SPENCER CHURCHILL, George, mq. of Blandford (1793-1857).
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Family and Educationb. 27 Dec. 1793, 1st s. of George Spencer† (afterwards Spencer Churchill), 5th duke of Marlborough, and Lady Susan Stewart, da. of John Stewart†, 7th earl of Galloway [S]; bro. of Lord Charles Spencer Churchill*. educ. Eton 1805-11.1 m. 11 Jan. 1819, his cos. Lady Jane Stewart (d. 12 Oct. 1844), da. of George Stewart†, 8th earl of Galloway [S], 3s. 1da.; (2) 10 June 1846, Hon. Charlotte Augusta Flower (d. 20 Apr. 1850), da. of Henry Jeffery, 4th Visct. Ashbrook [I], 1s. d.v.p. 1da.; (3) 18 Oct. 1851, his cos. Jane Francis Clinton, da. of Hon. Edward Richard Stewart†, 1s. styled earl of Sunderland 1793-1817, mq. of Blandford 1817-40; suc. fa. as 6th duke of Marlborough 5 Mar. 1840. d. 1 July 1857.
Ld. lt. Oxon. 1842-d.
Capt. 3 R. Berks. militia 1812; capt. 1 Oxon. yeoman cav. 1817, lt.-col. commdt. 1845.
In 1811 John William Ward* described the 17-year-old Blandford as ‘a very fine lad’, who ‘seems to have good parts, and a good disposition’.2 He did not improve with age, and four years later George Agar Ellis* referred to his ‘drunkenness, obstinacy, indolence, shocking temper, duplicity and bad manners’, which had contributed significantly to ruining his chances of securing the vacant seat for Oxfordshire.3 Like his father, who succeeded as 5th duke of Marlborough in 1817 but barely had two pennies to rub together, he had the morals of a goat. In 1816 he had an affair with Lady Elizabeth Conyngham, which petered out. On 16 Mar. 1817 he went through a ceremony of mock marriage, performed by his soldier brother Lord Charles, posing as a clergyman, to Susannah Adelaide Law of Bayswater, who was not yet 17. They lived for a time in London as Captain and Mrs. Lawson, and he settled £400 a year on her. When she discovered the deception, Blandford, under pressure from her indignant parents, admitted the invalidity of the marriage but promised to take her to Scotland, where it could be regarded as legal by being publicly recognized. This he did in August 1818, five months after she had given birth to a daughter. Following Blandford’s marriage to his aristocratic cousin in 1819, his association with Susannah ceased, but his mother continued to pay her the annuity, though it was subsequently reduced to £200 and she was forced to return some incriminating letters.4 Blandford had also enjoyed the favours (widely bestowed) of his disreputable cousin Harriet Spencer, who in 1818 had his child, named Susan Harriet Elizabeth Churchill. She was taken in by Lady Bessborough, after whose death in 1821 she was raised at Brocket by Lady Caroline Lamb and her husband William Lamb*.5
In the family tradition, Blandford was at odds with his father, who in 1819 separated from the duchess and lived openly at Blenheim with his young mistress Maria Glover; she bore him half-a-dozen bastards.6 As Member for Chippenham in the 1818 Parliament Blandford, who had joined Brooks’s, 17 Feb. 1817, seems to have acted, when present, with the Whig opposition, though he rallied to the Liverpool ministry in support of the repressive legislation which followed Peterloo. He did not seek re-election for Chippenham in 1820. (It was reported ten years later that he ‘still owed a large sum’ there.)7 He was expected to come in for Woodstock, where the Blenheim interest was dominant, but his father offered one seat to Lord Liverpool, who recommended John Gladstone*, a wealthy merchant, while James Langston*, a rich Oxfordshire Whig squire, made an opportunist bid for the second seat. In a curiously worded address Blandford, who admitted that his canvass had been unpromising, and seems to have been aiming at his father with his reference to a threat to the electors’ ‘independence’, withdrew, on the pretext that he was not prepared to unite with another candidate.8 The impecunious Marlborough, saddled with large estate debts, bombarded Liverpool with vain requests for employment and a remission of the tax on his post office pension during the 1820 Parliament.9 In September 1825 Blandford declared his candidature for Woodstock at the next election, in tandem with his cousin Lord Ashley.10 At the general election the following June, when he stressed that he was ‘decidedly hostile’ to Catholic claims, they were returned after a contest against Langston and a stranger, in the course of which Blandford was reported to have brawled in the street.11
