CHURCHILL, Winston (1620-88), of Minterne Magna, Dorset and Whitehall.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

bap. 18 Apr. 1620, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of John Churchill of Wootton Glanville, Dorset by 1st w. Sarah, da. and coh. of Sir Henry Winston of Standish, Glos. educ. St. John’s, Oxf. 1636-8; L. Inn 1637, called 1652. m. 26 May 1648 (with £1,500), Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Drake of Ashe, Musbury, Devon, 8s. (5 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1659; kntd. 22 Jan. 1664.1

Offices Held

Capt. of horse (royalist) 1643-5.

J.p. Dorset July 1660-d., Mdx. 1680-d.; commr. for assessment, Dorset Aug. 1660-80, Mdx. 1664-9, Westminster 1679-80; freeman, Poole Nov. 1660; Lyme Regis 1685; commr. for loyal and indigent officers, Dorset 1662, dep. lt. 1664-d.2

Commr. for settlement [I] 1662-9; clerk-comptroller of the green cloth 1664-d.3

FRS 1664-85.


Churchill constructed for himself an impressive pedigree, but he was in fact the grandson of a Dorset copyholder. His father studied law at the Middle Temple, and became deputy registrar of Chancery, in which capacity he acted as jackal, and later Judas, to Bacon. Churchill himself became an undergraduate at St. John’s during the period of Laud’s greatest munificence to the college; but a few years later, as a law student, he was haled before the Privy Council for publicly drinking confusion to the Archbishop. During the Civil War his father, who had resigned his Chancery post to his cousin (Sir) John Churchill, was active as commissioner of array, compounding for £440 in 1646 on property valued at £245 p.a. Churchill himself saw service with the King’s forces in the west until wounded in the arm in December 1645. Although called to the bar in 1652, as a Cavalier he was forbidden to practise; but he is not known to have engaged in royalist conspiracy during the Interregnum, living quietly with his wife’s relatives until his father’s death.4

Churchill was returned for Weymouth in 1661 as a follower of the Earl of Bristol. He took little interest in his constituency; alone among its four Members he made no contribution to the cost of rebuilding the harbour bridge. But at Westminster he was quick to make his mark. Though in the earlier sessions of the Cavalier Parliament there is some possibility of confusion with John Churchill I, he was probably appointed to all the committees of major political significance, including those for the corporations and uniformity bills. As chairman of the committee of inquiry into a seditious pamphlet attacking the former measure, he reported on 15 July that William Prynne had admitted responsibility. He also took the chair for the bill to reduce to 3 per cent the interest payable on loans to Cavaliers, and helped to manage conferences on the corporations bill and the bill of pains and penalties. Churchill received no encouragement from Clarendon, possibly owing to the absence in Guernsey of Sir Hugh Pollard, who was expected to manage the west country Members. Accordingly he attached himself to the rising interest of Sir Henry Bennet, who observed that he ‘spoke confidently and often, and upon some occasions seemed to have credit in the House’, though but ‘of ordinary condition and mean fortunes’. It was under Bennet’s patronage that he first appeared at Court and became one of the government managers in the Commons, while Lord Wharton seems to have regarded him as a moderate. Nevertheless, after the autumn recess he served on the committee for the execution of those under attainder, and was among those sent to the King to ask for the return of Vane and Lambert for this purpose. Charles was so much impressed that he personally ordered an augmentation to Churchill’s somewhat dubious arms, on the grounds of his war service and his ‘present loyalty as a Member of the House of Commons’. He spent the Christmas recess in Dorset, where he was reported as speaking ‘very disrespectfully’ of Clarendon. On his return to Westminster he took the chair for an estate bill. He helped to prepare reasons on confirming ministers in their livings and compensating the loyal and indigent officers, and on 10 May 1662 he was sent to the Lords to desire a conference on the militia bill.5

Churchill was rewarded with a seat on the Irish land commission, in which capacity he was regarded as one of the King’s men, bent on resisting the excessive claims of the Cromwellian settlers, though this position was compromised by his strenuous and successful efforts to secure a large forfeited estate for Bennet. He was never again so active at Westminster, though he continued to take an acute interest in parliamentary affairs. On 12 Nov. 1662 he wrote to Bennet about a bill drawn up together with his friend Thomas Clifford ‘which had not been so long laid aside, but to give way to greater matters. I could heartily wish myself engaged with all the lawyers in the quarrel of that bill.’ In the following January Bennet sent for him to defend the Declaration of Indulgence. Nevertheless he continued to serve on the committees for the Clarendon Code. In 1664 he was listed as a court dependant and helped to manage the conference on injuries sustained at the hands of the Dutch. Still in high favour he was knighted and made clerk-comptroller of the green cloth, though Ormonde, as lord steward, objected to the intrusion of an outsider into a senior Household appointment. On 6 Feb. 1665 he acted as teller with his colleague Bullen Reymes and against the son of another colleague, Giles Strangways, in a division on a bill to assert the rights of the crown over salt-marshes, and in the autumn he again opposed Strangways, in debate and division, over the import of Irish cattle.6

