The Marlboroughs out of the Country
By Ruth Herman
The Marlboroughs in Exile: Letters Home
For a better understanding of Sarah’s letters while she is in her self- imposed exile it might be useful to set the Marlboroughs’ success and troubles in context. The Duke gained his most significant successes in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The conflict was based on a fight for the inheritance of the Spanish Empire. The threat of French dominance of Europe provoked an alliance of England, the Dutch Republic, Portugal and various German States. Under Marlborough’s command the allies gained success after success, including the Battle of Blenheim and in 1708 Louis XIV wanted to end the war. However, the Allies insisted that part of the peace agreement was that Louis should use his own troops to oust his grandson from the Spanish throne, which Louis refused to do. In 1711 another death gave the Habsburg heir the Spanish throne.
Now the allies realised that expelling Louis’ grandson from Spain would result in the Habsburg empire becoming too strong. So the allies, including the anti-war Tory ministry in England all made separate treaties with France, the first tranche of which were signed in 1713 in Utrecht. In a dramatic reversal of fortune the great hero, Marlborough, became the Tories’ public enemy number one. All this took place in parallel with the rise and fall of Sarah’s relationship with Anne; , the Churchill family were in disgrace.
Marlborough left the country in November 1712. Sarah met him at Maastricht in February I7I3. In their travels in Holland and Germany the Duke was feted as the most famous General of his day, but Sarah was less happy. The Marlboroughs decided to return home in July 1714. Upon landing at Dover on 1 August they learned that Anne was dead, and enjoyed a triumphal progress back to London, but they never reached the giddy heights of their former power.
The letters which Sarah writes to Lady Cowper show her watching the political scene keenly from abroad. While she complains that Tory Britain is in rapid decline, she hits out at various contemporary characters. Her sharp pen is tempered with the genuine fondness and concern she shows for Lady Cowper.