He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. On the 12th he was excused attendance on the Berwick election committee (which unseated Gladstone) on account of illness.12 In his maiden speech, 23 Mar., he opposed the spring guns bill, arguing that the devices provided a ‘salutary terror’ and that objections to them stemmed from ‘a kind of morbid sensitivity’. He secured a return of information on the number of persons killed by the guns in the last five years, 28 Mar.,13 and was a teller for the minority against the third reading of the bill, 30 Mar. His father, who was denounced by one observer as ‘a very shambling animal’, switched his allegiance to Canning as prime minister, but Blandford was in the minority against the second reading of the government’s corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827.14 Like his father, he initially supported the duke of Wellington’s administration.15 He voted against Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. Planta, the patronage secretary, was ‘doubtful’ as to how Blandford would react to the ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation. In fact, he was enraged. In his fury he turned against the government, and he briefly occupied a position of quixotic prominence on the political stage. On 6 Mar. 1829 he accused Wellington and Peel of betraying the Protestant constitution, complained that the Commons was out of step with majority popular opinion and said that ministers had ‘so conducted the affairs of the country, as to have involved us in the fearful alternative of rebellion and civil war, or instant and unconditional surrender to the insulting menaces and demands of Jesuits and Jacobins’. He voted against emancipation twice that day, and again on 18, 23, 27, 30 Mar. He presented a hostile petition, 17 Mar., and on the 27th called for the issue to be put before ‘the tribunal of public opinion’, and declaimed:
We live in days of political experiment, and we daily witness established principles and acknowledged facts, giving way to some gratis dictum about ‘public expediency’; and a restless spirit of innovation, a spirit of gambling in codes and constitutions, seems to obtain, and is one of the strongly marked signs of portentous events hurrying fast on to the fullness of their completion.
He concluded with the observation that every ‘sober’ friend of the established church must now be convinced that ‘the hour is now come, in which it is not only expedient, but highly necessary, that we should, without delay, honestly and effectually enter upon the consideration of the question of parliamentary reform’. He expanded on this theme, 5 May, when, speaking on the East Retford question, he raised the spectre of a Commons and state dominated by ‘Roman Catholic wealth’:
By some method of parliamentary reform, care must be taken to prevent the increase of Popish influence within these walls, through the means of corrupt boroughs, which ... we had better at once erase from the political map of the country, than leave for the grasp of Papal ambition.
On the question at issue he abstained, approving neither of the proposal to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, nor of sluicing the borough, not least because the latter plan was recommended by ‘a government from whom recent events have compelled me to withdraw every degree of confidence’. On 2 June 1829, after warning of the potential ‘influx and increase of the Roman Catholic party’ and the threat posed to agriculture by the ‘odious principle of free trade’, and proposing the abolition of ‘close and decayed boroughs’ and the transfer of their seats to unspecified populous places, he moved two resolutions condemning corrupt boroughs, bribery and the buying of seats as ‘disgraceful to the character of this House, destructive of the confidence of the people, and prejudicial to the best interests of the country’. He received support from O’Neill, Benett, Hume, Hobhouse and William Smith, but his first resolution was rejected by 114-40.16 He gave notice the following day that he would raise the issue again next session. A few weeks later Sir Richard Vyvyan, the leader of the Ultras in the Commons, commented to associates that Blandford (who in one ludicrous newspaper plan of a new administration was named as home secretary and leader of the House) had ‘done incalculable mischief’ with his espousal of reform, and was to be approached with caution. He recalled that
once or twice before the prorogation, a few words passed between us on that delicate subject; as I was not intimate with him, I could not of course enlarge upon the impolicy of his proceeding, but I touched upon it and found him perfectly headstrong and resolved to make it a cause of his own.17
He duly listed Blandford among Tories ‘strongly opposed to the present government’ in October 1829.
