The final installment in Churchill’s four-volume biography of John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough—a famed military leader known for never having lost a military campaign. Despite his successes, Marlborough’s later years were full of struggle—including attacks from political and personal enemies.
Winston Churchill vividly recounts the intrigues and challenges of his ancestor’s extraordinarily eventful life. In this last volume, detailing the end of his career, Marlborough’s story is told with sensitivity and nuance—giving the reader an intimate glimpse into his state of mind. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in English history—and provides profound insights into leadership, loyalty, and personal conduct as valuable today as three centuries ago.
“A sustained meditation on statecraft and war by the greatest war leader of our time.” —Foreign Affairs
“The greatest historical work written in our century, an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding, which should be required reading for every student of political science.” —Leo Strauss
About the Author
Over a 64-year span, Churchill published over 40 books, many multi-volume definitive accounts of historical events to which he was a witness and participant. All are beautifully written and as accessible and relevant today as when first published.
During his fifty-year political career, Churchill served twice as Prime Minister in addition to other prominent positions—including President of the Board of Trade, First Lord of the Admiralty, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Home Secretary. In the 1930s, Churchill was one of the first to recognize the danger of the rising Nazi power in Germany and to campaign for rearmament in Britain. His leadership and inspired broadcasts and speeches during World War II helped strengthen British resistance to Adolf Hitler—and played an important part in the Allies’ eventual triumph.
One of the most inspiring wartime leaders of modern history, Churchill was also an orator, a historian, a journalist, and an artist. All of these aspects of Churchill are fully represented in this collection of his works.
Read an Excerpt
In January 1644 a Devonshire lady, Eleanor (or Ellen), widow of Sir John Drake, alarmed by the Royalist activities in the West Country, had asked for a Roundhead garrison to protect her house at Ashe, near Axminster. She was "of good affection" to the Parliament, had aided them with money and provisions, and had "animated her tenants in seven adjoining parishes" to adhere to their cause. The troops were sent; but before they could fortify the place Lord Poulett, a neighbour who commanded for the King, marched upon it with his Irish soldiers, drove out the Parliamentarians, burned the house, and "stripped the good lady, who, almost naked and without shoe to her foot but what she afterwards begged, fled to Lyme for safety."
Here she encountered fresh hardships. The Roundhead seaport of Lyme Regis was soon attacked by the Royal forces. Early in April Prince Maurice, with six thousand men and "an excellent artillery," laid siege to the town. The story of its resolute defence is a cameo of the Civil War. For nearly three months a primitive, fitful, fierce combat was waged along and across the meagre ramparts and ditches which protected the townsfolk. Women aided the garrison in their stubborn resistance, relieving them in their watch by night and handing up the powder and ball in action. Colonel Blake, afterwards the famous Admiral of the Commonwealth, commanded the town. He several times offered the Royalists to open a breach in his breastworks and fight out the issue face to face on a front of twenty or on a front of ten men. His leadership, and twenty-six sermons by an eloquent Puritan divine, sustained the courage of the defenders. They depended for their supplies upon the sea. From time to time ships came in sight and aroused hopes and fears in both camps.
Lady Drake was for a while in extreme distress. She must have watched the coming of ships with mingled feelings. The Royalist navy, such as it was, was commanded by her sister's grandson, James Ley, third Earl of Marlborough. Every week it was rumoured that her dreaded relation would arrive from the Channel Islands with reinforcements for the enemy. But he never came. The Parliament held the seas. Only Roundhead ships appeared. Eleanor endured privations, bombardments, and burnings for nearly three months. She was for her livelihood "reduced to the spinning and knitting of stockings, in which miserable condition she continued until the siege of Lyme was raised" by the arrival of a relieving Puritan army from London under the Earl of Essex, "whereof she got away and came to Parliament."
Her son John was no help to her in her misfortunes. We have been assured that he was "loyal to the King and on bad terms with his Puritan mother." But this seems incorrect. He was, on the contrary, at this time himself a prisoner of war in Prince Maurice's hands, and it was his mother who exerted herself on his behalf. Her sister, the Countess of Marlborough, stood high with the Royalists and appealed for the release of the captive. But the Parliamentary forces were now moving towards Axminster, and as the young Drake had said imprudently that he would get Lord Poulett's house burned in revenge for the burning of Ashe, his liberation was not unnaturally refused.
