Sarah and Politics

Ruth Herman

Politics*

Political activity lay deep in Sarah’s heart.  She was a passionate Whig and as a woman had no direct authority but spent huge amounts of her energy supporting the men who wielded the power.  Not surprisingly the letters reveal that she followed the ins and outs of politics from wherever she was, be it Germany, London or St Albans.

 

I had heard all that passed concerning S[ir] Ja[mes] M[ontagu]  before I came out of town, and I could not help reflecting upon all the difficulties  my lord G[odolphin] had to bring him to that post and the expressions at parliament which shews the power of the Duke of Sh[rewsbury][1] … that which I  wonder most at is to see how well contented my lord Halifax[2]  and Sir James  Montagu  is now with a judge’s Place[3]

 

Much of what Sarah knew was not for public view and highly contentious.  It was therefore particularly difficult to keep them secret given that all letters were likely to be opened if sent by the more public channels.  What is perhaps most interesting about her politick-ing is that she was a driving force behind her husband.

 

Lord Marlborough  … assures him that he will stand and fall by the Whig interest … and he has sent three or four letters he has had from Hannover … The elector says my Lord Riners never mentioned the command of the army nor any inclination.[4]

 

And in addition she issues instructions:

I desire that you will tell your lord that I don’t doubt of his assisting Sir Ralph Ratcliff as much as he can.  I think nothing is more just and reasonable than to contribute towards the choosing of men that will be honest in this parliament.[5]

The letters that follow give a flavour of her involvement in politics and her knowledge of the people and her very definite likes and dislikes.

May the 14th from Windsor Park Just before Queen Anne’s death

I am sorry you should have the trouble of sending a messenger, dear Lady Cowper, upon the account of the necklace. I told you that I was sure that I should like whatever you did, and that you may have as little trouble as possible in this affair I will not send it back, and all I desire more in that matter is that you would please to order the person that sold it to look for eight pearls more as good as he can find for tis so much too little  for my neck and if they are larger and of a good colour it will make the necklace as fine as anybody need desire to have it.[1]

You make apologies for doing the kindest thing in the world that is for giving me advice and to show you I take it as I ought very kindly, I will speak to you with as much freedom and sincerity as if I  had known you twenty years for I  believe you perfectly good and I am sure that you wish the same thing that I shall ever do which is that those men may have the chief influence at court that will make a right use of it, and to secure what ought to be dear to everybody liberty and property. In things of that nature tis a simple thing for a woman to imagine she can do any good and yet I am sure there was a time that I did service to those that are in the honest interest.

I hope you will believe that I would go as far as my feet would carry me to be of the least use towards procuring our safety and to make a government strong for which my lord Marlborough has so often ventured his life, but indeed dear lady I can neither make one hair white or black, I have the queen’s leave for being away[2] and I have nothing to do but to wait with patience till the event of the war is over.  If my lord Marlborough’s services are then thought to be of no more use  I shall enjoy what you allow to be delightful but to speak plainer I have no manner of interest with the queen and after forty years acquaintance and twenty five years very faithful service a woman who owes her own bread to me and all her family[3] has brought about what I  thought impossible unless I had done something to deserve so great a change, which I flatter myself have not because I was never yet told of any one thing that might have been an excuse for the hardships that have been done me.[4]  And since gratitude on one side and reason on the other could not prevent all the mischiefs that have happened since that ill woman had gained upon the queen, how is it possible that I can do any good, or struggle now the Duke And Duchess Of Somerset[5] make it their business to be with the queen half the day and do me ill offices, only in order for her to be groom of the stool[6] this is the truth of the matter which if I were with you I could thoroughly explain, but I am sensible  I have tired you already and I will only add that I am with a great deal of inclination and a true value for all your good qualities

[1] On 30th December 1718 she talks of a “large pearl necklace containing thirty-nine pearls” Katherine Thomson,  Memoirs of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, p. 471

[2] In 1710 Sarah was increasingly absent from court, which was politically unwise and displeased the Queen.

[3] Abigail Masham, the Queen’s new favourite was a distant cousin of Sarah’s, but unknown to her was also related to Robert Harley the Tory Leader.  Abigail had originally come to Sarah as a penniless relation and asked for Sarah to find her a job at court.  The Queen took to Abigail’s rather gentler attitude and the ‘washerwoman’ slowly replaced Sarah in Anne’s affections.

[4] The Queen now refused to speak to Sarah and in her last interview asked only for the angry former favourite’s pleas to be put in writing.

[5] Sarah hated the Duchess of Somerset who, along with her husband, had been angling for the position of Groom of the Stole, the most senior position at Court for some time.

pearls” Katherine Thomson,  Memoirs of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, p. 471

[2] In 1710 Sarah was increasingly absent from court, which was politically unwise and displeased the Queen.

[3] Abigail Masham, the Queen’s new favourite was a distant cousin of Sarah’s, but unknown to her was also related to Robert Harley the Tory Leader.  Abigail had originally come to Sarah as a penniless relation and asked for Sarah to find her a job at court.  The Queen took to Abigail’s rather gentler attitude and the ‘washerwoman’ slowly replaced Sarah in Anne’s affections.

[4] The Queen now refused to speak to Sarah and in her last interview asked only for the angry former favourite’s pleas to be put in writing.

[5] Sarah hated the Duchess of Somerset who, along with her husband, had been angling for the position of Groom of the Stole, the most senior position at Court for some time.

and in her last interview asked only for the angry former favourite’s pleas to be put in writing.

