Spencer, Charles (1706-1758) (DNB00)

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SPENCER, CHARLES, third Duke of Marlborough and fifth Earl of Sunderland (1706–1758), born on 22 Nov. 1706, was the third son of Charles Spencer, third earl of Sunderland [q. v.], by his second wife, Lady Anne Churchill, second daughter of the first Duke of Marlborough. Both his elder brothers died early, and in 1729 he succeeded the second as Earl of Sunderland. On the death in 1733 of his maternal aunt, Henrietta, lady Godolphin, who had been Duchess of Marlborough in her own right since the death in 1722 of the first duke, her father, and his grandfather, he became Duke of Marlborough. In accordance with the arrangement made at the marriage of his parents, he now handed over the Sunderland property to his younger brother John, father of the first earl Spencer. During his four years' residence at Althorp he greatly improved the property and revived the traditional hospitality of his Warwickshire ancestors. He did not come into possession of Blenheim until the death of Sarah, dowager duchess of Marlborough, in 1744, and up to that time his income was greatly inferior to that of his brother John. The latter was the favourite of the old duchess, and the young duke vainly tried to propitiate her by going into opposition to the court.

He became a member of the ‘Liberty Club’ formed by the opponents of Sir Robert Walpole in January 1734. On 13 Feb. of the same year he brought forward in the House of Lords a measure to prevent military officers from being deprived of their com- missions except by court-martial or address of either house of parliament. According to the ministerialist Lord Hervey, the object was to please Lord Cobham, one of Marlborough's old officers, who had lately been dismissed, and to gain over Lord Scarborough, who had formerly favoured a similar measure. It was regarded rather as a personal insult to the king than as an attack on ministers. The bill was rejected by one hundred to twelve. The protest entered on the journals by the opposition was signed by Marlborough, as was also that which followed the rejection of Carteret's motion for information as to the dismissal of Cobham and the Duke of Bolton. In March 1734, when the marriage of the Princess Royal with the Prince of Orange was announced, Marlborough proposed the introduction of a bill to naturalise the prince, and carried his motion without opposition.

In 1737 Marlborough was employed by Frederick, prince of Wales, to solicit Henry Fox's vote for the continuance of his parliamentary annuity, and was one of the ‘chief stimulators’ of the prince in the course he took. When the prince received the lord mayor and aldermen at Carlton House, Marlborough stood with Carteret and Chesterfield distributing ‘printed copies of the king's last message to turn the prince out of St. James's’ on the occasion of the accouchement of his wife (Hervey). He afterwards gave Hervey information regarding the heartless conduct of Frederick when his mother Queen Caroline lay dying.

In 1738, to the general surprise, he suddenly went over to the court, accepting the colonelcy of the 38th foot on 30 March, and becoming a lord of the bedchamber on 11 Aug. The step was attributed to the influence of his wife (Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. i. 518); and it brought on him the wrath of the old duchess, already alienated by his marriage with the daughter of Lord Trevor, who had been an enemy to the great duke, his grandfather. Walpole says that she turned Marlborough out of the lodge in Windsor Park, and further vented her spleen by blackening the portrait of his sister, Lady Bateman, who had been the adviser of his marriage. She also aimed a coarse jest at Lady Bateman's friend Fox, and became involved in legal proceedings with the young duke, in the course of which she said she had not given him Marlborough's sword ‘lest he should pick out the diamonds and pawn them’ (H. Walpole, Reminiscences).

On 26 Jan. 1739 Marlborough was named lord lieutenant of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, and on 1 Sept. received the colonelcy of the 1st royal dragoons. On 6 May following he was further gazetted colonel of the 2nd troop of horse guards, and on 20 March 1741 received the Garter. His new political attitude brought him, on the rejection of Carteret's motion for the removal of Sir R. Walpole, to the assistance of the falling premier with a motion, 13 Feb. 1742, ‘that an attempt to inflict punishment upon any person without allowing him an opportunity of defending himself, or without proof of crime, is contrary to justice, law, and the usage of parliament, and a high infringement of the liberty of the subject.’ This was carried nem. con. (Parl. Hist. x. 1223, xi. 1063 &c.; cf. Coxe, Mem. of Sir R. Walpole, i. 669). Five days later Horace Walpole told Mann that the Prince of Wales would not speak to him.