Churchill seems to have been unable to attend the succeeding sessions owing to his work in Ireland, in the course of which he became involved in a violent quarrel with one of the Duke of York’s agents, an awkward incident, since the Duke was now on the most intimate terms with Churchill’s daughter. In the 1669 session, Churchill defended the second conventicles bill, denouncing the influence of ‘seditious people whispering with many of the House’, and was appointed to the committee. He attempted to obstruct the proceedings against Ormonde’s arch-enemy Orrery (Roger Boyle), and acted as teller for the acquittal of Clarendon’s confidant Sir George Carteret on a charge of falsifying accounts. He was one of the delegation sent by the House to thank the dying Albemarle for preserving the peace of the kingdom.7

The decline in Churchill’s position in the House from this time forward is described by A. L. Rowse:

He was now, first and foremost, an official of the Royal Household; he was there to defend the King’s policy and his wishes. As Charles’s Government became more unpopular and lost command of any majority in the Commons, so Sir Winston was considered simply a placeman of the Crown. ... As a leading spokesman of the Court in the House throughout the whole period, he incurred unpopularity when opinion turned more and more against the Court, and in the public prints he was traduced for the undignified situation he was placed in by his daughter’s relation to the heir to the throne..

He still served on some important committees, intended to prevent electoral abuses (8 Dec. 1669) and to supply defects in the Conventicles Act (21 Nov. 1670); but his speech on the Lord’s amendments to the latter, seeming to justify each and every exercise of the prerogative in ecclesiastical matters, was seriously at variance with the feeling of the House. Nor was it tactful in discussing the assault on Sir John Coventry to express surprise that some Members seemed more afflicted by the injury to his colleague’s nose than to Charles I’s neck. As a court dependant he was on both lists of government Members at this time and on the Paston list in 1673-4. He made an effective defence of his department against Sir Thomas Byde in 1674, and sat on the important committee on Irish affairs in the same year. It is notable that he did nothing to save Bennet (now Lord Arlington) from impeachment. It was in this year that his historical work Divi Britannici was at last published; in view of Churchill’s position in the royal household, he was not required to submit it to censorship, but unfortunately it contained a passage so high in defence of the King’s prerogative of taxation that it had to be recalled and amended for fear of Parliament.8

Churchill was listed among the officials in the Commons in 1675. Speaking about the jurisdiction of the Lords, he urged the House to ‘go as high in proof, and as low in words as you can’; and when the conduct of Sir John Churchill became matter for impassioned debate he confined himself to a technical point in his cousin’s favour. But he did not shrink from affirming his belief that those who contrived the dispute were the men who did not own the King’s supremacy. When the session was resumed in the autumn the debate on English officers in the French service took an embarrassingly personal turn, and he had to undertake to recall his son (John Churchill II). Nor could the proposal for a test for pensioners be approved by one who had so long helped to manage the court party: ‘there can be no greater infamy ... in casting reflection, suspicion and self-condemnation’, he said, and proposed instead the punishment of those who cast aspersions on Parliament. There seems to have been no reference in the House to the misadventure of Divi Britannici, unless perhaps the setting up of a committee to investigate publications scandalous to Church and State (20 Oct. 1675) on which Churchill served; but revenue questions bulked large in debate. Churchill was twice teller for unsuccessful government motions; and on being challenged for his views on the appropriation of revenue to the use of the navy, he said that he would accept it when misuse of funds was proved. But he would have no truck with the proposal to pay taxes into the chamber of London; the economic supremacy of the capital was a grievance, he asserted, especially to ship-building constituencies like his own. A further decline in his prestige in the House was signalized when his speech on the pricking of (Sir) Edmund Jennings as sheriff was laughed down.9

