Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Spencer, George (1739-1817)
SPENCER, GEORGE, fourth Duke of Marlborough (1739–1817), born 26 Jan. 1739, was the eldest son of Charles, third duke [q. v.] He obtained an ensigncy in the Coldstream guards on 14 June 1755, and on 12 June 1756 was gazetted captain of the 20th foot. On succeeding to the peerage two years later he left the army.
He shook off the influence of his father's leader, Henry Fox [q. v.], and ‘flung himself totally on Lord Harcourt to direct his conduct in the county of Oxford’ (Grenville Papers, i. 297–8), of which he was named lord lieutenant in March 1760. At the coronation of George III, on 22 Sept. 1761, he was bearer of the sceptre and cross. On 22 Nov. of the following year he was appointed lord chamberlain and sworn of the privy council. In the Grenville ministry, though still under thirty, he held office as lord privy seal from April 1763 to July 1765. On 27th inst., after some delay, which was thought ‘rather extraordinary,’ he and his brother, Lord Charles Spencer, resigned their offices (Hist. MSS. Comm. 10th Rep. ii. 391–3; Grenville Papers, iii. 210). In November 1766 he assured his uncle, the Duke of Bedford, that he should not join Lord Temple, and for the present did not desire office. He was, however, ambitious of obtaining the Garter, and Bedford obtained from Chatham the promise of it on the next vacancy (Bedford Correspondence, iii. 356, 357, 358). But Cumberland was given the next, in order to spite the Bedfords (Walpole to Mann, 25 Dec. 1767), and Marlborough did not obtain the coveted honour till 12 Dec. 1768, and was not instituted till 25 July 1771.
On 29 Jan. 1779 Walpole told Mann that Marlborough and Pembroke had declared against ‘the first [sic] lord of the admiralty’ (Sir Hugh Palliser) in the celebrated politico-naval dispute which followed Keppel's action off Ushant. He even forbade his son, Lord Henry Spencer, to attend parliament during Keppel's trial (Last Journals, December 1778). Marlborough took but little part in political affairs after his early years, and for the most part lived quietly at Blenheim. In 1762 he had purchased most of Zanetti's gems at Venice. Walpole entertained the duke and duchess (whom he described as inseparable) at Strawberry Hill in June 1784.
Marlborough was created D.C.L. of Oxford on 6 July 1763, and high steward on 23 Nov. 1779. He presented to the university a large telescope and fine copies of Raffaelle's cartoons. In 1766 he was made high steward of Woodstock, and became an elder brother of the Trinity House in 1768, and master on 22 May 1769. He was also ranger of Wychwood Forest, a governor of the Charterhouse, and F.R.S. He continued the income given by his father to Jacob Bryant [q. v.] He was found dead in bed at Blenheim on 29 Jan. 1817. On his death Marlborough House, St. James's, reverted to the crown, according to the terms of the original grant. The duke was remarkable in youth for personal beauty, but looked clumsy in his robes. There are portraits at Blenheim by John Smith, after Reynolds, and by Romney of the duke and duchess.
Marlborough married, on 23 Aug. 1762, Lady Caroline Russell, only daughter by his second wife of John, fourth duke of Bedford. She died 26 Nov. 1811. By her the duke had three sons and five daughters. Of the latter, Lady Caroline (b. 1763) married Henry, second lord Mendip; Anne (b. 1773), the Hon. Cropley Ashley, brother of Lord Shaftesbury; Amelia (b. 1785), Henry Pytches Boyce, esq.; Elizabeth, her cousin Hon. John Spencer; and Charlotte, Edward Nares [q. v.], regius professor of modern history at Oxford. The portrait of Lady Caroline and Lady Elizabeth as Music and Painting, executed by Romney, was bought by Mr. C. Wertheimer for 10,500 guineas in 1896 (Globe, 11 June 1896).
The eldest son, George Spencer, fifth Duke of Marlborough (1766–1840), born on 6 March 1766, took the additional name of Churchill by royal license in 1817. He was educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, graduating M.A. in 1786 and D.C.L. 20 June 1792. He was M.P. for Oxfordshire from 1790 to 1796 and for Tregony from 1802 to 1804, and was a lord of the treasury from August 1804 till February 1806. On 12 March 1806 he was called to the upper house as Baron Spencer of Wormleighton. He spent great sums on his gardens and his library at White Knights, near Reading. In 1812 he gave 2,260l. for Valdarfen's edition of the ‘Decameron’ at the Duke of Roxburghe's sale, and in 1817 bought from the library of James Edwards the celebrated Bedford missal (now in the British Museum). Most of his collections were dispersed during his lifetime, and his extravagance compelled his retirement during his later years. He died at Blenheim on 5 March 1840. He married, in 1791, Susan, second daughter of John Stewart, seventh earl of Galloway, by whom he was father of George Spencer-Churchill, sixth duke of Marlborough (1793–1857), besides three other sons and two daughters (Ann. Reg. 1840, App. to Chron. p. 155). His grandson, John Winston Spencer-Churchill [q. v.], seventh duke, is noticed separately [s.v. Churchill].
Lord Henry John Spencer (1770–1795), second son of the fourth duke, was born on 20 Dec. 1770, and educated at Eton and Oxford, where he gave great promise. He entered public life before he was of age as secretary to Lord Auckland, ambassador at The Hague. He was left for some months in sole charge of the embassy at a critical period, and established so high a reputation for discretion and vigour that on 7 April 1790 he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to the Netherlands. In July 1793 he went to Sweden as envoy extraordinary. In 1795 he was appointed envoy extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Prussia, but died of fever at Berlin on 3 July, in his twenty-fifth year (Gent. Mag. 1795, ii. 618). A portrait of Lord Henry Spencer with his sister Lady Charlotte, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is inscribed ‘The Fortune-tellers.’ It has been engraved by J. Jones, S. W. Reynolds, and H. Dawe.
The youngest son, Lord Francis Almeric Spencer (1779–1845), born in 1779, was M.P. for Oxfordshire from 1801 to 1815, and a member of the board of control from 13 Nov. 1809 to July 1810. In August 1815 he was created a peer as Baron Churchill of Wychwood. He married Lady Frances Fitzroy, fifth daughter of the Duke of Grafton. He died in March 1845 (Foster, Peerage).[Doyle's Baronage; G. E. C.'s Peerage; Eccles's New Blenheim Guide, 14th edit. pp. 26, 28, 31, 32; H. Walpole's Letters, ed. Cunningham, iii. 300, 436, 438, 476, iv. 50, 69, 380, v. 78, vii. 167, viii. 485, ix. 249, 284–7; Memoirs of George III, ed. Barker, i. 69, 163, 207, ii. 99, 139; Grenville Papers, iii. 210, 308; Gent. Mag. 1817, i. 179–80, 175; Evans's Cat. Engr. Portraits.]