At the battle of Dettingen (27 June 1743) Marlborough commanded a brigade and did good service; but immediately afterwards he and John Dalrymple, second earl of Stair [q. v.], resigned their commissions in disgust at the conduct of the Hanoverians. Walpole, writing to Mann on 30 Nov., attributes his action to a wish ‘to reinstate himself in the old duchess's will,’ and adds a caustic remark of the latter on the occasion.

Marlborough followed up his resignation by seconding in a strongly worded speech Sandwich's motion (31 Jan. 1744) declaring ‘that the continuing the Hanoverian troops is prejudicial to the king’ (Parl. Hist. xiii. 553, 564–6). But in the following month, when news came of the approaching Jacobite rising, he moved for an address ‘to assure the king of standing by him with lives and fortunes’ (Walpole to Mann, 16 Feb. 1744), and he was one of the first to raise a force against the rebels.

On 30 March 1745 he was gazetted major-general, and on 15 Sept. 1747 lieutenant-general. He was created D.C.L. of Oxford on 4 June 1746, and had been elected F.R.S. in January 1744. On 12 June 1749 he became lord steward of the household, and was sworn of the privy council. On 22 Jan. 1751 he moved that the ‘constitutional queries’ circulated by the Jacobites against the Duke of Cumberland should be burnt by the hangman; and in 1753 spoke as a member of the cabinet council in the debate on the charges made against the preceptors of George, prince of Wales. Next year, by means of lavish expenditure, he procured the return of whigs both for Oxford and Oxfordshire, though the county had long been considered ‘a little kingdom of Jacobitism.’ On 9 Jan. 1755 he succeeded Gower as lord privy seal, and on 21 Dec. became master-general of the ordnance. Since his reconciliation with the court Marlborough had deserted Carteret for Fox, and at the latter's secret marriage with Lady Caroline Lennox had given away the bride. In 1754 Marlborough advised his new leader to moderate his demands and to give a pledge not to oppose Pitt, and in October 1756 wrote to Bedford suggesting a junction between the rivals (Bedford Corresp. ii. 204). In the following year Marlborough, together with Lord George Sackville and General Waldegrave (afterwards third earl), conducted an inquiry into the failure of the expedition against Rochefort, ‘with the fairness of which people are satisfied’ (Mann to Walpole, 20 Nov. 1757).

In May 1758 Marlborough was given the command of an expedition directed against St. Malo, but was himself ‘in reality commanded by Lord G. Sackville’ (Walpole to Mann, 10 Feb. 1758). The expedition consisted of eighteen ships of the line, thirteen frigates, and three sloops, with four fireships and two bomb-ketches, carrying fourteen thousand soldiers and six thousand marines. As volunteers Marlborough is said to have taken with him ‘half of the purplest blood of England’ (ib. 11 June). Sailing on 1 June, the troops landed without opposition in Cancale Bay, but found the town of St. Malo too strongly fortified to be attacked. After setting on fire some naval stores, three warships, and some privateers and merchantmen, the men were immediately re-embarked. The expedition next appeared before Granville and Cherbourg, but was prevented by the weather from attacking either, and had to return owing to sickness and want of water. On 1 July the squadron anchored at Spithead, where it remained for orders till the 6th, while ministers disputed whether or not the troops should be landed (Dodington, Diary). Fox applied to the undertaking the fable of the mountain and the mouse, and the king ‘never had any opinion of it;’ but Prince Ferdinand acknowledges that as a diversion it had materially assisted him in his campaign in western Germany by preventing the French from sending reinforcements. No discredit attached to Marlborough, though, as Walpole says, he lacked experience and information. He was now despatched to Germany in command of an English contingent which was to join Prince Ferdinand. He landed at Embden with ten thousand men on 10 July, and successfully effected his junction with the German troops in Westphalia. Before being able to take part in any important operations he died suddenly at Munster on 20 Oct. 1758. The cause of death was announced to be dysentery, but some thought he had been poisoned, as he had recently received letters threatening him with death by that means. The supposed author of these, however, having been apprehended by the order of Sir John Fielding, had been acquitted (Ann. Reg. 1758, pp. 121–6), and there seems to be no ground, other than a chance coincidence, for suspecting foul play (cf. Notes and Queries, 6th ser. iii. 453, iv. 16, 17). Marlborough's talents were pre-eminent neither in war nor in politics, but were respectable in both. Aaron Hill [q. v.] in a poem, ‘The Fanciad,’ published anonymously in 1743, addressed him ‘on the turn of his genius to arms’ in a tone of light ridicule. As a governor of the Charterhouse and the Foundling Hospital he assisted education and philanthropy.