[5] Sarah hated the Duchess of Somerset who, along with her husband, had been angling for the position of Groom of the Stole, the most senior position at Court for some time.

 

[1] The Duke of Shrewsbury was considered a generally moderate figure. Outside of the satirists, there were reports of angry and indiscreet words she had used regarding the Queen, such as describing the monarch as an idiot,

[2]  Lord Halifax (nee Charles Montagu). To Sarah, Montagu ‘was a frightful figure, and yet pretended to be a lover, and followed several beauties, who laughed at him for it’.

[3] Sir James Montagu was the younger brother of Lord Halifax.  Montagu’s agreeing to a resign in 1710 was part of the deal to persuade Lord Cowper to remain in post as Lord Chancellor when the ministry changed from Whig to Tory as predictedThe letter is dated 22 September 1710.

[4] 22 September 1710

[5] 1715

 

October 1 1715

I hope this will find my dear Lady Cowper much the better for the country air, and the happiness of being so long in the company you like in quiet. The Last is what can’t be had in this place, and I fear it will yet be worse before it is better; for my Lord Stair[1] says, in his last Account, that the Duke of Ormond is gone with a few Servants post from Paris.[2] The Duke of Berwick[3] was seen the Day before, which is all that is said of him in Lord Stair’s Letter; but any other Person has given an Account that he had lately pawned his Jewels and Plate. My Lord S[tair] had no notice of the Pretender being gone from Bar when he writ, but the Duke of Ormond may have better Intelligence of his Motions, and if he is not yet removed, that would agree with other Intelligence that he will not come to us till his Friends are in some order here to receive him. I don’t find that the News from Scotland is so bad as some reported it, and I am apt to believe the Duke of Argyll[4] aggravated that Matter a good deal ; for at the very same Time that a very terrible Account came from His Grace, I saw a Letter from the Postmaster of Scotland[5], which said our Enemies there were not above 3,600 [three thousand six hundred?], and there is no Certainty of any Numbers that have joined them since ; but from so many Men having escaped being secured, and the Duke of Ormond having left Paris, I fear we shall soon hear of some Rising. I think they say the Duke of Somerset is at Petworth;[6] but before he went I am told he did what Service he could to our Enemies which was no manner of surprise to me and I do name? Myself a little upon what was once called being very obstinate when none of my friends could persuade to have anything to say to that man.

When I see my Lord Townshend,[7] I shall have a great Mind to desire him to compare what Good and what Mischief the Duke of Somerset has done since our Friends took Hands with him. [which puts me in mind of a thing I once heard which I liked mightily, that if ministers would once take honesty as a servant upon trial they would never part with it. Tis very probable that I can write nothing that is news to you tho’ what I have told you is from a good hand if that happens to be the case I beg your pardon and now I will desire leave to trouble you with a little of my own affairs in hopes you will be so good as to send me Lord Cowper’s advice upon them. About a month ago I wrote to Mr  Wymondefold to desire he would let me know if I was obliged to give him any notice or how much to have the 4100 pounds upon bonds paid in for I thought I should have a mind to dispose of my money some other way. He said he would answer me but never did and I have sent to him twice since but he will not come to me. I have sent this morning Hodges to see if he can find him and to get him to advise what is to be done with the Bonds; for that of the South Sea,[8] which is for 2,100., is not worth so much by two or three hundred at this Time, as I am informed and upon the Duke of Ormond’s Landing, or any Disorder, there is no doubt but all Stocks will fall very much, and, though I am not so much frighted as to part with my own, I think I should not run the Hazard of other People’s for 5 per Cent. Interest, which I agreed with Mr. Wymondefold to take upon the first Money he paid me at 6, though I did not charge the Security. I am as much as tis possible for anybody to be my dear Lady Cowper most faithful humble servant.

(Signed) S. Marlborough.

Mr. G[ipton], the Jeweller, was with me just now, and told me there was 28 Men sent to Newgate last Night out of Convent Garden Parish. One may write anything by the Post very safe, as long as Mr. Craggs is in the Office. [9]

[1] Lord Stair was an old colleague of Marlborough’s who had been sent to Paris to maintain good relations with the new Regent.  He was instrumental in gathering information to impeach the outgoing Tory ministry for their correspondence with the Jacobites.

[2] Ormond was impeached for ‘high treason and other high crimes and misdemeanours’ by the House of Commons on 21 June 1715

[3] Berwick was a Jacobite who was refused permission by the French king to accompany the Pretender on the uprising of 1715. Berwick stayed in France which angered James.

[4] The Scottish Duke of Argyll was central to the Hanoverian resistance to the Jacobite rising of 1715 in Scotland.

[5] “From the time of the Act of Anne, the establishment in Scotland was governed by a Deputy Postmaster-General, under the authority of the Postmaster-General of Great Britain.

[6] Seat of the Duke of Somerset

[7] After the death of Queen Anne in August 1714, George I chose Townshend, a committed Whig, as one of the eighteen regents to prepare for his accession.

[8] See Sarah’s business letters: http://www.hertsmemories.org.uk/page/sarah_churchill_and_her_finances?path=0p366p851p

[9] James Craggs was an old friend of the Marlboroughs who had been out of favour under the Tories. Under the new Whig ministry he was soon re-instated and promoted in 1715 to joint postmaster-general. He was later implicated in the South-Sea Company and the resultant market crash.

  • This text first appeared on the Herts Heroines website, where there is an article on Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.
This page was added on 13/06/2016.

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