defended. Nor can the unfeminine qualities which she displayed, be viewed otherwise than with dislike and disgust.<br>
The Duchess of Marlborough’s dismissal from Anne’s favour may be said to have commenced, in reality, when that Princess ascended the throne of England. The favourite was now wholly devoted to Whig principles; Anne was always, in her heart, a Tory. Lady Marlborough could ill brook opposition from one whose actions she had for years guided, and who had scarcely dared to move except at her bidding. The Queen had, as a monarch, one great failing, which characterised the house of Stuart: she allowed too great familiarities in those around her, and forbore to rebuke insolence, or even to check presumption. No one was so likely to presume upon this want of dignity as the Countess of Marlborough. Her haughtiness soon grew into downright contumacy. Even whilst holding the Queen’s fan and gloves, or presenting them to Her Majesty, in the capacity of an attendant, she turned away her head with contempt directly afterwards, as if the poor harmless Queen inspired her with disgust. How long Anne bore with such conduct, remains to be seen. For the first ten years of her reign Lady Marlborough, however, ruled paramount.