1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sunderland, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of

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SUNDERLAND, CHARLES SPENCER, 3rd Earl of (c. 1674-1722), English statesman, was the second son of the 2nd earl, but on the death of his elder brother Henry in Paris in September 1688 he became heir to the peerage. Called by John Evelyn “a youth of extraordinary hopes,” he completed his education at Utrecht, and in 1695 entered the House of Commons as member for Tiverton. In the same year he married Arabella, daughter of Henry Cavendish, 2nd duke of Newcastle; she died in 1698 and in 1700 he married Anne Churchill, daughter of the famous duke of Marlborough. This was an important alliance for Sunderland and for his descendants; through it he was introduced to political life and later the dukedom of Marlborough came to the Spencers. Having succeeded to the peerage in 1702, the earl was one of the commissioners for the union between England and Scotland, and in 1705 he was sent to Vienna as envoy extraordinary. Although he was tinged with republican ideas and had rendered himself obnoxious to Queen Anne by opposing the grant to her husband, Prince George, through the influence of Marlborough he was foisted into the ministry as secretary of state for the southern department, taking office in December 1706. From 1708 to 1710 he was one of the five whigs, called the Junta, who dominated the government, but he had many enemies, the queen still disliked him, and in June 1710 he was dismissed. Anne offered him a pension of £3000 a year, but this he refused, saying “if he could not have the honour to serve his country he would not plunder it.”

Sunderland continued to take part in public life, and was active in communicating with the court of Hanover about the steps to be taken in view of the approaching death of the queen. He made the acquaintance of George I. in 1706, but when the elector became king the office which he secured was the comparatively unimportant one of lord-lieutenant of Ireland. In August 1715 he joined the cabinet as lord keeper of the privy seal, and after a visit to George I. in Hanover he secured in April 1717 the position of secretary of state for the northern department. This he retained until March 1718, when he became first lord of the treasury, holding also the post of lord president of the council. He was now prime minister. Sunderland was especially interested in the proposed peerage bill, a measure designed to limit the number of members of the House of Lords, but this was defeated owing partly to the opposition of Sir Robert Walpole. He was still at the head of affairs when the South Sea bubble burst and this led to his political ruin. He had taken some part in launching the scheme of 1720, but he had not profited financially by it; however, public opinion was roused against him and it was only through the efforts of Sir Robert Walpole that he was acquitted by the House of Commons, when the matter was investigated. In April 1721 he resigned his offices, but he retained his influence with George I. until his death on the 19th of April 1722.

Sunderland inherited his father's passion for intrigue, while his manners were repelling, but he stands high among his associates for disinterestedness and had an alert and discerning mind. From his early years he had a great love of books, and he spent his leisure and his wealth in forming the library at Althorp, which in 1703 was described as “the finest in Europe.” In 1749 part of it was removed to Blenheim.

The earl's second wife having died in April 1716, after a career of considerable influence on the political life of her time, in 1717 he married an Irish lady of fortune, Judith Tichborne (d. 1749). By Lady Anne Churchill he had three sons and two daughters. Robert (1701-1729), the eldest son, succeeded as 4th earl, and Charles (1706-1758), the second son, became the 5th earl. In 1733 Charles inherited the dukedom of Marlborough and he then transferred the Sunderland estates to his brother John, father of the 1st Earl Spencer (see Marlborough, Earls and Dukes of).

For the career of Sunderland see W. Coxe, Memoirs of Marlborough (1847-1848); Earl Stanhope, History of England (1853), and I. S. Leadam, Political History of England, 1702-1760 (1909).