On 4 Feb. 1830, after giving notice for the 18th of a motion for leave to introduce ‘a bill for the better prevention of abuses in the election of Members’, Blandford seconded the Ultra Knatchbull’s amendment to the address, calling for action to deal with the current ‘all-pervading and intolerable distress’, specifically a large reduction of the tax burden:
It has been with too great justice remarked of this House, that its Members say a great deal, but that they do a very little ...These ... are not times for men to waste hours in lengthy orations, or be striving to outdo in effusions of frothy eloquence when they should be found acting. Neither are these times suited for the apprehensive sensibilities of the timid, or for the silky lispings of the mealy-mouthed.
He was a teller for the minority. On the report of the address the following day he appealed for and secured O’Connell’s support for an amendment denouncing close and decayed boroughs and advocating reform. He ‘rather foolishly’, as Knatchbull’s son saw it, disregarded Burdett’s plea not to divide the House when so few reformers were present, and secured a derisory minority of 11 against 96.18 He also stubbornly divided the House, which was promptly counted out, on his amendment demanding attention to distress before voting supplies, 9 Feb.; and in the same sense, he moved the adjournment of the committee of supply, 11 Feb., when he mustered ten supporters, including O’Connell, against 105. His similar motion of 15 Feb., brought on after voting for Hume’s call for a reduction of taxes, was defeated by 189-9. Next day Mrs. Arbuthnot, Wellington’s confidante, reflected that ‘our opponents are just such as we might have chosen for ourselves’, among them Blandford, ‘who is said to have lost £26,000 at Doncaster races and not to have paid the debt’. (It seems that the loss had been incurred in 1827, when it was put at £15,000.)19 Knatchbull confirmed Blandford’s isolation and singularity with his comment to his wife, 15 Feb., that he was ‘very perverse and obstinate, and has no weight in the House’.20 He now voted for the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb. On 18 Feb. he unveiled his reform scheme, which proposed the establishment of a standing committee of 21 Members to scrutinise and report on delinquent boroughs and identify populous places with which to replace them, adopting a householder franchise. His plan also embraced the payment of Members; the disfranchisement of non-resident voters, while allowing taxed householders to vote in their nearest borough; extension of the county franchise to copy and leaseholders and the abolition of Scottish parchment votes; reductions in the cost of the mechanics of polling; repeal of the Septennial Act and abolition of the property qualification for Members; the exclusion of all office-holders from the Commons, and the admission of clergymen. Hume seconded the motion. When Brougham urged him to accept a general resolution for reform, which would attract greater support, Blandford agreed and, with the support of Lord Althorp, a motion to the effect that reform was ‘expedient’ was put. It was negatived, and ‘by some unaccountable confusion’, as John Hobhouse remembered, several Whig reformers, including himself, Althorp, Brougham and Lord John Russell, voted for Blandford’s motion for leave to introduce a bill, which was defeated by 160-57.21 Some Whigs were unimpressed: Lord Howick, though he voted with Blandford, considered his speech ‘a mere schoolboy’s declamation with a few good sentences in it’, and the scheme ‘such a tissue of nonsense as never was seen’; the duke of Bedford and his son Lord Tavistock* thought Blandford was harming the cause, and Agar Ellis deemed his ‘heads for his reform bill ... ridiculously absurd’.22 Encouraged by the formation of the Birmingham Political Union in January 1830, Blandford had immediately communicated details of his plan to Thomas Attwood†, who was able to deliver the Union’s public endorsement of it on 16 Mar.; and while it had little practical value, Blandford’s initiative helped to stimulate the reviving interest in reform and to stir the Whigs into action.23 He voted for Russell’s proposal for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and O’Connell’s amendment to incorporate the secret ballot in the East Retford bill, 15 Mar., and presented and endorsed a reform petition from a Norfolk parish, 18 Mar. 1830.