Lady Drake, though a resolute Puritan, continued to address herself to both sides, invoking with the Royalists her sister's, and with the Roundheads her own political merit. On September 28, 1644, Parliament ordered "that being wholly ruined by the enemy forces, she should have a furnished house in London rent free, £100 at once and £5 a week." The Westminster Commissioners accordingly four days later selected for her the house of a Royalist gentleman then still in arms — Sir Thomas Reynell; and she remained in these quarters for nearly four years, pursuing her claims for compensation through the slowly working mills of Westminster. Sir Thomas made his peace with Parliament and 'compounded for' — that is, ransomed — his house in 1646. He demanded reinstatement, as was his right; and he complained that Lady Drake during her tenancy "had digged up the ground and pulled up the floors in search of treasure." Nevertheless she continued to reside there in his despite, and perseveringly pursued her case against Lord Poulett for the burning of Ashe; and she had sufficient credit with the now irresistible Parliamentarians to carry it at last to a conclusion in the spring of 1648, when she was awarded £1500 compensation, to be paid out of Lord Poulett's estate.
It had taken Eleanor four years to secure the award. Two years more were required to extract the money from the delinquent, upon whose rents meanwhile she had a virtual receivership. In July 1650 she complained to Parliament that Lord Poulett still owed her £600. A further laborious investigation was set on foot. Six years passed after the burning of Ashe, which she claimed had lost her £6000, before Lady Drake recovered her £1500 compensation. She had need of it — and, indeed, of every penny. Hers was a family divided against itself by the wars. Her son fought for the Parliament; her son-in-law, Winston Churchill, fought for the King. Both he and his father had taken arms in the Royal cause from the early days. Both in turn — the father first — were drawn into the clutches of the Parliament. The Dorsetshire Standing Committee which dealt with the cases of the local Royalists reports in its minutes that in April 1646 John Churchill, a lawyer of some eminence, of Wootton Glanville, near Sherborne, had stated before them that he had formerly been nominated a Commissioner for the King; but he pleaded that in November 1645 he had taken the National Covenant and the Negative Oath. He had paid £300 for the Parliamentary garrison at Weymouth, and £100 on account of his personal estate. Moreover, reported the Committee, he was sixty years of age and unable to travel. In these circumstances in August 1646 he was fined £440, and a month later the sequestration of his estates was suspended.
The reckoning with his son Winston was delayed. Joining the King's army at twenty-two, he had made some mark upon the battlefields. He had become a captain of horse, and his bearing had been noted in the fights at Lansdown Hill and Roundway Down. He was a youthful, staunch, and bigoted adherent of the King. Towards the end of 1645 he was wounded, and his plight amid the Roundheads now victorious throughout Dorset and Devon was most awkward. However, he had a refuge among the enemy. His father's house at Wootton Glanville was only a day's ride from Ashe. He was married to Lady Drake's third daughter, Elizabeth.
No one has hitherto been able to fix the date of the marriage, or whether it took place before or during the Civil Wars. The Chancery Records, however, state that in October 1649 Winston and his wife Elizabeth sued Sir Henry Rosewell, one of the executors of Sir John Drake, for part of her inheritance, due to her when she was twenty-one. From this case it appears that Sir John died in October 1636, that Elizabeth was twenty-one in February 1644, and that she married in May of that same year. We know that a formal settlement was made between Winston's father and Lady Drake giving Elizabeth a dowry of £1500. As John Drake had at least four daughters, all of whom were left a similar capital in land, besides the estates left to his widow and son, the Drakes were evidently a substantial family.
It is remarkable that such contracts should have been effected between persons so sharply divided by the actual fighting of the Civil Wars. We can see the stresses of the times from the fact that Winston's first child, Arabella, of whom more later, was not born till 1649, or more than five years after the date of the marriage, although thereafter children were born almost every year. No doubt the couple were parted by the severities of the war, and did not live regularly together till the struggle in the Western counties was ended. It is probable that Elizabeth lived with her mother during the whole of the fighting, and that from about the beginning of 1646 Winston joined her there. At any rate, from that time forward the two young people, wedded across the lines of civil war, lay low in the ruins of Ashe, and hoped to remain unnoticed or unpersecuted until the times should mend.
