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.
Holmes, Richard. (2009) Marlborough: Britain’s Greatest General: England’s Fragile Genius