Just occasionally, we get to play with some of the earlier, non-twentieth century archives in our collections.  The film The Favourite, about the battle for supremacy in the court of Queen Anne between Sarah Churchill and Abigail Hill, gives us the perfect excuse, as Sir Winston was just as interested in this as we are.  He was immensely proud of being a descendant of the great general John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, playing with his tin soldiers as a boy in hopeful imitation of his famous ancestor, and in the 1930s wrote a successful two-volume biography of him, “Marlborough: His Life and Times”.

Black and white image of a portrait painting of Sarah Churchill

Portrait of Sarah Churchill, as used in the official biography of Sir Winston Churchill (Randolph Churchill Papers, RDCH 9/1/27).

The archives contain all of Churchill’s proofs and correspondence for “Marlborough”, as well as the copious notes assembled for him by his dedicated band of researchers (Churchill’s various histories and accounts of the First and Second World Wars were all team efforts).  Of Sarah, he wrote: “from her tenderest years, [she] was entirely self-possessed and self-confident, and by inheritance she owned, when roused, the temper of the devil”, and he devoted an entire chapter to her ultimately losing battle with her crafty poor relation.  He also collected or was given quite a few original papers relating to the Marlboroughs, including some of Sarah’s letters, a draft of her will and a manuscript copy of her diary of her life at court (translated back into English from a published French edition of 1742, rather strangely).  One of the most startling items is a receipt for the staggering sum of £5,000 (worth nearly £600,000 today) which she lent to the Government near the end of her life; Sarah might have fallen out of favour with Queen Anne, but Anne’s Hanoverian successors clearly couldn’t afford to ignore her!

— Katharine Thomson, Archivist

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