CHURCHILL, Charles (1656-1714), of Minterne Magna, Dorset

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. 2 Feb. 1656, 4th but 3rd surv. s. of Sir Winston Churchill† of Minterne Magna by Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Drake† of Ashe, Devon; bro. of George* and John Churchill†, 1st Duke of Marlborough.  m. 9 Feb. 1702 Mary. da. and h. of James Gould*,  s.p.; 1s. illegit. (?by Elizabeth Dodd).  suc. fa. 1688.1

Offices Held

Gent. of bedchamber to Prince George of Denmark 1672–1708; ensign of ft. Duke of York’s regt. 1674, lt. 1675, capt. 1678, capt.-lt. of drags. 1679, lt.-col. of ft. Charles Trelawny’s† regt. 1682 (Duke of York’s 1684, Queen Consort’s 1685, Queen’s 1687), col. 3 Ft. 1688; brig.-gen. by 1690, maj.-gen. 1694, lt.-gen. 1702, gen. 1703, acting c.-in-c. 1703.2

Gov. Kinsale 1690, Brussels 1706, Guernsey 1706; lt. Tower of London 1702–6; master of buckhounds 1702.

Freeman, Portsmouth 1684, Kinsale 1690, Hertford 1703.3


‘After many battles fought with great bravery and conduct, [Churchill] was esteemed one of the best commanders of foot in Europe.’ His promotion to the highest ranks was thus due to personal merit as well as to the pre-eminence and influence of his brother, the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill’s favour at the court of Queen Anne was also predetermined by fortuitous service in early life with the royal family of Denmark: he became a page at the age of 13, and three years later a gentleman of honour to Prince George, Anne’s future husband. A young hothead who was involved in a duel in 1681, Churchill subsequently served in the Duke of York’s troop, and left in 1682 for Tangier. He fought at Sedgemoor in 1685, but followed Marlborough’s example at the Revolution by joining the Prince of Orange. Thereafter ‘his martial genius led him to the wars’, where his ‘distinguished conduct’ attracted the attention of the new King. He fought with his brother in Ireland in 1690, showing particular resourcefulness and resilience at the siege of Cork, where he and four regiments under his command ‘passed the river up to his armpits into the east marsh in order to storm the town’. James II was informed in the autumn that ‘the Danish Churchill, now governor of Kinsale, swore God damn him, he would lose his life than ever draw his sword for your Majesty’, and Charles claimed that he had ‘never got a penny’ from the exiled King. Money was evidently very much on his mind at this time, for he was alleged to have embezzled the stores at Kinsale. Still on active service in 1692, when he distinguished himself at the battle of Steenkerk, Churchill avoided suspicion of involvement in Marlborough’s dealings with Jacobites, and was rewarded with the grant of 20,000 guilders (£1,205) ransom for his nephew, the Duke of Berwick, whom he captured at the battle of Landen in 1693. That autumn Churchill invested £1,000 in government loans, having three years earlier lent a fifth of that sum, presumably the proceeds from his father’s estate, which he had inherited. His was one of the regiments not to be disbanded in 1699, and he was appointed that year as the Duke of Newcastle’s (John Holles†) deputy-governor of Hull.4

Although his military career under William was pursued almost independently of Marlborough, Churchill was prepared in Anne’s reign to play second fiddle to his brother, with whom he worked in close co-operation on the battlefield. Their collaboration on campaign was particularly successful in 1703, when Charles, promoted to general, temporarily took over command of the army during his brother’s absence; and in 1704 Churchill ‘had a great and honourable share in the memorable battle of Blenheim’, for which he was given the honour of escorting the captured French general Tallard back to England. His loyalty to Marlborough was again evident the following year when he challenged General Slangenberg ‘to meet him and have satisfaction’ after the Dutchman had made disparaging remarks about the Duke. Charles was present at Brabant and stormed Liège in 1705, thereby preparing the way for victory at Namur, and the following year he fought at Ramillies, captured Brussels (of which he was made governor), and directed the siege of Dendermonde. Churchill’s military success and his family’s return to favour were reflected in the perquisites bestowed on him. In 1702 he became lieutenant of the Tower of London, a post he surrendered in 1706 in order to take up the governorship of Guernsey, which he had long been promised by his brother and which paid an annual salary of £1,200. Despite the reservations of both the Queen and Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†), Marlborough successfully obtained the appointment for his brother’s life because, the Duke explained, ‘should I die I know him so well that he would be turned out’.5

