Marlborough: His Life and Times

Marlborough: His Life and Times

Marlborough: His Life and Times was a panegyric [1] biography written by Winston Churchill about John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Churchill was a descendant of the duke.[2]

The book comprises four volumes, the first of which appeared in October 1933 (557 pages, 200,000 words) with subsequent volumes in 1934, 1936 and 1938. The publisher was George G Harrup, who in 1929 agreed an advance of £10,000 for the Publishing rights, topping the offer made by Churchill's customary publishers, Thornton Butterworth. The American publisher, Scribner's, paid £5000 advance for USA publishing rights. At that time Churchill envisaged writing 180,000 to 250,000 words to be published in no more than two volumes. Cumulative sales of the first volume were 17,000 copies, 15,000 for the second and 10,000 for the third and fourth, which was a respectable though not exceptional performance for such a work.[3]

Churchill had conceived the idea of writing the book by 1929, when the conservative defeat in the general election meant that he was no longer a government minister, giving him both spare time and the loss of his ministerial salary. His first act in preparing the book was to employ Maurice Ashley part-time for a salary of £300 per year to carry out research about Marlborough. Ashley later produced his own biography of Marlborough, in 1939. Churchill, with other assistants, worked on and published a number of different historical books while work on Marlborough was proceeding. Churchill turned seriously to writing Marlborough after Easter 1932, following pressure from his publishers. His initial draft was passed to Edward Marsh, who had been his private secretary while a government minister, with instructions to look out for repetitions, boring passages or clumsy sentences. He wrote over 300 letters requesting information or opinions about the work in progress.[4]

In the preface to volume one, Churchill writes "It is my hope to recall this great shade from the past, and not only invest him with his panoply, but make him living and intimate to modern eyes."[5]

Critical review

A review of the book was provided by Roy Jenkins in his biography of Churchill. He described it as 'a revelation' at least to someone 'under educated in late-Stuart history' such as himself. He felt the first chapter was a somewhat dull description of Marlborough's ancestors, but the remainder was an exhilarating description of Restoration England and Europe in the time of Charles II. Churchill was at some pains to refute the poor impression of Marlborough made by Thomas Babington Macaulay 100 years earlier in his history of that period, when he had criticised Marlborough's switch of loyalty from Charles II to William of Orange, and later dealings with the exiled James II. However, Jenkins notes a similar tendency for Churchill in his turn to be excessively critical about Louis XIV.

Churchill was sceptical of the claim that Marlborough at seventeen or eighteen became the lover of the King's mistress, but accepted that he did so somewhat later, at 20. In 1675, however, he met the fifteen-year-old Sarah Jennings, whom he married and lived with contentedly for the remainder of their lives. They were of comparable social status, but neither had any significant money. Churchill saw similarities between his ancestor and himself.[6]


  1. ^ The Times 1 October 1994; Maurice Ashley;Obituary
  2. ^ Roy Jenkins Churchill (Macmillan, 2001), ISBN 0-333-78290-9 p. 1-20
  3. ^ Jenkins p.454
  4. ^ Jenkins p. 450
  5. ^ Churchill, Marlborough: His Life and Times, Book One, preface. University Of Chicago Press 2002 Version
  6. ^ Jenkins p. 450-454


  • Churchill, Winston. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Bk. 1, vols. i & ii. University of Chicago Press, (2002). ISBN 0-226-10633-0
  • Churchill, Winston. Marlborough: His Life and Times, Bk. 2, vols. iii & iv. University of Chicago Press, (2002). ISBN 0-226-10635-7
  • Macaulay, Thomas. The History of England (abridged). Penguin Books, (1968). ISBN 0-14-043-133-0

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