William's Commanders: John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough
Updated: Jun 1, 2020
A professional soldier by trade, John Churchill had been to the fore in defeating the Duke of Monmouth and the early rebellion launched against King James II in 1685.
His father had been an officer in the Royalist Army during the English Civil War and although heavily fined by Parliament when the war was concluded, he would be rise to prominence with the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.
Some historians point out that the Churchill family received rapid advance because Arabella Churchill, John’s sister, had an illicit affair with James Stuart, when he was Duke of York.
A strong advocate of the Protestant cause, Churchill was drawn into the conspiracy which resulted in the Glorious Revolution. Although not prominent enough to have signed the letter of invitation to William, Prince of Orange, Churchill would defect with over 400 officers and men after William landed in England.
It was the loss of Churchill that encouraged James II to flee to France. For his actions Churchill was created Earl of Marlborough by the newly crowned King William III and Queen Mary II.
Marlborough set about remodelling the British army, a task given great urgency by the arrival of the recently deposed James II in Ireland. He was initially deployed at the head of 8,000 British troops sent to confront the French in the Low Countries, where he demonstrated tremendous ability, a fact remarked upon by his superiors. His actions gained him a place on the Military Council advising Queen Mary, but she did not fully trust him – a fact reflected by her own husband’s misgivings.
In August 1690, Churchill was deployed to Ireland as Williamite forces began to capture the remaining Jacobite strongholds. Once again, he proved himself an able commander but success on the battlefield could not hide the political intrigue that continued to dog him back in England. Indeed, such was his lack of favour that he was briefly imprisoned for treason in 1692.
Although he returned to Government service by 1698, William remained wary of this ambitious soldier. It was not until William’s death and the accession of his sister-in-law, Anne, that Churchill’s position was finally secure.