From the Notebooks of Susan Holloway Scott

Sorting Out the Churchill Dynasty

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Recently a reader asked me a question about the Churchill family: "Since both of John's and Sarah's sons died before providing an heir to carry on the name, how did the name survive into the 20th century?"

Here's the answer: Sarah had worked too hard to get that dukedom to let it disappear at John's death. Instead she lobbied heavily with her friends in Parliament to have a special (and very unusual) act passed that allowed the title to pass to their eldest daughter. So John's first successor was Henrietta, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough.

Her husband, Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin, had no claim to the Marlborough dukedom, but their son, William, 2nd Marqess of Blandford, should have become the next duke. Sadly, he died before his mother, so at her death, the title went next to a nephew, Charles Spencer (son of John & Sarah's second daughter Anne), who was already 5th Earl of Sunderland. The next several Dukes were all Spencers, until the 5th Duke, George (1766-1840) took the additional name of Churchill, restoring the connection when he assumed the title.

For the record, the current Duke is the 11th. His grandson (b. 1992) is the present Earl of Sunderland, and his name –– George John Godolphin Spencer-Churchill –– manages nicely to bring it all full circle, doesn't it?


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