John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

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John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, Prince of Mindelheim, KG, PC (26 May 1650 – 16 June 1722) (O.S),[1] was an English soldier and statesman whose career spanned the reigns of five monarchs through the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Rising from a lowly page at the court of the House of Stuart, he loyally served the 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, yet just three years later he abandoned his Catholic patron for the Protestant Dutchman, William of Orange. Honoured for his services at William's coronation with the earldom of Marlborough (pronounced /ˈmɔːlbᵊrə/), he served with further distinction in the early years of the Nine Years' War, but persistent charges of Jacobitism brought about his fall from office and temporary imprisonment in the Tower. It was not until the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 that Marlborough reached the zenith of his powers and secured his fame and fortune.

His marriage to the hot-tempered Sarah Jennings – Anne's intimate friend – ensured Marlborough's rise, first to the Captain-Generalcy of British forces, then to a dukedom. Becoming de facto leader of Allied forces during the War of the Spanish Succession, his victories on the fields of Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709), ensured his place in history as one of Europe's great generals. But 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, who had brought glory and success to Anne's reign, was forced from office and went into self-imposed exile. He returned to England and to influence under the House of Hanover with the accession of George I to the British throne in 1714, but following a series of strokes in later age his health gradually deteriorated, and he died on 16 June 1722 (O.S), at Windsor Lodge.

Marlborough's insatiable ambition propelled him from poor obscurity to prominence in British and European affairs, becoming the richest of all Anne's subjects. His family connections wove him into the fabric of European politics (his sister Arabella became James II's mistress, and their son, the Duke of Berwick, emerged as one of Louis XIV's greatest Marshals). Throughout ten consecutive campaigns during the Spanish Succession war Marlborough held together a discordant coalition through his sheer force of personality and raised the standing of British arms to a level not known since the Middle Ages. Although in the end he could not extort total capitulation from his enemies, his victories allowed Britain to rise from the periphery of influence to major power status, thus ensuring the country's growing prosperity throughout the 18th century.

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