Although he has been called an uncertain ally for Marlborough in the Commons, Churchill’s outlook usually reflected the position of the Duke, who may on occasion have seen advantage in Charles’s natural Tory inclinations and willingness to deviate from the Court position. Churchill’s day-to-day activity in the House needs to be distinguished from that of his brother George, who is often confusingly called by his military title of colonel, as well as from that of his distant relative Major William Churchill*, who sat in the House after 1708. In contrast with both men, Charles’s parliamentary record is meagre and he made no known contribution from the floor, so that his allegiances are only discernible from a number of contemporary analyses of his conduct. Correctly predicted as likely to win a seat at Weymouth in February 1701, he was listed that month among the likely supporters of the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. He was blacklisted as having opposed preparations for war with France, a surprising categorizaton given his background but evidence of his increasingly obvious sympathy for the Tories, with whom he was listed by Robert Harley* in December. In January 1702 he voted in the Speakership election in favour of Harley, an action interpreted by Lord Shaftesbury (Anthony, Lord Ashley*) as against the King’s interest; but although Churchill’s vote on that occasion does appear at first sight to show the limits of his loyalty to the Court, the fact that Marlborough had pressed Harley to accept the Chair means that Charles’s actions were entirely at one with his brother’s views. Moreover, Charles’s behaviour may also have owed something to internal rivalries within the Admiralty, where his brother George was a lord and Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.*, the Court candidate for Speaker, was treasurer. No doubt as Marlborough and George Churchill wished, their brother Charles favoured the motion on 26 Feb. 1702 vindicating the Commons’ proceedings in the impeachments of William’s ministers, and in December 1703 he was offered the freedom of Hertford, where a faction within the corporation sought Tory support, though he does not appear to have taken up the privilege of voting there. Although categorized as a ‘High Church Courtier’ in 1705, he had been forecast as an opponent of the Tack, and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. 1704. Such loyalty to the Court appears to have come under increasing pressure as the administration drifted towards increasing reliance on the Whigs, although once again it is possible that Marlborough was not unhappy to indulge the expression of his brother’s Toryism. Charles deliberately avoided the division on the Speaker on 25 Oct. 1705 so as not to have to vote against William Bromley II*, but once more toed the official Court line on 18 Feb. 1706 over the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. He, George Churchill and other MPs connected with Marlborough, absented themselves from the vote that month on the Bewdley election. In doing so, it is difficult to prove whether he was showing his true Tory colours or revealing Marlborough’s reluctance to join with Godolphin over party issues. Whatever his motives, Churchill was marked unequivocally as a Tory on an analysis of the 1708 Parliament.6

Churchill’s military and parliamentary careers were curtailed from late March 1708 onwards when he was ‘seized with an apoplectic fit’ and ‘lay ill of it a great while’. Marlborough was sufficiently concerned to delay his departure for the Continent until confident that his brother was out of danger, but then suspected that Charles ‘had no mind to serve with’ him that summer. Churchill therefore wrote on 17 Apr. assuring the Duke that he was ‘perfectly recovered’ and begging to be allowed to join him. Charles also refuted the insinuation made against him, declaring that the Duke’s informant ‘lies like a villain, for I will never leave you and I would rather serve under you than any man breathing’. It was this continuing devotion to Marlborough, rather than the acceptability of his own political views, that saved him his parliamentary seat in the 1708 election.7

It is unlikely that Churchill’s attendance at Westminster was assiduous, for ill-health dogged him for the rest of his life. At Christmas 1708 he had ‘a fit of the palsy in his tongue and one side’; was thought to be ‘a dying’ in November 1709; and suffered a further attack in the spring of 1710 which left him ‘speechless for three or four days’. Always ‘a lover of wine’ he increasingly turned to the bottle, prompting gossip in 1710 that he never stirred from the country and drank ‘from morning till night’. He did not stand again at Weymouth, and in 1712 the search was made for another commander of his regiment prepared to pay the asking price of £10,000; Churchill had by then already invested £3,000 in the Bank of England. He died ‘much lamented’ on 29 Dec. 1714, leaving his property in the first instance to his wife, whose dowry had enabled him to complete the building of his house. An inscription on the monument she erected declared that his

known bravery, generous spirit and friendly temper made him esteemed and beloved by all that knew him; and his unalterable affection for the Church, his fidelity to the Crown and love of his country have justly recommended him to posterity.

Churchill also provided in his will for an annuity of £50 to be paid to one Elizabeth Dodd, probably the mother of his illegitimate son Charles† (to whom he left £2,000).8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Mark Knights


  • 1. IGI, Dorset.
  • 2. DNB.
  • 3. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 367; Council Bk. of Corp. of Kinsale ed. R. Caulfield, 192; Herts. RO, Hertford bor. recs. 25, p. 105.
  • 4. Hutchins, Dorset, iv. 482; A. L. Rowse, Early Churchills, 365; Clarke, Jas. II, ii. 225; Boyer, Wm. III, ii. 216, 334; HMC Finch, ii. 471; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 553; Bodl. Carte 228, f. 321; Add. 30000 C, f. 174.
  • 5. DNB; Rowse, 366–8; Hutchins, 482; HMC Portland, iv. 255; Add. 70075, Dyer’s newsletters 3, 6 Apr. 1703; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 171–2, 701, 703, 707, 717, 722, 724.
  • 6. Parlty. Lists Early 18th Cent. ed. Newman, 66; HMC Portland, iv. 11; SRO, Leven and Melville mss GD26/13/120, [–] to Ld. Leven, 1 Jan. 1702; PRO 30/24/20/129–30; Add. 70272, ‘Large Account, Revolution and Succession’, p. 18; Bull. IHR, lxv, 48–9.
  • 7. Luttrell, vi. 284; Egerton 2378, f. 33b; Add. 61163, ff. 174–5.
  • 8. SRO, Hamilton mss GD406/1/7267, Earl of Selkirk to Duke of Hamilton, 21 Nov. 1709; Egerton 2378, f. 33b; Cunningham, Hist. GB, ii. 200; Add. 31143, f. 556; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletters 5 Feb. 1712, 20 Dec. 1712; Hutchins, 482; Rowse, 370–1.