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SARAH JENNINGS, wife of the great captain and hero
of the time of Queen Anne, was the most remarkable
woman of her own, or perhaps of any, age : for a
series of years, by her wisdom, spirit, promptness,
and genius, her fearlessness and acuteness, she
directed the affairs of state, and conduced to the

prosperity of the kingdom; ^/hich she might, IK tfact,


be said to govern, as she was- assuredly more queen
than the weak sovereign who satr'on-the tbrone, and
who, as long as she depended 'on her iRiastrious
favourite, was crowned, through her means, with
fame and glory. Queen Anne is only another
instance of the caprice and ingratitude of princes ;
for, after a life of obligation to that chosen friend of
her youth, she cast her off for a contemptible parasite,



merely to indulge her mean propensity for gossip
and scandal, and thus escape the thraldom which
good sense and judgment oppose to obstinacy and
imbecility : careless of her kingdom's weal, and
selfishly bent on her own childish gratification,
which could be content to

" Hide from the radiant sun, and solace
I' the dungeon bv a snuff."


The Duchess of Marlborough's family, though
not noble, were of gentle lineage, and though her
numerous enemies meanly endeavoured to throw
contempt upon her birth, there is no doubt of the
respectable position in which both her father and
mother stood. Her grandfather, Sir John Jennings,
received the order of the Bath at the same time as
the Prince of Wales, afterwards Charles I., and his
family were held in much esteem by the Stuarts.
Her father was a country gentleman of good estate
at Sandridge, in Hertfordshire, near St. Albans :
her mother was Frances Thornhurst, daughter of

Sir QiiFordThornhurst, of Agnes Court, in Kent,

i t *

and his heiress.


Sarah,* the future political heroine of her age,
(the "Viceroy, "'as she was called,) was born on
the 29th May, 1660, at Holywell, a suburb of St.
Albans, in a small house not far from the spot where

* See Mrs. Thomson's admirable Memoirs of the Duchess of
Marlborough, which has furnished many particulars of this


the Duke of Marlborough afterwards built a splendid
seat. Of the five children of her parents she survived
all except the Duchess of Tyrconnel, her sister. It
was this sister whom she succeeded in the post of
lady of honour to the Duchess of York, or rather
she remained about the court as an attendant and
playmate of the young Princess Anne, between
whom and herself there sprung up an intimacy
and friendship which lasted many years, and
which, it is to be regretted, did not continue to the

When John Churchill, afterwards Duke of Marl-
borough, was appointed gentleman of the bed-
chamber to the Duke of York, he was esteemed one
of the handsomest, most attractive gentlemen of

the day amiable, interesting, and refined. He had
entered the army at sixteen, and was already distin-
guished for his gallantry in the field at the time he
became a member of the duke's household, when
he had reached his twenty-fourth year. The famous
Marshal Turenne had been attracted by his courage,
and was in the habit of naming him the " handsome
Englishman.' 1 The marshal is said to have laid a
wager, which he won, on the subject of Churchill's
gallantry, on the occasion of a station of importance
having been abandoned by one of his own officers.
" I will bet a supper and a dozen of claret," said
he, " that my handsome Englishman will recover
the post with half the number of men commanded
by the officer who has lost it.' 3 The event justified

B 2


the general's opinion. Lord Chesterfield, no mean
judge, declared that the grace and fascination of
manner of young Churchill was such that he was
" irresistible either by man or woman."

