In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

  • Introduction
  • Biographies
  • Marlborough’s Published Correspondence
  • Marlborough and the British Military
  • Marlborough’s Military Career in Context
  • Firsthand Accounts of Marlborough’s Campaigns
  • Other Contemporary Sources Containing Marlborough’s Published Correspondence
  • Marlborough’s Political Career in Context
  • Marlborough’s British Contemporaries
  • The War of the Spanish Succession
  • Marlborough and the Dutch
  • Marlborough and the Habsburgs

Military History John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
Caleb Karges
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 September 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0217


John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650–1722), was an English commander, statesman, diplomat, and courtier. He began his military career as an ensign in the Foot Guards, and served abroad at the English colony of Tangier. During the Franco-Dutch War (1672–1679), he served as part of an English contingent in French service. He continued to climb the ranks of the army and married Sarah Jennings (1660–1744), who was a lady-in-waiting and friend of James’s younger daughter Anne. He held an important command in the suppression of the 1685 Monmouth Rebellion. James II’s religious, constitutional, and military policies, along with his personal behavior, began to alienate Churchill. He became the center of a conspiracy within the high command of the army to defect from James upon the landing of the forces of William of Orange at Torbay (1688). William III and Mary created him Earl of Marlborough in recognition of his role in the Glorious Revolution, but they did not trust him. During the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697), he served a campaign in Flanders and held a brief independent command during the Williamite Wars in Ireland (1689–1692). He was dismissed from his posts and locked in the Tower on suspicions of Jacobitism until exonerated. After the death of Mary, William began to put Marlborough into more important military and diplomatic positions in the lead-up to the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). With the succession of Anne as queen, Marlborough was raised to ducal status, became the supreme commander of all English forces, and made England’s chief diplomat on the Continent. The member states of the Dutch Republic also elected him Captain-General of Dutch forces. A master coalition commander, he was able to coordinate England’s war effort with his Dutch and Austrian allies to punishing effect against France. While some of his campaigns ended in frustration, his military performance during the war was unmatched by any of his contemporaries. He consistently outmaneuvered his opponents and won every battle he fought, including Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenaarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709). He captured several French fortresses, such as Lille (1708) and Bouchain (1710). He negotiated key treaties of aid that helped allies achieve victory in other theaters. His increasing alignment with the Whig Party and Sarah’s estrangement from Anne led to his dismissal from all offices in 1711. He was restored to high office with the Hanoverian Succession in 1714.


The best place to start for research on Marlborough is with the numerous biographies. His military career plays a prominent part. Jones 1993 is the best short introduction to the life of Marlborough, including his military career, place in English politics, and the debates surrounding his life and career. Holmes 2008 is the most recent biography and provides greater detail than Jones. While dated, the four-volume Churchill 2002 is the most comprehensive biography of Marlborough in any language. Hattendorf 2012 contains a series of essays by specialists on various aspects of Marlborough’s career and is a helpful guide to scholarship on Marlborough’s European influence. Chandler 1973 is a biographical account that focuses primarily on operations and tactics. Barnett 1974 is a popular-level account of Marlborough’s career during the War of the Spanish Succession. Burton 1968 is more scholarly than Barnett and covers the same material but with more insights on the British military machine. Atkinson 1924 contains an older scholarly account of Marlborough’s life with a particular focus on military matters.

  • Atkinson, C. T. Marlborough and the Rise of the British Army. 2d ed. London: Putnam’s, 1924.

    A dated account written by an Oxford professor, who served in the War Office during the First World War. The book provides a more condensed overview of Marlborough’s life than Churchill and focuses primarily on military matters. As the title suggests, Atkinson provides some emphasis on Marlborough’s role in administrating the British Army.

  • Barnett, Corelli. Marlborough. London: Book Club Associates, 1974.

    This book presents a biased, popular-level account of Marlborough’s military career during the War of the Spanish Succession. It primarily focuses on tactics and operations and contains many pictures of objects, locations, contemporary paintings, and engravings.

  • Burton, Ivor. The Captain-General. London: Constable, 1968.

    Burton’s biography of Marlborough builds upon insights from Churchill 2002 and supplement’s them with new understandings of British domestic politics and the author’s own research on British Army administration. The book focuses primarily on Marlborough’s military and political career during the War of the Spanish Succession.

  • Chandler, David G. Marlborough as Military Commander. London: Batsford, 1973.

    Written by one of Marlborough’s greatest partisans in the twentieth century, this book is a biography that follows Marlborough’s military career with a particular focus on operations and tactics from his early career to the War of the Spanish Succession. The book ends with Marlborough’s final military campaign in 1711 and an analysis of his abilities as a commander.

  • Churchill, Winston. Marlborough: His Life and Times. 2 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

    Originally published in four volumes over the course of the 1930s, this is still the most comprehensive and exhaustive biography of Marlborough in any language. It draws heavily from Marlborough’s papers and is supplemented by contemporary sources in English, French, and German. It addresses all aspects of Marlborough’s career and personal life. It provides particular value in its analysis of tactics, operations, and strategy.

  • Hattendorf, John, ed. Marlborough: Soldier and Diplomat. Protagonists of History in International Perspective 2. Rotterdam: Karwansaray, 2012.

    Contains a series of essays by scholars on various aspects of Marlborough’s career, with a particular focus on the European dimensions of the War of the Spanish Succession.

  • Holmes, Richard. Marlborough: England’s Fragile Genius. London: Harper Press, 2008.

    The most recent biography of Marlborough, Holmes’s well-researched account touches on all aspects of Marlborough’s career and provides greater detail on the matters presented in Jones 1993.

  • Jones, J. R. Marlborough. British Lives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511560637

    Jones presents a concise and readable scholarly biography of Marlborough that addresses all the major debates surrounding his life and career. This book is the best place for the unfamiliar to start.

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