Arabella Churchill was the mistress of the Duke of York for about ten years as well as being one of Anne Hyde’s ladies-in-waiting. Arabella had four children by James.
Henrietta was the eldest of the siblings. She married Henry Waldegrave, the son of a cavalier in 1683. He was the Comptroller of James’ household. Unlike her legitimate half-siblings Henrietta was raised as a Catholic and accompanied her father into exile along with Henry Waldegrave who died the following year. She eventually married for a second time to Piers Butler, Viscount Galmoye but not before she’d had a fling with one of Ireland’s wild geese. Through her first marriage she is an ancestor of Princess Diana.
Henrietta’s brother James, the most famous of Arabella’s FitzJames children, was raised in France and entered the service of Louis XIV. He returned to England where he became an officer in the Blues at his father’s instigation. In fact he was due to replace the protestant Earl of Oxford – an example of James’ strategy of giving key roles to Catholics – a strategy which helped to trigger the Glorious Revolution of 1688. When men like John Churchill deserted James at Salisbury and went over to William of Orange, James remained loyal to his father and went to Ireland where the fight for the Crown continued before going into exile in France where he rejoined Louis XIV’s army. His was a complicated life given that he found himself on the opposite side to his uncle, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough. Henry became a marshal in the french army and counselled his father not to trust John Churchill. At one point he was captured by another his Churchill uncles and only released when exchanged with a French prisoner. He became the Duke of Berwick but its a Jacobite title rather than one recognised by the English peerage. He was killed in 1733, aged 63, by a passing cannon ball having refused to take part in the Jacobite rising of 1715. The Dukedom of Alba continued as a Spanish title.
A second Fitzjames boy, Henry, died in 1702 in France whilst the youngest FitzJames sibling, called Arabella born in 1674 opted to become a nun in Pontoise. She took the name Ignatia.
Arabella Churchill married Charles Godfrey circa 1674. She went on to have forty years of happy married life and three more children. Godfrey was a colonel and a Whig – so anti-Jacobite. In an already complicated family it is perhaps not surprising to learn that the FitzJames’ stepfather was one of the first men to join with William of Orange. He would serve in various positions within the royal household as well as becoming an MP. Arabella outlived him by some sixteen years dying at the age of eighty in 1730.
Churchill, Arabella“.In Stephen, Leslie.Dictionary of National Biography.10. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
Winston Churchill, from Devon, was a Cavalier – which wasn’t good news for John born in 1650 as Winston had spent the family money on the king. However, John received an education at St Paul’s before acquiring a job as a page in the household of the Duke of York. The methodology was very simply – his sister Arabella was one of James’ ladies. This was despite the fact that she was deemed a rather plain girl who was a baton the thin side. In fact there were four little FitzJames’ in the family.
John rose under the patronage of James, then Duke of York but was still short of cash. This was remedied by a distant relation of his – Barbara Villiers – who also happened to be one of Charles II’s ladies. Now, Barbara was not what be described as monogamous. In 1667 when she became pregnant Charles denied paternity as he claimed that he hadn’t been anywhere near the lady at the required time. Anyway, John was apparently rather a good looking young man and apparently Barbara wasn’t expecting a royal visit so retired for the evening with John only for the king to come a knocking on her door – yes, its the classic lover under the bed story. Only in this instance to save the lady’s “honour” and possibly his own hide John made a rather daring leap from a first floor window. Barbara very gratefully handed over £5000. There is another version of the story that sent John scurrying for a handy cupboard where the king discovered him.. John threw himself to his knees. Charles is said to have called John a “rascal” but pardoned him his actions because he knew the young man only did it for his “bread.” Choose the version you prefer. It is true that Barbara was generous with her young men.
For John though advancement came through his soldiering and his bride. Young Sarah Jennings came from St Albans. She came to court when she was about thirteen and living as she did in the household of the Duke of York came into contact with John who fell head over heels in love with the striking red head. There was a secret marriage – his family required him to marry an heiress but Sarah’s family was not only large it had also been impoverished during the civil war. The pair only confessed their marriage when Sarah became obviously pregnant.
Meanwhile Sarah had shown Princess Anne kindness during the Earl of Mulgrave scandal and Anne known for her somewhat obsessive friendships drew closer to Sarah. Sarah’s influence together with Churchill’s victories during the Spanish War of Succession made the couple the wealthiest ex-commoners in the land. When Sarah Churchill was finally banished from court in 1710 they were drawing an enormous £64,000 from the public purse and their total income was somewhere in the region of £94,000.