He divided for reductions in the army estimates, 19, 22 Feb., when, denying that his opposition to government proceeded ‘solely from factious motives and the actuations of anti-Catholic spleen’, he exclaimed that ‘on the behalf of an abused and insulted people ... crying to this House for relief loudly, but in vain, I do protest against ... ministers being permitted to lay their sacrilegious hands upon the nation’s money’. He presented petitions complaining of the practice of letting out the unemployed poor, 23 Feb., and against any alteration of the currency, 26 Feb. When he complained, 22 Mar., that the returns which he had ordered last session of the number of voters in every borough had not yet been produced, Peel told him that he was asking for the impossible. He voted for reductions in the army estimates that day. On 18 Mar. he was a teller for the minority of nine for O’Connell’s attempt to adjourn the debate on Davenport’s motion for inquiry into the state of the nation. Supporting the motion, 23 Mar., he called for tax remissions of over £10,000,000, the abolition of sinecures and the lowering of public salaries, and urged the people to address the king ‘in the language of truth’, as ‘there is no longer sympathy between the people and the legislature’. He voted for a revision of taxation, 26 Mar., abolition of the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., when he presented a petition for repeal of the beer and malt duties, and for economies in the ordnance department, 29 Mar. He presented a petition from Jews of Rochester and Chatham for emancipation, 2 Apr., and voted in that sense, 5 Apr., 17 May. He took great exception to Lord Ellenborough’s divorce bill, 6 Apr., observing, in an astonishing display of hypocrisy, that Lady Ellenborough, ‘young, giddy, thoughtless and inexperienced as she has been described to be, was neglected, abandoned and sacrificed’; he was a teller for the minority of 16 against the third reading. Later that day he presented a Shoreditch petition for a remission of taxation. He voted with O’Connell for the reform of Irish vestries, 27 Apr., and the production of information on the trial of the Doneraile conspirators, 12 May, and divided for abolition of the Irish lord lieutenancy, 11 May, repeal of the Irish coal duties, 13 May, and inquiry into Irish first fruits revenues, 18 May. He voted against government on the Terceira incident, 28 Apr., the treasury grant, 10 May, privy councillors’ emoluments, 14 May, and the civil government of Canada, 25 May. On 17 May he secured 18 votes for his attempt to adjourn the debate on the third reading of Portman’s parish watch bill. He voted for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May. He divided for O’Connell’s radical reform bill, 28 May, and Russell’s more moderate plan, 28 May, and presented an agriculturists’ petition for reform, 17 June 1830.