The descriptions of his character given by Walpole and Hervey agree in their main points, though the former dwells on his good sense, modesty, and generosity, while the latter prefers to touch on his want of information, carelessness, and profuseness. Walpole says that his brother, John Spencer, left the Sunderland property in reversion to Pitt, ‘notwithstanding more obligations and more pretended friendship for his brother the duke than is conceivable.’ Besides the ill-will of his grandmother, Marlborough had for long to contend with the strong dislike felt for him by George II, which was largely due to his being the son of Lord Sunderland. The king, says Hervey, never spoke of him without some opprobrious epithet. His ill-will may have been increased by a scheme of the old duchess, discovered and frustrated by Walpole, to marry Marlborough's sister, Lady Diana Spencer, to Frederick, prince of Wales.

Two portraits of the third Duke of Marlborough by Van Loo are at Blenheim, as well as one by Hudson representing the duchess and her family.

By his marriage in 1732 with Elizabeth Trevor, daughter of Thomas, second lord Trevor of Bromham, Marlborough had three sons and two daughters. Of the daughters, Lady Diana Spencer married the second Viscount Bolingbroke, and Lady Elizabeth the tenth Earl of Pembroke. The latter, generally known as Lady Betty, is described by Walpole as ‘divinely beautiful in the Madonna style.’ In 1762 her husband, disguised as a sailor, ran off with a beauty named Miss Hunter, leaving a letter testifying to his wife's virtue (Walpole, Letters, iii. 490–2). Lady Betty survived till 30 April 1831, when she was ninety-three. The eldest son, George, fourth duke of Marlborough [q. v.], is separately noticed. The second son, Lord Charles Spencer (1740–1820), was M.P. for Oxfordshire from 1761 to 1784, and again from 1796 to 1801. He was comptroller of the household in 1762–3, being also sworn of the privy council in the latter year, but in 1764 voted against the court on Sir W. Meredith's motion against general warrants (Walpole, Letters, iv. 186). He became treasurer of the king's chamber and a lord of the admiralty in 1779, and was vice-treasurer of Ireland in 1782, postmaster-general from 31 March 1801 to February 1806, and master of the mint from February to October 1806. He married Mary, daughter of Vere, lord Vere, and sister of the Duke of St. Albans; and died at Petersham on 16 June 1820 (Gent. Mag. i. 573). A portrait of him was engraved by Turner from a painting by Ashby. His wife sat to Sir Joshua Reynolds, and engravings were executed by Pott, S. W. Reynolds, and Watson.

[Doyle's Official Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]'s and Burke's Peerages; Gent. Mag. 1758, pp. 341, 397, 556; Dibdin's Ædes Althorpianæ, p. lix n.; Evans's Cat.; Eccles's New Blenheim Guide, 14th ed. pp. 20, 28, 35; Lord Hervey's Memoirs, 1884, i. 240, 289 n., 290–1, iii. 41, 48, 266, 283–4, 326; Marchmont Papers ed. Rose, ii. 20, 22, 101; H. Walpole's Reminiscences and Letters, ed. Cunningham, vols. i–iii. passim, and Memoirs of George II, i. 10, 328, 406, 419, iii. 124–6; Bubb Dodington's Diary; Lord Stanhope's Hist. of Engl. 1846, iv. 204–5, 211; Cunningham's Lives of Eminent Englishmen, v. 43.]

G. Le G. N.