That arbiter of elegance and good-breeding also
adds, that so dignified was his deportment, that no
one ever said a pert thing to him. But, at the same
time, it is somewhat startling to learn, from this
source, that this charming personage was "emi-
nently illiterate, wrote very bad English, and spelt
it worse ; had no share in what is commonly called
parts, had no brightness, and nothing shining in his

genius/ 3

This was by no means unlikely to be the case
either in France or England at this period, when
young men entered the army at almost a childish
age, having been allowed no time for education, and
elegance of manners amply supplying, in the opinion
of the court, all more solid acquirements. It might
have been supposed that a woman possessing such
a superior mind as Sarah Jennings, would have,
however, required in a suitor something more than
mere external accomplishments ; but she was, at the
time they first met, very young, and probably her
own education had been conducted upon a plan
rather calculated for display than otherwise, although
it is recorded that her mother bestowed great care
on her early instruction. However this might be,

" Beauty has such resistless power,"

that the young soldier, who in the dances and revels


of the court was said so much to excel that " every
step he took carried death with it," eclipsed in
the heart of the youthful Sarah all other gallants,
and for him she rejected " the star and ornament of
the court," the admired Earl of Lindsay, afterwards
Marquis of Ancaster.

But the lovers, though rich in beauty and affection,
were poor in the world's goods, and their union
held out little prospect which prudence should have
induced them to seek.

The young Duchess of York, who was made the
confidant of the attachment, stood their friend on
this occasion, and offered her powerful assistance.
Their engagement lasted three years, and its pro-
gress was not without those shades of vexation
which usual attend on the " course of true love."
The young lady, whose temper and disposition were
always somewhat decided and imperious, was occa-
sionally visited with fits of spleen and jealousy, and
once had nearly broken off the connexion, on
hearing that Churchill's parents desired that he
should form a marriage with a richer rival. She
wrote a severe letter to her lover, and entreated him
" to renounce an attachment which militated against
his worldly prospects ;" and professed her intention
to quit England and reside with the Countess of
Hamilton, her sister, in Paris, and endeavour to
forget that she had ever desired to be his wife. As
is usual in these cases, where real regard exists, an
outburst of this nature only cemented the attach-


ment closer, and the lovers were reconciled, to
become more resolved than ever to live for each
other alone.

They were married in 1678, but in secret, none
but the Duchess of York being privy to the fact.
A letter is preserved from the Duke of Marlborough
of this date, from Brussels, which he addressed to
her as Miss Jennings, and on it she has herself
written :

" I believe I was married when this was written,
but it was not known to any but the duchess.' 3

A few months afterwards, however, they avowed
the truth ; but their prospects of domestic happiness
were, in consequence of the troubled state of the
times, not likely to be good : frequent and necessary
absences divided the young soldier from his bride,
and she had only the consolation of receiving such
letters as the following, which assured her of his
constant affection :

"Brussels, April 12.

" I writ to you from Antwerp, which I hope
you have received before now, for I should be glad
you should hear from me by every post. I met
with some difficulties in my business with the
Prince of Orange, so that I was forced to write to
England, which will cause me to be two or three
days longer abroad than I should have been. But
because I would lose no time, I despatch all other
things in the mean time, for I do, with all my heart


and soul, long to be with you, you being dearer to
me than my own life. On Sunday morning I shall
leave this place, so that on Monday night I shall be
at Breda, where the Prince and Princess of Orange
are, and from hence you shall be sure to hear from
me again ; till then, my soul's soul, farewell."

After a period of some anxiety, occasioned by
unavoidable separation, Mrs. Churchill and her hus-
band, both attached to the service of the Duke and
Duchess of York, accompanied the royal pair to the
Hague and to Brussels. No great political events
had at this time called forth the power of character
which lay dormant in the bosom of the future
directress of her Queen, the young princess, whose
life glided on at this epoch with little to mark its
importance. Colonel and Mrs. Churchill followed
for some years the fortunes of the little less than
exiled brother of Charles II., who, for a variety of
reasons, he did not desire to see in England ; but it
was on the return of the Duchess of York, in 1681,
to London, that Mrs. Churchill's first daughter was
born, an event which is thus alluded to in a letter
from her absent husband :

" I writ to you last night by the express, and
since that I have no good news to send you * *
the only comfort I had here was hearing from you ;
and now, if we should be stopped by contrary
winds, and not hear from you, you may guess with
what satisfaction I should pass my time : therefore,


as you love me, you will pray for fair winds, that we
may not stay here, nor be long at sea.