For a while all went well. But a regular system of informers had been set on foot, and, despite Winston's Roundhead connexions and Lady Drake's influence and record, the case against him was not allowed to lapse. At the end of 1649 he was charged with having been a captain in the King's army. According to the Dorsetshire records, witnesses, greedy, interested, but none the less credible, certified that as late as December 1645 Winston was still in the field against the Parliament, that he had been shot through the arm by the forces under Colonel Starr, and that he had resisted to the end with the royal garrison at Bristol. None of these facts could be rebutted.
However, the processes of law continued to work obstinately in spite of war and revolution. Beaten foes had rights which, unless specifically abolished by statute, they could assert. The delinquent captain fell back upon the law. He sought to collect debts owing to him from others. He claimed that a thousand marks given to his wife by her father, the late Sir John Drake, could not be sequestered. He laboured to put off the day when the final sentence would be pronounced. Long delays resulted. By August 1650 the Parliamentary authorities had lost patience. "Some cases," say their records,
are sued out for no other end but to protract time, as that of Winston Churchill, who, it seems by his order, pretended his father (John Churchill) and Lady Ellen Drake had an interest in his portion, whereas he has still a suit depending against Colonel William Fry and Sir Henry Rosewell in his own name, only for his wife's portion; had anybody else a title to it, he would not have commenced such a suit. As to his being in arms, he will surely not so far degenerate from his principles as to deny it.
Nevertheless, it was not till April 29, 1651, that the Commissioners for Compounding finally ordered that
* Winston Churchill of Wootten Glanville in the county of Dorset, gent. do pay as a fine for his Delinquence the sum of Four hundred and four score pounds; whereof four hundred and forty-six pounds eighteen shillings is to be paid into the Treasury at Goldsmith's Hall, and the thirty-three pounds two shillings received already by our Treas. Mr Dawson of Sir Henry Rosewell in part of the money oweing by him to John Churchill, father of the said Winston, is hereby allowed of us in part of the sayd Four hundred and four score pounds.
Once a statement gets into the stream of history it is apt to flow on indefinitely. In Hutchins' History of Dorset, published in 1774, this sum of £446 18s. is, by a misprint, recorded as £4446 18s. This would indeed have been a remarkable fine — the equivalent of perhaps nearly £18,000 of our money — to inflict upon a small country gentleman. A long succession of historians — Coxe (1819), Wolseley (1894), Bayley (1910), Atkinson (1921), and Edwards (1926) — have not only repeated the erroneous and absurd figure, but have expatiated in turn upon its astonishing severity. From it they have concluded that Winston must have been most exceptionally obnoxious to the Parliament, whereas actually he was very nearly overlooked in the reckoning. Striking contrasts have been drawn between the treatment of father and son, which was in fact almost identical, and Winston has been credited with a far larger share in the wars than was his due. Thus tales are told.
The penalty was, however, severe for a man whose estate seems to have been worth only £160 a year. Although Winston paid his fine at the end of 1651, he did not attempt to keep an independent home. Nor did he live with his father at Wootton Glanville. There may have been other reasons besides impoverishment for this. His father had married a second time about 1643; Winston was apparently on bad terms with his stepmother, and it was to his mother-in-law rather that he turned for aid. When the ultimate judgment and compassion of the Almighty, as the victors would have expressed it, had become fully manifest throughout the West Country, Lady Drake sate indignant on the winning side amid her ruins, and Ashe House continued to be a refuge from poverty, if not from destitution, for the broken Cavalier, his young wife, and growing family. They do not seem to have returned home till Winston's father died in the year before the Restoration. Thus they lived at Ashe for thirteen years, and hard must those years have been. The whole family dwelt upon the hospitality or charity of a mother-in-law of difficult, imperious, and acquisitive temper; a crowded brood in a lean and war-scarred house, between them and whose owner lay the fierce contentions of the times.
