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John Churchill

He supported one side, and then the other. His gamble on who would rule always seemed to be right but he ended his days under a cloud.

John Churchill was born to Royalist Sir Winston Churchill in the immediate aftermath of the English Civil War.

His staunch support for Charles II of England paid off with the return of the king, and 17-year-old John Churchill was appointed to the household of the Duke of York. Joining the navy, he remained at court for a while, but saw turns of duty first in the Mediterranean and in the last of the Anglo-Dutch Wars.

In 1674, Churchill married Sarah Jennings. In the years to follow, he engaged in various diplomatic missions to Spain and the Dutch United Provinces. In 1685, Charles II died and Churchill's former employer, the Duke of York, became James II of England. James elevated him to the peerage, as Baron Sandridge.

Within a few months, the new king faced a series of rebellions, and Churchill was appointed head of the loyalist troops, then quickly subordinated to the Earl of Feversham. Churchill nevertheless distinguished himself during the fighting, and became an important figure in the army.

In 1688, William of Orange invaded England with the support of most of the nobility, Churchill deserted, and most of the army went with him. James left for France rather than fight. Churchill was named Earl of Marlborough as a reward.

With events leading up to the War of the Spanish Succession in 1701, Marlborough was put to use, commanding English and Dutch forces opposing the Swedish allies of France. When William died in 1702, Marlborough was reaching his peak.

William's successor, Queen Anne, was a close friend of Marlborough's wife, and he enjoyed the new queen's confidence. The same year, war with France finally broke out, Marlborough won a series of victories and was named Duke of Marlborough. He also beat the French at the Battle of Blenheim and Battle of Ramillies.

By 1708, he had had to fight a pitched battle against French forces once again, winning the Battle of Oudenarde. However, his relationship with Anne broke down and, by 1711, he was recalled from the Continent, accused of embezzlement, and sent into a brief exile.

Anne died shortly thereafter, and Marlborough returned to England and settled into retirement. He died in 1722.