At the general election that summer he recommended to the independents of Marlborough his friend Robert Torrens*, the political economist, who proved to be too radical for them, and whose persistence created considerable confusion.24 He himself was returned unopposed for Woodstock with his brother Charles. In a long address, he denounced the betrayal represented by Catholic emancipation, which had failed to tranquillize Ireland, rehearsed his arguments for reform and dismissed as inadequate the government’s measures of economy.25 Ministers listed him among their ‘foes’. It was expected in opposition circles that he would move an ‘ultra-radical’ amendment to the address ‘about reform, universal suffrage, etc.’; and he told Althorp that what he had in mind was ‘so violent that he does not expect 10 people to vote with him and expects to be laughed at’.26 He moved his amendment, 2 Nov. 1830, claiming to be doing so chiefly for the edification of the new king; it was seconded by O’Connell, but negatived without a division. Howick noted that the amendment was ‘almost as long as a pamphlet and still more absurd than what he had said’; Agar Ellis considered it `foolish’, and James Hope Vere reported that the ‘yard-long amendment’ had ‘excited much laughter’.27 Blandford presented a Woodstock petition for the abolition of slavery, 5 Nov. He voted against government on the civil list, 15 Nov., and the following day presented and supported the prayer of a petition from Horsham for the ballot and shorter parliaments. The ever-needy Marlborough vainly sought a place from Lord Grey, the new premier, with an offer of his own and his sons’ support.28 Blandford was given three weeks’ leave on account of the disturbed state of his neighbourhood, 6 Dec., but does not seem to have taken much advantage of it. On the 9th, recalling Grey’s enthusiasm for reform in 1793, he expressed disappointment at his recent cautious statement, observed that the proceedings of the Calne and Knaresborough election committees gave him little confidence in the Whig reformers, and demanded, as essential immediate measures, an ‘extensive’ and ‘radical’ reform and a reduction of salaries to the standard of 1792. He presented a Diss petition for relief from distress, 10 Dec. On 18 Dec. 1830 he said that if the Liverpool petitioners against the bribery there did not persevere, he would raise the matter himself. A month later John Croker recalled:
The last day I was in the House I had some serious talk with Blandford in the vote office, and I took leave of him with a ‘good-bye, Citizen Churchill’. How men of rank and fortune, and above all, those who have nothing but rank and fortune, can lend themselves to a faction that seek to annihilate them, passes my comprehension. To do Citizen Churchill justice, however, he seemed to me to be alarmed and inclined to train off.29
He presented an Irish petition praying for the Catholics of Galway to be placed on the same footing as Protestants in the matter of the franchise, 9 Feb. 1831. Alarmed or not, Blandford, who was given a week’s sick leave, 15 Mar., was present to vote silently for the second reading of the ministerial reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election, being at odds with his father and brother on reform, he did not stand for Woodstock, which returned Lord Charles and another anti-reformer.30 Two months later, in anticipation of a rumoured vacancy which did not occur, he declared his hand for Oxfordshire, promising to ‘support those measures which I shall deem best calculated for restoring that which time has impaired, for cleansing that which corruption has polluted, for rectifying that which craft has twisted aside from its proper use and real design’.31
Blandford, who in November 1831 secured a king’s bench ruling for a criminal information against one Henry Jardis over an offensive letter concerning non-payment of a Doncaster gambling debt, was expected to be called to the Lords by the ministry if it proved necessary to create enough peers to carry the reform bill; but he later claimed that he had declined the proposal.32 He was returned unopposed for Woodstock (now a single Member borough) at the general election of 1832, and drifted back towards the Conservatives. On the formation of Peel’s first administration he pledged ‘strenuous and constant support’, but failed in his request for elevation to the Lords.33 He made way for his brother at Woodstock at the next general election, but came in again in May 1838, when he narrowly defeated his Liberal youngest brother Lord John at a by-election. In November that year he was forced to go to law to establish the legitimacy of his first son and heir, following allegations in the Satirist that his marriage to Susannah Law was valid. He won the case, but the sordid evidence which was paraded reflected badly on his morals and earned him the censure of the judge.34 He succeeded as 6th duke of Marlborough in 1840 and secured the lord lieutenancy of Oxfordshire from Peel two years later.35 In 1853 his third wife, who was many years his junior, applied to the courts for custody of their son, accusing him of kidnap and of adultery with his housekeeper, Sarah Licence. He was forced to grant her free access to the child, but retained the services of Licence.36 He spent his last years in a wheel chair, crippled by gout. He died, aged 63, in July 1851, so much forgotten that his obituarist dwelt at length on the life and exploits of his illustrious ancestor.37 In his will, dated 27 June 1854, he tried to provide for his children from meagre resources, ignored his wife and left Licence £50 and £3 a week for life, together with items of furniture.38 He was succeeded in the dukedom by his thoroughly respectable eldest son John Winston Spencer Churchill (1822-83), who served as viceroy of Ireland, 1876-80.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 244, following Gent. Mag. (1857), ii. 214, states that he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford in 1811; but he is not listed as having done so in Al. Ox. There was talk in 1811 of his being sent to Scotland to continue his education after leaving Eton (Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 129).
