The Profligate Duke: George Spencer Churchill, Fifth Duke of Marlborough, and His Duchess

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9780002163767: The Profligate Duke: George Spencer Churchill, Fifth Duke of Marlborough, and His Duchess

George Spencer-Churchill, fifth Duke of Marlborough, brought no added glory to the dynasty founded by his illustrious forebears, John, first duke of Marlborough and his duchess, Sarah. George was foolish, extravagant and inconstant; he dissipated the family fortune and was an object of pity or scorn to his contemporaries. Yet he was a gifted man and left a legacy (albeit an ephemeral one) of originality and beauty in the gardens he created at Whiteknights and, later, at Blenheim. Born in 1766, he came of age at a time when a revolution in taste was underway: Capability Brown and his school of 'improvers' were seeking to sweep away the formal lines of the early eighteenth-century garden and impose their vision of Elysium on the English landscape. Already a keen musician, bibliophile and collector, the Marquess of Blandford (as he then was) now turned to gardening with the same enthusiasm. Arbours and temples, fanciful bowers and rustic bridges all formed part of his grandiose schemes for the gardens of his two grand homes. Meanwhile he had married Lady Susan Stewart who was to bear him six children and prove a faithful and long-suffering wife, bearing with dignity his fruitless sorties into politics, his spendthrift ways and, for a long time, his infidelities. Twice he was to fall hopelessly in love with others: the second attachment was more than Susan could endure, and she left Blenheim in despair. Mary Soames brings all her wit, sympathy and eloquence to this portrait of her ancestor, and her own words blend with the astringent quips of contemporaries such as Horace Walpole and Mary Russell Mitford to bring vividly to life this corner of eighteenth-century English life.

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Mary Soames
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