George Churchill (Royal Navy officer)
|Allegiance||Kingdom of England|
|Years of service||1666–93, 1699–1708|
|Rank||Admiral of the Blue|
|Commands held||Dartmouth, Falcon, Newcastle, Windsor Castle, St. Andrew|
|Battles/wars||battle off Beachy Head,
battle of Barfleur.
|Relations||John Churchill (George's elder brother)|
He served as a lieutenant aboard the HMS Delft (a prize taken from the Dutch) from 10 April 1666 to 19 June 1666, during the Second Dutch war of 1665-67. During the Third Dutch war of 1672–74 he served as a lieutenant aboard the HMS York and then from 28 August 1672 to 10 December 1673 aboard the HMS Fairfax and from 26 March 1674 aboard the fireship HMS Castle.
Following the close of the war he became a lieutenant aboard HMS Swan (another prize from the Dutch) from 2 April 1675 until 2 May 1677, and on 10 April 1678 was appointed to command HMS Dartmouth, taking up his post on 14 May, until 6 September 1680. On 11 September 1680 he took command of HMS Falcon, in which he went, in charge of convoy, as far as the Canaries; he remained with this ship until 25 April 1684. On 26 September 1688 he was appointed to command HMS Newcastle.
It is difficult to believe that these appointments involved active service. If Churchill had really served, or wished to serve, afloat, there can be little question but that, with his brother's court interest, his promotion would have been very much more rapid. Guided by his brother, he was one of the first of the officers of the fleet to offer his services to the Prince of Orange, and was shortly afterwards advanced to be captain of the HMS Windsor Castle, which he commanded in the Battle of Beachy Head. With greater opportunity of distinction he commanded HMS St. Andrew in the Battle of Barfleur.
In 1693 Churchill withdrew from the service. His withdrawal was commonly attributed to jealousy at the promotion of Captain Matthew Aylmer to flag rank over his head, but appears to have been rather the effect of the King's dislike of the family of Churchill, and of ill-will towards Russell, then First Lord of the Admiralty, whom Churchill believed to have influenced the King's decision (Add. MS. 31958, ff. 45–6). In 1699, when Russell, then Earl of Orford, retired from the Admiralty, and Marlborough had made his peace with the King, Churchill was appointed to a seat at the Admiralty, which he held till January 1701–2, when the Earl of Pembroke was made Lord High Admiral.
On the accession of Anne and the appointment of Prince George as Lord High Admiral, Churchill was appointed to the council of his Royal Highness (23 May 1702). His interest sufficed to make him chief, and his first step was to promote himself at a bound to be Admiral of the Blue, thus placing himself above Aylmer, who was then Vice-Admiral of the Red. At the same time, to give the promotion an air of reality, as well as, perhaps, to ensure the pay of the rank, he hoisted his flag for a few days at Portsmouth, on board HMS Triumph. This and a similar parade the following year were his whole service as a flag officer; but the star of the house of Churchill was just then in the ascendant, and for the next six years Churchill governed the navy, as his brother, the Duke of Marlborough, governed the army. Complaints of the mismanagement of the navy were loud and frequent. The trade, it was alleged, was inefficiently protected; even the convoys were insecure. The activity of the French privateers was notorious; and the English Admiralty, with a force at their disposal immeasurably superior to that of France, so managed it that at the point of attack they were always inferior. The exploits of Duguay-Trouin, or Forbin, in the Channel brought this home to the popular mind, and permitted Lord Haversham to say in the House of Lords:
Your disasters at sea have been so many, a man scarce knows where to begin. Your ships have been taken by your enemies, as the Dutch take your herrings, by shoals, upon your own coasts; nay, your royal navy itself has not escaped. These are pregnant misfortunes and big with innumerable mischiefs.
So also the attempted invasion by the Pretender in 1708 must have been utterly crushed, it was stoutly argued, if Byng's ships had been clean and effective. These numerous failures all brought discredit on the Prince's naval administration, the head and real autocrat of which was Churchill, and added to the many causes of ill-will which were accumulating against the Duke of Marlborough. Churchill, indeed, seems to have been ignorant, incapable, and overbearing, and to have rendered himself hated by almost all who came in contact with him.
He accumulated a large fortune, no doubt garnered from the thousand nameless perquisites of office. On the death of Prince George in October 1708 he retired from the Admiralty and lived mostly at a villa in Windsor Park, where he occupied himself with the care of a magnificent aviary, which at his death, 8 May 1710, he bequeathed to the Duke of Ormonde and the Earl of Torrington. He was never married, and the bulk of his large fortune was inherited by a natural son. He was Tory MP for St Albans 1685–7, and 1689–1708, and at the time of his death was member for Portsmouth.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Laughton, John Knox (1887). "Churchill, George". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography 10. London: Smith, Elder & Co. pp. 313–314.
- John Charnock, Biographia Navalis, Volume Two (London, 1795)
- A. L. Rowse, The Early Churchills: an English Family (New York, 1958)
- Churchill, George (1654–1710), Admiral, by J. K. Laughton, Dictionary of National Biography, 1887