SPENCER CHURCHILL, Lord Charles (1794-1840), of Blenheim, Oxon. and 26 Grosvenor Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1818 - 1820
1830 - 1832
1835 - 1837

Family and Education

b. 3 Dec. 1794, 2nd 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 George Spencer Churchill, mq. of Blandford*. educ. Eton 1805-8. m. 24 Aug. 1827, Ethelred Catherine, da. of John Benett*, 2s. 3da. d. 29 Apr. 1840.1

Offices Held

Ensign 68 Ft. 1811; 2nd lt. 95 Ft. and a.d.c. to Maj.-Gen. Hon. William Stewart† 1812; lt. 52 Ft. 1813; 1st lt. 95 Ft. 1813; capt. 60 Ft. 1815; capt. 85 Ft. 1815, half-pay 1823; capt. 75 Ft. 1824, maj. 1825; lt.-col. (half-pay) 1827, ret. 1832.


Spencer Churchill, whose profligate and impoverished father had succeeded as 5th duke of Marlborough in 1817 (when Spencer Churchill masqueraded as a clergyman to officiate at the mock marriage of his elder brother Lord Blandford to a young ingenue), was always short of money.2 Two contested elections in the space of four months in 1818 for St. Albans, where his father had property, saddled him with considerable debts; and his still unpaid bills deterred him from showing his face in the borough at the general election of 1820.3 In the 1818 Parliament he had acted, on the rare occasions when he was present, with the Whig opposition (he had joined Brooks’s on 13 May 1818); but, like Marlborough, he now looked to the Liverpool ministry for a way out of his financial difficulties.4 After the 1820 election, when an Oxfordshire Whig intervened successfully against his interest at Woodstock, Marlborough expressed the private view that as a one of their supporters had apparently ‘opened the door of my dwelling’ by alerting him to the opportunity, ministers ‘ought to assist my son Charles with a seat’, for ‘unless ... [he] gets in somewhere, he will be arrested’.5 In 1821 Spencer Churchill sought a brevet promotion to major, approaching in the first instance the duke of Wellington, master-general of the ordnance, who passed on his memorial to horse guards. Nothing came of this, and he renewed his application in January 1823, shortly after returning from Malta. He was again unsuccessful, being told, as before, that without a specific recommendation, which Wellington felt unable to give, he had no chance of what amounted to preferential treatment.6 His plight was worsened when he was placed on half-pay later in the year.

While he was in Paris in 1819 he had attracted the attention of the snobbish Mrs. Trelawny Brereton (soon to be widowed), who saw him as a socially desirable catch for her daughter Charlotte. Despite his pleas of poverty and his languid courtship during the next few years, she continued to construct fantasies:

Every person gives him the character of being amiable and very good tempered, steady and prudent in his expenditure. I have never heard of his gaming, and am pretty certain he is a very sober man. As a soldier his character stands well. His being near thirty I believe ... [Charlotte] likes.7

Reality intruded when Spencer Churchill was hauled before the insolvent debtors court in the autumn of 1823. He was granted two extensions of time to file his schedule. At the final hearing, 9 Apr. 1824, it was revealed that he had paid off £3,000 of his St. Albans debts by borrowing from one Simpson, had contracted several other debts in London and had as his only income his captain’s half-pay of 7s. a day and a discretionary allowance of £400 a year under the will of his late grandfather, the 4th duke, which had been occasionally withheld and latterly ‘suspended’ by the trustees. Counsel for his creditors complained that with such a modest income he had ‘speculated with the property of others’ to obtain a seat in Parliament, and called for a significant portion of his half-pay to be assigned for their benefit. On his behalf it was submitted that while his debts were large, their having been inflated by the notorious rapacity of St. Albans electors entitled him to lenient treatment. He was discharged without penalty.8 Negotiations between the Marlborough and Trelawny Brereton lawyers soon afterwards produced a proposal that if Spencer Churchill married Charlotte, his debts would be paid and he would receive £10,000, while she would have £400 a year and £7,000 on her mother’s death. He did not consider this acceptable, and the affair came to an end. Over the next few years his mother persuaded the Marlborough trustees to pay off his most pressing debts.9 Shortly before the final bankruptcy hearing his parents appealed to Wellington, who granted him an interview, to endorse his bid for promotion. The duke was still unable to do more than offer a general recommendation, but in October 1824 Spencer Churchill obtained a captaincy in the 75th Foot, and he received a regular promotion in December 1825.10 At the contested Woodstock election of 1826, when Blandford stood with a kinsman to reassert the supremacy of the Blenheim interest, Spencer Churchill, fighting ‘without his shirt’, joined him in a street brawl with supporters of their opponents.11 Immediately after his marriage to the daughter of one of the Members for Wiltshire in August 1827, he unsuccessfully applied for the vacant post of inspecting field officer of militia in the Ionian Islands.12 Four months later he was placed on a lieutenant-colonel’s half-pay. He sought to step into the shoes of Lord Graves*, a suicide, as a commissioner of excise in February 1830, but Wellington, now premier, told him that no new appointment was to be made.13