Although listed among the government speakers, Churchill was less loquacious in the 1677 session. Shaftesbury classed him as ‘thrice vile’, but he helped to draw up the address for the formation of an alliance against France. The author of A Seasonable Argument wrote of him: ‘He proffered his own daughter to the Duke of York, and has got in boons £10,000. He has published in print that the King may raise money without his Parliament.’ He took no part in debate in the early sessions of 1678; (Sir) Joseph Williamson noted that he was to be questioned, and his salary was reduced from £600 to £200 p a. He told (Sir) Stephen Fox ‘that he must be forced to retire to his estate in the country’, and the cut was restored; but it was perhaps while he was suffering from a sense of grievance that he was appointed to the committees to summarize treaty obligations and to draft a bill to exclude Papists from Parliament (12 June). After the Popish Plot he helped to manage a conference on the bill; but he was still listed among the court party, and when he supported the Lords’ proviso to exempt the Duke of York he was shouted down, in spite of his protestation that he was obliged to speak in discharge of his conscience. An attempt to discredit Titus Oates failed no less lamentably. He had been an active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, perhaps serving on 224 committees, acting as teller in 18 divisions, and making about 40 recorded speeches. As one of the ‘unanimous club’ he is unlikely to have stood during the exclusion crisis. After the Rye House Plot he informed Secretary Jenkins about the disaffected speeches and writings of a Dorset attorney.10

Churchill was elected in 1685 for Lyme Regis, probably on the Drake interest. A very active Member of James II’s Parliament, he was appointed to 16 committees, including those to examine the disbandment accounts and to recommend expunctions from the Journals. On 6 June he was named to two committees on private bills, to enable respectively Ormonde’s grandson to make a jointure for his wife, and Edward Meller to sell land for payment of debts. He carried the latter bill to the Lords a week later. On 18 June he acted as teller for the bill to prevent clandestine marriages, and was appointed to the committee. The speeches in defence of the Government sometimes attributed to him in the second session were delivered by Sir William Clifton. He was probably out of sympathy with the King’s religious policy, advising the bishop of Bristol not to deal too harshly with an impudent sermon at Dorchester about the dangers of Popery. He died on 26 Mar. 1688, and was buried at St. Martin in the Fields. Despite his years of court service, he had increased his estate by only a couple of small purchases, and he died in debt. His youngest surviving son, Charles Churchill, inherited Minterne, and sat for Weymouth from 1701 to 1710.11

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: John. P. Ferris


This biography is based on A. L. Rowse, The Early Churchills.

  • 1. St. Stephen Walbrook (Harl. Soc. Reg. xlix), 59; St. Peter, Paul’s Wharf (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxxiii), 22; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 1092; HMC Bath, ii. 175.
  • 2. Hutchins, Dorset, i. 32; Lyme Regis court bk. 1672-92, f. 384; Dorset RO, D84 (official).
  • 3. CSP Ire. 1660-2, p. 577; CSP Dom. 1668-9, p. 163; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vii. 185; Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 1950.
  • 4. N. and Q. for Som. and Dorset, xxvii. 190-2; Gen. Mag. xv. 110; Black Bk. L. Inn, ii. 458-63; SP23/186/410-16; Cal. Comm. Adv. Money, 1092.
  • 5. Cal. Cl. SP, v. 208; Hutchins, ii. 442; CJ, viii. 302, 308, 311, 314, 356; Clarendon, Life, ii. 207-10; CSP Ire. 1666-9, p. 99; CSP Dom. 1661-2, p. 176.
  • 6. CSP Ire. 1660-2, p. 616; 1663-5, pp. 42-43, 89, 231; Lister, Clarendon, iii. 232; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vii. 185; CJ, viii. 548, 620; Carte, Ormond, iv. 243; Bodl. Carte mss 34, ff. 448v, 452v; Stowe 744, f. 81; Milward, 233-4.
  • 7. Bulstrode Pprs. 64; Stowe 745, f. 10; CJ, ix. 108, 111; Grey, i. 161-2, 174, 186.
  • 8. Grey, i. 248, 337; ii. 377-9; Arber, Term Catalogues, i. 187; Wood, Athenae, iv. 235.
  • 9. Grey, iii. 154, 236, 266, 335, 359-60, 367, 455; iv. 23; CJ, ix. 370, 373.
  • 10. CJ, ix. 472, 543; Dorset RO, D124, box 235, bdle. 1, Fox to Marlborough, n.d.; Wood’s Life and Times (Oxf. Hist. Soc. xxi), 428; CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, p. 239.
  • 11. CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 134; Hutchins, iv. 471.