No record is in existence of the daily round of the composite Drake household. We must suppose from its long continuance that family affection and sheer necessity triumphed over unspeakable differences of sentiment and conviction. Lady Drake did her duty faithfully to her daughter's family. She fed, clothed, and sheltered them in such portions of her house as their partisans had left her. They, having scarcely any other resources, accepted her bounty. While Lady Drake, vaunting her fidelity, pursued her claims for compensation from the Parliament, Winston, with her aid and collusion, sought to escape its exactions. It may be that in this prolonged double effort to save as much as possible from the wreck of their affairs a comradeship of misfortune was added to family ties. It must, none the less, have been a queer and difficult home. We may judge of their straitened means by the fact that they could not afford to put a fresh roof over the burned-out parts of the house until after the Restoration. They huddled together all these years in the one remaining wing. The war had impoverished the whole West countryside, and to keep up the style of gentlefolk and educate children must have imposed a severe frugality on all at Ashe.
To the procreation of children and the slow excitements of frequent litigation Winston added the relief of writing and the study of heraldry. In a substantial and erudite volume, Divi Britannici, still widely extant and universally unread, he explored from "the Year of the World 2855" downwards those principles of the Divine Right of Kings for which he had fought and suffered. He went so far in doctrine as to shock even Royalist circles by proclaiming the right of the Crown to levy taxation by its mere motion. To quote from this book is to meet its author across the centuries. In his dedication to Charles II he refers earnestly to Cromwell as
A Devil ... who ... intended questionless the same Violence to your Sacred Person, as was offer'd to that of your Father, had not your Tutelar Angels, like those which are said to have preserv'd Lot from the Sodomites, shut the Door of Government upon him, and baffled his Ambition by the Revolt of those whom himself first taught to Rebell.
Of the origin of the Scottish nation he gives the following account:
The Scots would be thought a Branch of the antique Scythian Stock, ... and they have this colour above many others, that as their Ancestors are entituled to as ancient Barbarity as those of any other Nation whatever, so like those rude Scythes, they have always been given to prey upon their Neighbours. ... Some thinking them a By-slip of the Germans; others of the Scandians; some affirming them to be the Out-casts of some Mongrel Spaniards that were not permitted to live in Ireland, ... and some there are that with no small probability take them to be a Miscellany of all these nations.
He cherished the theory that all nations derived their names from their food, dress, appearance, habits, etc. He thinks, therefore, the Britons got their name from a drink which the Greeks called "bruton or bruteion, which Athinæus defined as ton krithinon oinon — i.e., Vinum hordeaceum, Barley Wine." He expatiates on barley wine:
Cæsar affirms that all other Nations of the known World drink Wine or Water only; but the Britains, saith he (who yet have Vines enough) make no other use of them, but for Arbours in their Gardens, or to adorn and set forth their houses, drinking a high and mighty liquor, different from that of any other Nation, made of Barley and Water, which being not so subtil in its operation as Wine, did yet warm as much, and nourish more, leaving space enough for the performance of many great Actions before it quite vanquisht the Spirits.
All this seems very sound doctrine so far as it goes.
Winston's account of the execution of the King shows the intensity of his political feelings and the vigour of his vocabulary.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Marlborough: His Life and Times Volume One"
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Table of Contents
I. ASHE HOUSE
II. THE JOVIAL TIMES
IV. THE EUROPE OF CHARLES II
VI. THE DANBY ADMINISTRATION
IX. MASTER AND SERVANT
X. THE UNSEEN RIFT
XI. THE PRINCESS ANNE
XIII. THE ROYAL PLOT
XIV. THE NATIONAL COUNTER-PLOT
XVI. THE PROTESTANT WIND
XVII. THE INVASION
XVIII. THE REVOLUTION
XIX. MARLBOROUGH AND WILLIAM
XX. THE PERSONAL CLEAVAGE
XXI. KING JAMES'S MEMOIRS
XXII. THE JACOBITE ILLUSION
XXIII. THE FAMILY QUARREL
XXIV. THE TOWER
XXV. THE CAMARET BAY LETTER
XXVI. CAMARET BAY
XXVII. THE FENWICK TRIAL
XXVIII. AVARICE AND CHARM
XXIX. PEACE AND RECONCILITATION
XXX. MARLBOROUGH IN POLITICS
XXXI. THE SPANISH SUCCESSION
XXXII. THE GRAND ALLIANCE