At the general election of 1830 he stood for Woodstock with Blandford, who, outraged by the concession of Catholic emancipation, had espoused parliamentary reform and gone into opposition. In his own address, Spencer Churchill promised to ‘maintain ... inviolate’ the ‘British constitution in church and state’. They were unopposed.14 Ministers, tarring him with the same brush as his brother, listed him among their ‘foes’, while Henry Brougham* claimed him as a gain for opposition. He duly voted with his brother against government on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Unlike Blandford, however, he could not swallow the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and he voted against its second reading, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, after presenting an anti-reform petition from his constituency. At the ensuing general election, when Blandford stood down, Spencer Churchill was returned for Woodstock with another opponent of the bill after a token contest forced by a reformer who tried to establish the validity of a householder franchise.15 He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and at least twice for an adjournment, 12 July 1831. On the proposal to disfranchise Woodstock (which was eventually reprieved as a single Member borough), 26 July, he told an apparently indifferent House that it was ‘one of the most independent constituencies in the kingdom’ and that ‘no influence whatever would induce the voters ... to swerve for one moment from the straightforward course’:

Honesty and independence have ever been their motto. I have been, from the earliest period of my life, a reformer; but I cannot bring myself to think there is any necessity of going to such lengths as ... [Russell] has proposed to go in his plan. I should be very willing to give the large manufacturing towns representatives, but not at the expense of those boroughs, which derive their right of franchise from ancient charters. I am not ... one of those who would rob Peter to pay Paul.

He voted to postpone considering the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and to preserve the voting rights of non-resident freemen, 30 Aug. He divided against the passage of the bill, 21 Sept. Next day he was given a week’s leave on account of illness in his family. At about this time opposition leaders persuaded his father to take his seat in the Lords and leave his proxy for use against the reform bill.16 Spencer Churchill was absent from the division on the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831; and his only recorded votes in the last session of the unreformed Parliament were against its third reading, 22 Mar., and with opposition on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July 1832. He sold out of the army that year.

At the dissolution of 1832 he made way at Woodstock for Blandford. On the formation of Peel’s first ministry two years later he pledged his support, in concert with his father and brother, but was an unsuccessful applicant for gainful employment.17 He was returned unopposed for Woodstock at the general election of 1835, but was narrowly defeated there in 1837. Spencer Churchill, who was widowed in 1839, died, aged 45, in April 1840.18 By his brief will, dated 8 Apr. 1840, he left all his property in trust to his five children, who were still minors, and by a codicil of the same date he gave £100 to a Miss Clarissa Parry ‘as a testimony of my regards for her attention to myself and to my children’. His personalty, which yielded a taxable residue of £1,692, was sworn under £4,000, but his financial affairs appear still to have been in some disarray.19

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, v.244, following Burke PB, gives 28 Apr.; but the 29th is confirmed by IR26/1543/476.
  • 2. M. Soames, The Profligate Duke, 153.
  • 3. Althorp Letters, 102.
  • 4. Add. 38285, ff. 20, 67, 222; 38288, f. 112; 38289, ff. 19, 122, 177; 38290, ff. 315, 317, 323.
  • 5. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 290, Marlborough to J. Gladstone, 13 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Wellington mss WP1/669/18, 20; 754/14, 21.
  • 7. A. Hill, Trelawny’s Strange Relations, 17.
  • 8. The Times, 24 Sept., 22 Nov. 1823, 10 Apr. 1824; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 305.
  • 9. Soames, 206-7; Hill, 17-18.
  • 10. Wellington mss WP1/788/16; 789/13, 14.
  • 11. VCH Oxon. xii. 404; Bodl. Ms. Top. Oxon. c. 351, f. 169.
  • 12. Wellington mss WP1/895/49.
  • 13. Ibid. WP1/1094/3.
  • 14. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 10 July; Oxford University and City Herald, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 30 Apr., 7 May 1831; VCH Oxon. xii. 405.
  • 16. Wellington mss WP1/1184/1; 1196/23; Arbuthnot Corresp. 150.
  • 17. Add. 40405, ff. 76, 80; 40407, f. 28; 40409, ff. 183, 185.
  • 18. The Times, 1 May 1840; Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 205.
  • 19. PROB 11/1932/560; IR26/1543/476.