Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, was a woman with a 'passion for government': a compulsion to wield power not only in her own family but in public affairs as well. She was the favourite of Queen Anne, the devoted wife and political associate of the Queen's most powerful subject, the passionate ally or bitter enemy of most of the leading public figures of her day, and in her widowhood the effective head of one of England's great families. Despite her stormy relationship with the architect Vanbrugh, she played a major role in the building of Blenheim Palace, one of England's most splendid houses. Born in 1660, she succeeded during the course of her long life in overcoming many of the contemporary constraints on her sex. Her sheer force of personality made her one of the most influential, as well as one of the most loved and hated, of Augustan women. This is the first complete scholarly biography of the Duchess of Marlborough. Frances Harris makes full use of recently available manuscript sources to tell the colourful story of a woman at the centre of power, whose life spanned more than eighty years from the Restoration to the fall of Walpole.
Dr Harris sets Sarah's life and personal relationships in the context of her time, drawing a vivid portrait of a woman whose character and life are as fascinating and contentious today as they were to her contemporaries.
`This detailed biography of the most powerful Englishwoman of her time is a model of careful scholarship and suspended judgments. ... this sound, scholarly, yet sympathetic biography should become the standard work on this fascinating subject
The Historian, Autumn 1993, Vol 56
`fascinating biography .. the first complete scholarly work on Sarah ... a particularly well-documented history in this biography.'
`Frances Harris's splendid and scholarly biography, beautifully produced, brings out the full complexity of a remarkable woman, and ... also provides a commentary on the melodramatic events of the reigns of James II, William III and Anne.'
John Cannon, Times Literary Supplement
`she knows the main archival source for her subject impeccably. She locates Sarah where she needs to be understood - in the context of the highest political junketing of her time. And she writes lucidly and well. The result is one of the most impressive and attractive political biographies to have been published for a decade.'
Linda Colley, London Review of Books
`this enthralling, definitive biography ... Frances Harris has written the first fully researched biography of this key figure in English history.'
Philip Mansel, The Spectator
`Dr Harris has drawn even more extensively on primary sources, especially the Blenheim papers ... Sarah's correspondence with the Quen and love letters to the Duke give the narrative immediacy and poignancy.'
Victoria Schofield, Financial Times
`both entertaining and scholarly'
Petronella Wyatt, Sunday Telegraph
`cleverly captures life at the top at the turn of the 18th century and is full of delightful images ... [Harris] does justice to the life of this extraordinary woman.'
`a scholarly and at the same time very readable account of her forceful life and times.'
Beverly Davies, The Lady
`Sarah's sheer force of personality made her one of the most influential and contentious women of her day. Frances Harris's scholarly work shows her life to be no less remarkable when examined 200 years later.'
Clare Deacon, Oxford Times
`an engrossing, even harrowing, story'
`magnificently sensitive and scholarly biography ... Her biographer, whose insights are so wise, and whose patience is never tried by her subject, ventures only the mildest of censures. "Sarah never fully appreciated the impact of her personality on other people." If the Duchess could read it, she would be well advised to settle for such an epitaph.'
`Frances Harris has written a fascinating study of a woman with 'a Passion for Government'. Harris's richly documented biography explores the basis and extent of Sarah's political influence, and discusses the limitations which confronted a female who was not a monarch but who longed to exercise political power. This book should have a wide readership. It is well written, nicely printed and illustrated, contains a useful genealogical table, and is reasonably
priced. The scholarship and documentation is thorough. Above all, from the brilliant opening chapter onwards, Harris treats Sarah Churchill seriously as an important political figure.'
Patricia Crawford, History Workshop Journal, Volume 33, Spring 1992
`Frances Harris retells this story with clarity and style and often adds new detail, as in her unravelling of the Duchess's financial affairs. More than any of her predecessors she succeeds in laying bare the complexities in the character of a woman who could inspire, on the one hnad, the life-long devotion of Marlborough and Sidney Godolphin and, on the other, the intense hatred of her own children ...it is a political biography that it is most
impressive. Dr Harris's extensive researches on both sides of the Atlantic have enabled her to present a much fuller account than has previously been available of the Duchess of Marlborough's later years. A Passion for Government,like all good political biography, thus provides new insights into both the period
and the person.
Stephen Taylor, Parliamentary History, Vol II No 2 92
'Scholars concerned with various aspects of Augustan England will welcome this well-documented biography regarding one of the most forceful personalities of the era. Frances Harris pays close attention to manuscript sources and writes in the most lapidary prose ... fine work. Harris's biography is clearly required reading and likely to remain quasi-definitive for some time to come.'
Dennis Rubini, Temple University, American Historical Review, February 1993
'A Passion for Government is well-researched, well-argued, and well-written and provides numerous insights to the politics of the Augustan Age.'
Amy Thompson McCandless, College of Charleston, History, Fall 1993
'Dr Harris ... has an unrivalled knowledge of the primary sources for the rise and the glory years of the first Churchills and she puts it to very good use ...Dr Harris has written a superb personal and political biography of a pivotal figure, a study which is unlikely to be superceded in the foreseeable future.'
Edward Gregg, University of South Carolina, British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
`This very readable biography is carefully researched and clearly written. She skillfully places Sarah's political biography in the wider context of British events, so clearly that her book can easily serve as the inroductory reading for the whole period of the later Stuart and early Hanoverian monarchs.'
Gender and History Book reviews
`significantly deepens our understanding of the dynamics of politics from 1702 to 1714.'
English Historical Review
Family fortunes; maid of honour 1673-1678; "true born Whig" 1679-1684; "arbitrary power and property" 1685-1688; rival courts 1689-1692; a retired way 1693-1701; "we four must never part" 1702-1703; "the detested names of Whig and Tory" 1704-1705; Harley and Abigail 1706-1707; "terrible battles" 1708-1709; "Maynwaring's key" 1710; paper wars 1711-1712; a sort of banishment 1713-1714; the Hanoverians 1714-1716; Sunderland's ministry 1717-1720; defying the Court 1721-1722; head of the family 1722-1725; the Queen and Sir Robert 1726-1730; dividing the family 1730-1733; "warm in opposition" 1733-1735; the patriots' prophetess 1736-1741; "an old woman is a very insignificant thing" 1742-1744. Appendices: The Marlborough family tree; the estates of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough.