Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough

Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, VA (15 April 1822 – 16 April 1899) was an English noblewoman, the wife of British peer and statesman John Spencer-Churchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough. One of her sons, Lord Randolph Churchill, was the father of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. She had a total of 11 children, and her principal home was the monumental Blenheim Palace, which she rejuvenated with her "lavish and exciting entertainments",[1] and transformed into a "social and political focus for the life of the nation".[2] She was invested as a Lady of the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert[3] for her efforts at famine relief in Ireland.

The Duchess of Marlborough

Photograph of Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill.jpg
Full-length portrait of Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
Personal details
BornLady Frances Anne Emily Vane
(1822-04-15)15 April 1822
St James's Square, London, England
Died16 April 1899(1899-04-16) (aged 77)
Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England
(m. 1843; died 1883)
ParentsCharles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry
Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest


Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane was born on 15 April 1822 at the Duke of St Albans's house in St James's Square, London, the eldest daughter of Irish-born Charles Vane, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, and heiress Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest. At her baptism, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington stood as her godfather.[4] She had three brothers, including George Vane-Tempest, 5th Marquess of Londonderry, and two younger sisters. She had an older half-brother, Frederick Stewart, 4th Marquess of Londonderry, by her father's first marriage to Lady Catherine Bligh.

Marriage and issueEdit

On 12 July 1843 at St. George Street, Mayfair, Lady Frances married John Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford. Upon her marriage she was styled Marchioness of Blandford. The couple made their principal home at the Spencer-Churchill family seat of Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

The marriage produced eleven children:

An 1880 engraving of Blenheim Palace

Duchess of MarlboroughEdit

On 1 July 1857, her husband succeeded to the title of 7th Duke of Marlborough, and from that date henceforth, Frances was styled Duchess of Marlborough. She was a commanding and hot-tempered woman described in The Complete Peerage as a "woman of remarkable character and capacity, judicious and tactful". Her face had more strength than beauty and her eyes were either warm or hard, never lacklustre.[5]

She ruled Blenheim Palace and its household with an iron hand; yet it was she who rejuvenated the palace with her lavish and gay entertainments which she herself organised; transforming the palace "into a social and political focus for the life of the nation".[2]

She was a domineering yet devoted mother; both of her surviving sons' marriages were a disappointment to her. Her eldest son George married a woman described as stupid, pious and dull,[5] while her youngest and favourite son, Lord Randolph earned her displeasure by marrying, against the wishes of both herself and the Duke, American socialite Jennie Jerome, whom Frances openly disliked.[6]

Frances and her husband refused to attend Lord Randolph and Jennie's wedding at the British Embassy in Paris, which took place on Frances's 52nd birthday. Like the rest of the 19th-century British aristocracy, the Marlboroughs regarded American women as "strange and abnormal creatures with habits and manners something between a Red Indian and a Gaiety Girl".[5] When the newly-wed couple moved to their home in Curzon Street in London, however, Frances arrived to help Jennie pay her first visits to the leaders of London society. She lent her some of her own jewels for the occasion, and the two women travelled in the Marlborough family coach.[7] Frances featured largely in the lives of the younger members of the family, including her grandson Winston, to whom she often acted as a substitute mother.[2]

From 1876 to 1880 her husband served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. As the result of her diligent efforts at famine relief in which she displayed humanity, proficiency and leadership that attempted to avert the effects of the 1879 Great Famine, she was invested as a Lady of the Order of Victoria and Albert by Queen Victoria.[2]

Lord Randolph Churchill, the youngest surviving son of Frances and the Duke
Coat of arms of Frances Anne Spencer-Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
The arms of the Duke of Marlborough(Quarterly: 1st and 4th, Sable a lion rampant Argent on a canton of the second a cross Gules (Churchill); 2nd and 3rd, quarterly Argent and Gules, in the second and third quarters a fret Or, overall on a bend Sable three escallops of the first (Spencer); in chief, on an escutcheon Argent a cross Gules surmounted by an inescutcheon Azure charged with three fleurs-de-lys Or.) impaled with the arms of The Marquess of Londonderry (Quarterly: 1st & 4th, Or, a Bend counter-company Argent and Azure, between two Lions rampant Gules (Stewart); 2nd, Argent, a Bend engrailed between six Martlets Sable (Tempest); 3rd, Azure, three sinister Gauntlets Or (Vane).).

Last yearsEdit

She became a widow in 1883, lost her eldest son, George, in 1892, and on 24 January 1895, her only surviving son, Lord Randolph Churchill, died at her London home in Grosvenor Square. She never stopped mourning Randolph, and harboured much resentment against his wife, whom she had never liked and now criticised for behaviour unbecoming a grieving widow.[citation needed]


Frances died at Blenheim on 16 April 1899, the day after her 77th birthday, having outlived five of her eleven children. She was buried on 21 April 1899 in the family vault beneath Blenheim Chapel. Her grandson Sir Winston Churchill wrote of her: "She was a woman of exceptional capacity, energy and decision".[5]

Portrayals in film and televisionEdit

The Duchess was portrayed by Rachel Kempson in the 1974 Thames TV mini-series Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill.



  1. ^ Ralph G. Martin, Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, Volume One, The Romantic Years (1854–1895), p. 61.
  2. ^ a b c d Margaret Elizabeth Forster, Churchill's Grandmama: Frances, 7th Duchess of Marlborough, The History Press Ltd., 2010, publisher's note. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  3. ^ Profile, Retrieved 22 March 2014.
  4. ^ Forster.
  5. ^ a b c d Martin, p. 61.
  6. ^ Martin, pp. 61, 65, 73–74.
  7. ^ Martin, p. 101.


  • Martin, Ralph G. Jennie: The Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, Volume One, The Romantic Years (1854–1895), New American Library, New York, 1969 (ISBN 978-0304934300)