" I hope all the red spots of our child will be
gone against I see her, and her nose strait : so that
I may fancy it to be like the mother, for she has
your coloured hair. I would have her to be like
you in all things else."

The aspirations of Colonel, now Baron Churchill,
of retiring with his wife from public life, and
enjoying in retirement the domestic felicity which
always seemed to be the object of his desire, were
not destined to be realized, and, much to his
vexation, he was compelled to continue in a career
which his patron, the Duke of York, felt to be so

necessary for his interests. What the wish of his

young, beautiful, and ambitious wife might be at
this juncture does not appear ; for, with her sagacity,
it does not seem unlikely that she foresaw the
probability of her friend and companion, the Prin-
cess Anne, becoming hereafter the object of her
country's hope ; and, at any rate, of her holding a
position in the kingdom which would enable her to
advance those who had really served and been
attached to her. Not that selfish motives in general
actuated the mind of Lady Churchill : she was
ambitious of her country's glory, and, it was likely,
felt little inclination to desert a post from whence
she could watch interests dear to her. Her friend-
ship for the Princess Anne grew with their growth :


their confidences were mutual, their habits similar.,
and the superiority of the one was acknowledged
with gratitude by the other, who was guided,
assisted, and supported on every occasion, either
trifling or of moment, by the acuteness and judg-
ment of one who possessed her undivided regard.

No two young persons could, however, be more
unlike each other than Lady Churchill and the
Princess Anne : the latter, quiet, somewhat phleg-
matic, easy and gentle, extremely well-bred, fond of
ceremony, and averse to mental exertion ; the
former, resolute, bold, inclined to violence, prompt,
unwearied and haughty, although she probably was,
particularly at an early period, undeserving of the
bitter censure bestowed on her by that most unjust
and unamiable of all biographers, Swift, who
describes her as the victim of " three furies which
reigned in her breast, the most mortal of all softer
passions, which were sordid avarice, disdainful
pride, ungovernable rage.' 3

Her undaunted honesty and her passion for truth,
though virtues to be commended, and which en-
deared her to her early friend, doubtless came, in
after life, to be considered as vices, from being too
undisguised to please the myriad sycophants and
traitors about a throne ; but in youth, when all is
charming, and disappointment, misrepresentations,
and vexations had not yet soured her spirit, and ren-
dered these great qualities of less value, the princess
felt security in her councils, and happiness in her


society ; for she could entirely trust her, whom she
looked upon, with justice, as one of those friends
worthy to be worn

" In the heart's core, ay, in the heart of hearts."

" The beginning of the princess's favour to me/ 3
says the Duchess of Marlborough, " had a much
earlier date than my entrance into her service. My
promotion to this honour was chiefly owing to
impressions she had before received to my advan-
tage. We had used to play together when she was
a child, and she had even then expressed a particular
fondness for me. This inclination increased with
our years. I was often at court, and the princess
always distinguished me by the pleasure she took to
honour me, preferably to others, with her conversa-
tion and confidence. In all her parties for amuse-
ment I was sure, by her choice, to be one ; and
so desirous she became of having me near her,
that upon her marriage with the Prince George of
Denmark, in 1683, it was at her own request
that I was made one of the ladies of the bed-
chamber. * * *

" Her highness's court was so oddly composed,
that I think it would be making myself no great
compliment, if I should say her choosing to spend
more of her time with me than with any other of
her servants, did no discredit to her taste/'

It must be remembered that, joined to her great
abilities and manners, Lady Churchill possessed


extreme beauty, which is generally an advantage in
the eyes of royalty, for princes love to surround
themselves with objects agreeable to the eye. Her
complexion was faultless, her figure majestic, and
the beauty of her hair quite exquisite : age and
time had but little power over her, and to the
latest period she preserved many of the charms
which had so distinguished her in early years.
Her powers of conversation were fascinating in the
extreme, an accomplishment peculiarly prized by
her royal friend, who was singularly deficient in
that particular, and was glad to have recourse to
her, to conceal her own defect. Bishop Burnet
describes her as " a woman of little knowledge, but
of a clear apprehension and a true judgment/ 3

