Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/354

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

he added a violent assertiveness which was entirely alien from the disposition of the elder statesman. Burnet says that he treated Queen Anne rudely, ‘and chose to reflect in a very injurious manner upon all princes before her.’ Yet, according to the Duchess of Marlborough, she forgave him, and even ‘advised some medicine for him to take’ just before his dismissal. Swift, who had known him in early life, and was introduced by him to Godolphin, says that Sunderland learnt his divinity from his uncle (John Digby, earl of Bristol) and his politics from his tutor (Bishop Trimnell). In his annotations on ‘Remarks on the Characters of the Court of Anne,’ Swift denies Sunderland virtue and good sense, but lets learning, honesty, and zeal for liberty pass. The duchess, who quarrelled with her son-in-law on account of his third marriage and his South Sea Bill, set down in her ‘Opinions’ in 1738 that ‘the Earl of Sunderland, it was thought, would be a fool at two-and-twenty; but afterwards, from the favour of a weak prince, he was cried up for having parts, though 'tis certain he had not much in him.’ Lord Hailes contrasts with this her former declaration about ‘the most honest and well-intentioned ministry she ever knew.’ After the settlement made on the third Lady Sunderland, to the detriment of the children of the second, the correspondence between the duchess and Sunderland ‘abounded in terms of mutual obloquy and invective’ (Coxe). The duchess induced Marlborough to join in the general cry against the South Sea directors and their friends; and Sunderland, in return, accused her in December 1720 of a plot to bring in the Pretender. From this time till his death all intercourse ceased between them.

Among modern historians Lord Stanhope is of opinion that Sunderland's character has been unduly depreciated. He allows that his conduct was on several occasions equivocal, but credits him with quickness, discernment, skill, persevering ambition, ready eloquence, and constancy in friendship. Ranke states that foreign diplomatists thought him placable and trustworthy. Defoe and Steele were at different times his protégés, and he gave preferment to Desaguliers, the natural philosopher. Addison twice served under him, and dedicated to him vol. vi. of the ‘Spectator.’ While secretary of state he prosecuted Mrs. Manley for her ‘New Atlantis.’ According to Horace Walpole, Molly Lepel, who became Lady Hervey, obtained a pension from George I, through Sunderland, in return for acting as his spy (Reminiscences, p. cliii). George II was accustomed to speak of Sunderland as ‘that scoundrel and puppy and knave’ who made his father disbelieve his word (Hervey); but in 1720 Sunderland appears to have been one of the ‘reconcilers’ (Marchmont Papers, ii. 410).

Sunderland was Harley's rival as a book-collector as well as a politician. Vaillant, the bookseller, who had an unlimited commission from him, bought for him at Mr. Freebairn's auction in 1721 Zarotti's Virgil for 46l., and gave 40l. for a manuscript of Columella's ‘De Re Rusticâ.’ Markland, in editing Statius, gained much assistance from a folio edition of the ‘Sylvæ’ (1473) in Sunderland's possession. The library at Althorp, described by Macky in 1703 as ‘the finest in Europe both for the disposition of the apartments and of the books,’ was pledged to Marlborough for 10,000l. in part payment of a loan (Coxe). The king of Denmark offered Sunderland's heirs thrice that sum for it. When removed to Blenheim in 1749 it consisted of 17,000 volumes. It was increased by Charles, third duke of Marlborough, but neglected by his successor. A catalogue, with appendix and index, was printed in 1872, and a sale catalogue in 1881–3, when the collection was dispersed. A taste for gambling proved even more expensive to Sunderland than his love of buying books.

Macky describes Sunderland as of very fair complexion and middle height. Boyer, writing of him in later life, says he was inclined to corpulency, and had a fixed and settled sourness in his face. A portrait by Richardson belongs to Earl Spencer. A portrait was painted by Kneller in 1720, and subsequently engraved by J. Simon; and Houbraken engraved one for Birch's ‘Lives of Eminent Englishmen.’ Evans also mentions a portrait engraved by Bakewell. There is a bust of Sunderland at Blenheim.

Sunderland was three times married. Frances, his only child by his first wife, Lady Arabella Cavendish, married Henry Howard (afterwards fourth Earl of Carlisle).

Lady Anne Churchill, Sunderland's second countess, played an important part in the politics of her time. She was credited with converting her mother, the Duchess of Marlborough, to whiggism, and was her father's favourite. She did something to restrain her husband's temper and extravagance, and much to advance his political career. She had both beauty and talent, but was modest and unassuming, though at times she showed great spirit. Paul Wentworth relates a spirited reply that she made to Lady Rochester in 1711, when Sunderland's fortunes had sunk low. Swift about the same time tells ‘Stella’ of a pretty speech he had endeavoured to get