SPENCER, George, Mq. of Blandford (1766-1840), of Blenheim, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. 6 Mar. 1766, 1st s. of George, 4th Duke of Marlborough, and bro. of Lords Francis Almeric Spencer* and Henry John Spencer*. educ. privately by Revs. Thomas King and William Coxe; Eton 1776-83; Paris 1783; Christ Church, Oxf. 1784. m. 15 Sept. 1791, Lady Susan Stewart, da. of John Stewart†, 7th Earl of Galloway [S], 4s. 1da. summ. to the Lords in his fa.’s barony as Baron Spencer 12 Mar. 1806, suc. fa. as 5th Duke of Marlborough 29 Jan. 1817; took additional name of Churchill 26 May 1817.
Ld. of Treasury Aug. 1804-Feb. 1806.
Maj. 1 Reading vols. 1803, lt.-col. commdt. (militia) 1808.
Blandford, thought to be the first to prefer the style ‘marquess’ to ‘marquis’, was generally regarded as a feckless dilettante, gifted but absurd. In 1790 his father turned his brother Charles, a supporter of the opposition, out of the county seat and substituted him. He was expected to support Pitt’s administration and in 1791 was listed hostile to the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland, but had no interest in public life at this time. His mother had wished him to marry an heiress; other mothers wanted him for their daughters and, on account of one Gunnilda Gunning, he was subjected in 1790 to public defamation by her mother. In the following year an improvident marriage was ‘patched up’ for him at his friend Sir Henry Dashwood’s house. His parents, who had not been consulted, demurred. A reconciliation took place in 1792, but it was followed almost at once by a lasting estrangement. Blandford was in some respects more sinned against than sinning: full of sensibility, he was abused by his parents, who gave ‘dissatisfaction instead of pleasure to their children’. His wife’s family were informed, 7 Apr. 1792,
the hesitation in his speech prevents him from taking his share in the promiscuous conversation of a large party, but when he becomes acquainted, he gets over the impediment and with the best manner of the highest fashion displays a very complete degree of knowledge.
But he was extravagant: conducting a lavish and exotic experiment in gardening at White Knights near Reading, collecting rare books (he was an original member of the Roxburghe Club) and music (he composed glees himself). Kept on an inadequate fixed allowance by his father, he was at the mercy of moneylenders.1
In 1796 Blandford’s father deprived him of his seat in Parliament. The only evidence of his Membership is negative. He paired with ministers in favour of their resistance to Russian aggression, 12 Apr. 1791; declined Pitt’s invitation to move the address, 1 Jan. 1792, and was a defaulter in Scotland on 24 Nov. 1795 when, after a division, the date of 8 Dec. was fixed for his attendance. Left in limbo, he deteriorated. His marriage was unhappy and in 1801 he was sued for £20,000 by Charles Sturt* for his seduction of Mrs Sturt, to whom he signed his love letters ‘your faithful husband’. Sturt ridiculed the high flown sentiments of these letters—which quaintly resembled those of the Prince of Wales to Mrs Fitzherbert—and the dandyism of their author, but, as a mari complaisant, was awarded only £100 damages. Blandford fled to Switzerland.2
In 1802, probably to escape his creditors, he re-entered Parliament for Tregony as a paying guest of Richard Barwell*. He made no more mark than before, but was listed a supporter of Pitt in March 1804 (without a vote against Addington to attest to it). On 28 July 1804 Pitt informed him that he could now gratify his wish for ‘some official situation’ and wished to ascertain his prospects for re-election at Tregony. Although he became a lord of the Treasury, he was unable to secure his re-election because of the decay of his patron’s borough interest. There was probably an intention of finding a vacancy elsewhere for him and perhaps that was why on 5 Dec. 1804 he wrote to Pitt for an interview on an ‘important’ matter, but none materialized.3
When Lord Grenville succeeded Pitt, Blandford, anxious to retain his place, wrote to him, 5 Feb. 1806, claiming that he had a seat in Parliament at his disposal. Grenville dismissed him with expressions of regret, despite which Blandford assured him of his support. He had to be in Parliament. On 5 Mar. 1806 the premier informed him that the King had consented that he should be summoned to the Lords in his father’s barony. He wished to be Baron Churchill, but his father opposed this and insisted on Baron Spencer, which he became. His mother objected violently to the whole negotiation. The barony of Churchill was reserved for Blandford’s brother Lord Francis, on whose behalf the duke carved up his Oxfordshire estate.4
Apart from the diminution of the parliamentary interest he might hope to inherit, Blandford saw the rest of his inheritance threatened. He was reported as saying
You see ... how the immense fortune of my family will be frittered away. My father inherited £500,000 in ready money and £70,000 p.a. in land; in all probability when it comes to my turn to live at Blenheim, I shall have nothing left but the £5,000 a year on the post office [granted to the 1st Duke].
From 1806 Blandford’s politics were the opposite of his father’s and his brother’s. On 10 Aug. 1806 he asked Lord Grenville for a situation ‘under your government’,5 and this at a time when his father’s professions of support for Grenville were demonstrably unreliable. His Whig uncle Lord Robert Spencer*, who thought him ill-used, sponsored his membership of Brooks’s Club, 1 Mar. 1809. Despite his reconciliation with his mother on her deathbed in 1811, he courted those whom his parents had alienated. In 1815 his heir failed to succeed Lord Francis as county Member. When he succeeded to the dukedom, he snubbed his brother by taking the additional name of Churchill. He was at once reduced to penury by post-obits and confined to Blenheim, ‘a melancholy instance of the results of extravagance’. Treated as ‘very little better than a common swindler’, he was received only by the Prince Regent, a kindred spirit. With insolvency he now combined High Toryism, but was often obliged to sell the seats at his disposal. He died 5 Mar. 1840, leaving his personalty to his mistress Matilda Glover, whom he had taught to sing.6
Ref Volumes: 1790-1820
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. A. L. Rowse, The Later Churchills, 191-7; Geo. III Corresp. i. 665; Spencer mss, Mrs Howe to dowager Lady Spencer, 7 Sept. 1791; Farington, i. 292; Aspinall-Oglander, Admiral’s Widow, 148; Diary of Mrs Lybbe Powys, 252; SRO GD46/17/6, Johnston to Stewart, 7 Apr. ; Add. 34441, f. 493; 34453, f. 248.
- 2. PRO 30/8/114, f. 63; CJ, li. 104; The Times, 28, 29 May 1801.
- 3. PRO Dacres Adams mss 5/68; 30/8/114, f. 67.
- 4. Fortescue mss, Blandford to Grenville, 5, 7 Feb., 11 Mar., Grenville to Blandford, 7 Feb., 5 Mar. 1806; Add. 34456, f. 364; 34460, f. 243.
- 5. Gronow, Reminiscences (1900), i. 314; Fortescue mss.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, x. 179, 184; Add. 34460, f. 294; Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 16 July 1819; Jnl. of Mrs Arbuthnot, i. 304; V. H. H. Green, Oxford Common Room, 71; Annual Reg. (1841), app. 155.