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John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

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John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
oil on canvas, circa 1706
36 1/2 in. x 29 in. (927 mm x 737 mm)
Purchased, 1892
Primary Collection
NPG 902

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (1646-1723), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 1686 portraits, Sitter associated with 30 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Presumably a sketch for a full-scale allegorical painting which seems never to have been carried out. This oil sketch shows Queen Anne's great Commander-in-Chief, the victor of Blenheim and Ramillies, in triumph. On the left is Hercules with his club and a key (possibly a symbol of submission) and a woman offering him a castle. Under Marlborough's horse's hooves is the dishevelled figure of Discord, while in the clouds sits Justice; below her, Victory crowns the duke with laurel. It appears that the full-scale allegorical painting for which this is presumably a study was never completed. Stylistically the work is heavily influenced by Rubens, while in spirit it conveys Britain's confidence as a European power.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 46
  • Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 132 Read entry

    Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace. He admired his ancestor, the first Duke of Marlborough, and his father, the Conservative politician Lord Randolph Churchill.

  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 49
  • Ingamells, John, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, 2009, p. 162
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 46
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 411
  • Shawe-Taylor, Desmond, The Georgians : eighteenth-¿century portraiture & society, 1990, p. 34 number 11
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 96 Read entry

    The soldier and statesman John Churchill played a decisive role in shifting the balance of European power towards Britain in the early eighteenth century. Handsome and charming, his early career was advanced under the patronage of James, Duke of York. When the Duke acceded to the throne as James II in 1685, Churchill helped crush the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion. Three years later, his desertion of the King helped to ensure a smooth transition of power to William III and Mary II. His influence reached its height under Queen Anne. He was undefeated as Commander-in-Chief of the allied forces in the War of the Spanish Succession, during which his remarkable series of victories against the French included the battles of Blenheim (1704) and Ramillies (1706). He was dismissed by a war-weary government in 1711.

    This brilliant oil sketch by the German artist Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723) is presumably the study for a large-scale allegorical painting that was never completed. An imperious Marlborough is shown trampling a wretched figure of Discord and the sunburst shield of Louis XIV of France. To his right, no less a figure than Hercules looks up admiringly, while above, Victory crowns him with a laurel wreath.

Events of 1706back to top

Current affairs

The Regency Bill passes in Parliament. John Somers, Baron Somers, and Thomas Wharton, Marquess of Wharton, as prominent supporters of the Protestant succession, are instrumental in formulating legislation which provide for an emergency Council of Sate to convene upon the death of Queen Anne, pending arrival of the Hanoverian successor.

Art and science

Publication of Horae lyricae, by hymn writer Isaac Watts. A dissenting minister, Watts is recognised as the 'Father of English Hymnody'.
Publication of Synopsis Palmariorum Matheseos, a mathematical guide for beginners by mathematician William Jones.
Thomas Twining opens a tea room in London.


Allied forces under Commander-in-chief, John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough, defeat Louis XIV's army at the Battle of Ramillies. The most successful campaign in Marlborough's career, victory at Ramillies and a string of subsequent military successes for the allies establishes their control of the Southern Netherlands.

Tell us more back to top

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