John Churchill was born at Ashe in Devonshire. His father had supported King Charles I during the English Civil War. Churchill took advantage of his sister’s affair with James, the Duke of York, to advance his early career.
He became a page to the Duke, was commissioned in the English army in 1668, and served in Tangier, Africa (1669-1670).Churchill served in the army of France’s King Louis XIV dur¬ ing a time of peace between the two countries in the 1670s.
Having gained valuable experience, he returned to England and mar¬ ried Sarah Jennings, a 17-year-old atten¬ dant to Princess Anne (one of James’ daughters). After the Duke of York became King James II in 1685,Churchill rose rapidly through the ranks.
Churchill changed sides in 1688. He deserted James II for William of Orange during the Glorious Revolution. When William became King William III in 1689, he made Churchill the Earl of Marlborough in gratitude. When William died, he was replaced on the throne by Queen Anne in 1702. (By this time, Sarah Churchill had become chief lady-in-waiting to the queen.)
Queen Anne made Churchill master-gener¬ al of ordnance (artillery) and captain-general of the Pinglish army in 1702. She also elevated his title from earl to the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill took command of the allied English-Dutch army in the Netherlands. He initiated a series of cam¬ paigns that led to brilliant victories at
Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706) and Oudenaarde (1708). In that same year, he captured the great citadel at Lille by con¬ structing an outside series of fortifications so intricate it could not be penetrated by the relieving French army.
Churchill won his battles through a combi¬ nation of technology and maneuvers. His troops were armed with the new flint¬ lock (as opposed to the old-style matchlock) musket.
Churchill saw that this change gave the advan¬ tage to the offense and he led his men in daring attacks that threw the enemy into confu¬ sion.
He was also a master of siege war¬ fare and defensive fighting, tactics he had probably learned during his years in the French service. During his years as leader of the allied armies, Churchill won five battles and conducted 26 sieges, all of which were successful. He was proba¬ bly the greatest military genius in the history of modern England.
Churchill and his wife fell out of Queen Anne’s favor, and he was dismissed in 1711. He went to Europe and sought to persuade George, the Elector of Hanover, to invade England and establish a new monarchy.
George crossed the channel peacefully and was soon installed as King George I of / England. The new king restored Churchill to all his titles and honors, but a paralytic stroke in 1716 forced his retirement. He died at Windsor. His wife survived him by 23 years and occupied the palace of Blenheim, con¬ structed to honor Churchill’s greatest victory.