The unintellectual manner in which her time was
spent at court seems not a little to have perturbed
a spirit so exalted and so ready for active exertion
as her own : as she must have excelled in all things
she undertook, she was doubtless a consummate
card-player, but it galled her to record that she
" never read nor employed her time in anything
but playing cards," although she adds, at the same
time, that she had not then " any ambition/ 3

A friend was what the princess professed to be
the object she most courted, and she had found in
Lady Churchill one fearless, honest, sincere, and
affectionate : rather imperious, even then, it may be,
but not to the extent she afterwards became; and
though independent and uncompromising, the more


valued, as unlike the fawning crowds who flattered
and betrayed her.

cc Kings and princes, for the most part/' remarks
the duchess, " imagine they have a dignity peculiar
to their birth and station, which ought to raise
them above all connexions of friendship with an
inferior. Their passion is to be admired and
feared, to have subjects aw r fully obedient, and ser-
vants blindly obsequious to their pleasure.

" Friendship is an offensive word : it imports a
kind of equality between the parties : it suggests
nothing to the mind of crowns or thrones, high
titles or immense revenues, fountains of honour or
fountains of riches, prerogatives which the posses-
sors would always have uppermost in the thoughts
of those who approach them. * * * The princess
had a different taste. A friend was what she most
coveted, and for the sake of friendship, (a relation
which she did not disdain to have with me,) she was
fond of that equality which she thought belonged
to it. She grew uneasy to be treated by me with
the form and ceremony due to her rank ; nor could
she bear from me the sound of words which implied
in them distance and superiority. It was this turn
of mind which made her one day propose to me,
that whenever I should happen to be absent from
her we might, in our letters, write ourselves by
feigned names, such as would import nothing of
distinction between us. MORLEY and FREEMAN*

* See her letter to Bishop Burnet.


were the names her fancy hit upon, and she left me
to choose by which of these I would be called.
My frank, open temper, led me to pitch upon FREE-
MAN, so the princess took the other, and from this
time Mrs. Morley and Mrs. Freeman began to
converse together as equals, made so by affection
and friendship."

" I both obtained and held the place in her ser-
vice," the duchess goes on to relate, " without the
assistance of flattery a charm which, in truth, her
(the princess's) inclination for me, together with my
unwearied application to serve and amuse her
rendered needless ; but which, had it been other-
wise, my temper and turn of mind would never
have suffered me to employ. Young as I was when
I first became this high favourite, I laid it down as
a maxim, that flattery was falsehood to my trust,
and ingratitude to my dearest friend. * * * From
this rule I never swerved : and though my temper
and my notions in most things were widely dif-
ferent from those of the princess, yet, during a
long course of years, she was so far from being dis-
pleased with me for openly speaking my sentiments,
that she sometimes professed a desire, and even

added her command, that it should be alwavs con-


tinned, promising never to be offended at it, but to
love me the better for my frankness."

The princess writes herself to her friend, in
these words :


" If you will not let me have the satisfaction of


hearing from you again before I see you, let me
beg of you not to call me ' your highness ' at every
word ; but to be as free with me as one friend ought
to be with another : and you can never give me a
greater proof of your friendship than in telling
me your mind freely in all things, which I do beg
you to do ; and if ever it were in my power to
serve you, nobody would be more ready than my-
self. I am all impatience till Wednesday, till when
farewell.' 3

It is impossible not to admire the kind feeling
displayed by the princess at this period, and to
regret that the natural weakness of her mind over-
came her good intentions, which, if carried out,
would have made her as illustrious as events
rendered her reign.