- 2. Ward, Letters to ‘Ivy’, 129.
- 3. M. Soames, The Profligate Duke, 143.
- 4. Ibid. 152-3; A.L. Rowse, The Later Churchills, 203.
- 5. Soames, 177-8. She was educated in Switzerland, married a Swiss and died in 1882. See D. Howell-Thomas, Lord Melbourne’s Susan.
- 6. Soames, 133.
- 7. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 26 June 1830.
- 8. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 19 Feb., 4, 11 Mar. 1820; VCH Oxon. xii. 404; Harewood mss HAR/GC/83, Gladstone to Backhouse, 28 Nov. [?1824].
- 9. Add. 38285, ff. 20, 67, 222, 235; 38288, f. 112; 38289, ff. 19, 20, 122, 177; 38290, ff. 315, 317, 323; 38299, ff. 208, 209; 38371, f. 9.
- 10. Oxford University and City Herald, 3 Sept.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 8 Oct. 1825.
- 11. The Times, 6, 13 June; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 10, 17 June 1826; Bodl. MS. Top. Oxon. c. 351, f. 169; VCH Oxon. xii. 404.
- 12. Glynne-Gladstone mss 194, T. to J. Gladstone, 12 Mar. 1827.
- 13. The Times, 29 Mar. 1827.
- 14. Add. 36463, f. 415.
- 15. Wellington mss WP1/939/7.
- 16. Broughton, Recollections, iii. 322.
- 17. Cornw. RO, Vyvyan mss, Vyvyan to Newcastle, 20 July, 25 Aug., to Sadler, 22 Aug. 1829.
- 18. Cent. Kent. Stud. Knatchbull mss U951 C38/8, C.H. to N. Knatchbull, 5 Feb. 1830.
- 19. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 334; Soames, 222.
- 20. Knatchbull mss C127/42.
- 21. Broughton, iv. 9.
- 22. J. Cannon, Parl. Reform, 193-5; Add. 36466, f. 23; Grey mss, Howick jnl. 18 Feb.; 51670, Bedford to Lady Holland, 20 Feb.; Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 18 Feb. .
- 23. C. Flick, Birmingham Political Union, 39; Cannon, 194-5; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 62; Bill for Parl. Reform, as proposed by mq. of Blandford ... with Declaration of Birmingham Pol. Union thereon (1831).
- 24. Wilts. RO, Marlborough (Burke) mss 124/4/2-6, 12, 13, 25. See MARLBOROUGH.
- 25. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 10 July 1830.
- 26. Life of Campbell, i. 482; Fitzwilliam mss, Althorp to Milton, 2 Nov. 1830.
- 27. Howick jnl. 2 Nov.; Agar Ellis diary, 2 Nov. ; Hopetoun mss 167, f. 177.
- 28. VCH Oxon. xii. 405.
- 29. Croker Pprs. ii. 100.
- 30. Add. 51604, Granville to Holland, 25 Apr.; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 30 Apr. 1831.
- 31. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 28 May 1831.
- 32. The Times, 19 Nov. 1831; Greville Mems. ii. 283; Add. 40405, f. 76.
- 33. Add. 40309, f. 289; 40405, ff. 76, 80; 40407, ff. 28, 47; 40408, f. 189.
- 34. The Times, 10, 19, 23 Nov. 1838; Soames, 153-6; J. Watney, The Churchills, 69.
- 35. Add. 40486, ff. 212, 214; 40506, ff. 110, 112.
- 36. Rowse, 212-13; K. Fleming, The Churchills, 107-8.
- 37. Gent. Mag. (1857), ii. 214-15.
- 38. PROB 11/2257/696; IR26/2105/764; Rowse, 213-15.