John Churchill was a great favourite at court; described as being ‘as handsome as an angel’ he took Charles II’s mistress Barbara Villiers as his lover. Barbara bore his first child and later gifted him £5,000 – a fortune in those days. She said she paid much for ‘very little service!’.
John’s wife Sarah Churchill was hugely influential in his life and career. The couple wed in secret in 1677/78 and had a long and happy marriage. Sarah had a very close and sometimes turbulent relationship with Queen Anne and was portrayed by Rachel Weisz in the Oscar-winning 2018 film The Favourite.
In 1679 Churchill is believed to have lost a duel with the playwright Thomas Otway following an altercation with an orange seller. He later also fought and lost a second duel with Admiral John Holmes over the same affair.
In 1682 John Churchill was aboard HMS Gloucester when it ran aground and around 200 lives were lost. Churchill and the Duke of York, later King James II, were among the only survivors whilst ‘many persons of consideration perished’.
In 1692, John Churchill spent five weeks imprisoned in the Tower of London on a charge of treason
John Churchill is one of the few ‘commoners’ in English history to have risen to the rank of duke.
John Churchill was educated at St Paul’s School in London. He spent 3 – 4 years there before his education was interrupted by the Great Plague of London.