Lady Marlborough has been, as w T ell as her hus-
band, reproached for their desertion of James II.
and his Queen ; and the Princess Anne's conduct
has been considered unnatural and cruel towards
her father. Imperious circumstances, and the im-
prudent zeal in a cause detested by the nation,
persevered in by the monarch, estranged his friends,
and finally induced them entirely to yield to the
expressed wish of the whole people of England;
and it was left to the unfortunate son of Charles I.
to exclaim, in the bitterness of his spirit, as he saw
every friend drop off from him, and range them-


selves under the banner of his rival " God help
me ; my own children have forsaken me !' :

The flight of the Princess Anne from London,
when her father returned to his capital, after vainly
endeavouring to rally his troops round him, most
assuredly did more credit to her prudence than her
filial tenderness. Her excuse for deserting her
father in his troubles was, that she felt compelled
to follow the example and fortunes of her husband,
who had gone over to the Prince of Orange, and
was afraid to remain to offer her consolations, as
she dreaded the reproaches which her parents might
think she merited.

" God grant," she wrote to her step-mother, " a
happy end to all these troubles, that the King's
reign may be prosperous, and that I may shortly
meet you again in peace and safety. Till then,
let me beg of you to continue the same favourable
opinion that you hitherto had of

"Yours, &c.


The flight of the princess from her apartments
at the Cockpit, where she resided, is circumstantially
told by Lady Churchill, who accompanied her, and
placed her under the care of the Bishop of Lon-
don, when they proceeded to Nottingham, and sur-


rounded themselves with the friends of the Prince
of Orange. The militant bishop, Dr. Compton,
who had formerly been a dragoon-officer, and who
was resolute in defence of the rights of the Pro-
testant Church, rode before the princess and her
suite, with a drawn sword in his hand, and pistols
at his saddle-bow ; and thus they joined the Earl
of Devonshire, the friend of the murdered Lord
Russell, and one of the chief promoters of the

An amusing anecdote is told by Colley Gibber of
the impression made on him by the sight of the
beautiful Lady Churchill, at Chatsworth, where the
earl conducted his guests. That splendid seat,
which seems doomed never to be entirely finished,
but which in all times appears to have been under-
going adornment, was, at the time the Princess
Anne and her party arrived there, being altered
" from a Gothic to a Grecian magnificence. 33 Gib-
ber, the famous sculptor, whose immortal carvings
divide the palm with those of Gibbons, at the most
splendid palace in England, was then busy in his
calling, and covering the walls and ceilings with
those wreaths which vie with nature ; and his after-
wards well-known son, Colley, happened to be then
with him ; for he had assumed the volunteer com-
mand, which his father was glad to relinquish in
his favour. He thus became one of the party
despatched to protect the princess on her way to
Nottingham, and to escort her and her friends to


Chatsworth. The night of their arrival, all the
noblemen and gentlemen who had taken up arms in
her defence were admitted to sup at the table with
the princess ; but the guests were found to be so
numerous, that more attendants were found neces-
sary, and young Gibber was requested to take the
post of waiting on Lady Churchill. Gibber w r as
fifty years older when he recounts the adventure ;
but its impression had by no means faded from his
mind :-

" Being/ 3 he says, " so near the table, you may
naturally ask me what I might have heard to have
passed in conversation at it, which I certainly
should tell you, had I attended to above two words
that were uttered there,- -and those were, "some
wine and water" These, I remember, came dis-
tinguished to my ear, because they came from the
fair guest whom I took such pleasure to wait on.
Except at that single sound, all my senses were
collected into my eyes, which, during the whole
entertainment, wanted no better amusement than
that of stealing, now and then, the delight of
gazing on the fair object so near me. If so clear
an emanation of beauty, such a commanding grace
of aspect, struck me into a regard that had some-

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Online LibraryLouisa Stuart CostelloMemoirs of eminent Englishwomen (Volume 4) → online text (page 1 of 22)