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King Charles II died in 1685. At the time his younger brother James, Duke of York, was Governor of Hudson's Bay Company, having been appointed to the position on the death of his cousin Prince Rupert in 1683. On his ascension to the throne King James II decided to resign his position with HBC but, wisely, held on to his stock. This left the Company without a leader and the Committeemen with the need to find a suitable candidate as soon as possible. Fortunately for all concerned a suitable candidate was near to hand.

John, Lord Churchill by Sir Geoffrey Kneller

Sir John Churchill was then thirty-five years old and already a soldier of great renown. The eldest son of MP Sir Winston Churchill - the first by that name - John had received a commission in the foot guards in 1667. During the third Anglo-Dutch War (1672 - 1674) he had served with the allied fleet and was promoted to Captain. He also fought with distinction at Maastricht alongside the Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of King Charles II. Coming from a decidedly middle-class background, Churchill needed money and influence to further his career. The usual means of achieving both was to marry well. While his eventual fortune rested on some very wise investments made as a young man, Churchill's choice of wife was inspired. In 1678 he had wed Sarah Jennings, maid of honour to James' wife Mary of Modena, confidante and closest friend of James' daughter Princess Anne, who would one day be Queen in her own right. These close connections to the Royal House proved to be invaluable to Churchill's career.

On April 1st, 1685, Sir James Hayes, one of HBC's original shareholders and then serving as Deputy Governor of the Company, approached Churchill and offered him the Governorship. Churchill accepted and was sworn in the very next day. For the next seven years Churchill used his growing political influence to his own as well as HBC's advantage. He arranged for marines to protect Company vessels on their annual transatlantic voyages as well as for several Royal Navy ships to help defend the Company's northern domain. In 1688 he and seven of the dominant HBC shareholders were the beneficiaries of a 50% payout - the second dividend in the Company's history. Most importantly he helped negotiate the renewal of the Company's Charter when it was challenged in 1690. The Skinners and Feltmakers Companies in London, as well as American fur-trade interests, attempted to have HBC's monopoly overthrown saying it had never been confirmed by Parliament and was therefore unlawful. The Governor and Committee petitioned for an Act of Parliament confirming the Charter. After a number of hearings, the act was passed and the Charter confirmed for a term of seven years.

During this period Churchill's public career progressed unabated. He successfully crushed the bastard Duke of Monmouth's rebellion against James II's rule only three months after assuming the Governorship. When James II fled England in 1688 after a political crisis precipitated by his Catholicism, Churchill declared for the new King William of Orange and his wife, Mary, sister to his wife's great friend Princess Anne. He was made Earl of Marlborough for his loyalty. For most of their joint reign Churchill served as a senior statesman, general and advisor.

James' attempt at regaining his lost throne was decisively thwarted in Ireland at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. But Churchill's relationship with William and Mary soon soured for several reasons. Firstly, Churchill felt underappreciated, believing William neither respected him nor had sufficiently recognized his support, particularly by denying him both the Order of the Garter and the title Master of Ordnance. Then there was the problem of Churchill's continuing contact with James in an attempt to obtain a pardon for deserting him in 1688 - necessary in the not entirely unlikely event of James' restoration. Finally Churchill and Sarah maintained close ties with Princess Anne, whose claim to the throne was far stronger than William's. By taking her side in various court disputes the Churchills earned the distrust of both King and Queen.

John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough by Sir Geoffrey Kneller

In January 1692, Queen Mary, angered by Churchill's conduct, ordered Anne to dismiss Sarah from her household. Anne refused. This petty dispute precipitated Churchill's dismissal. On 20 January he was ordered to dispose of all his posts and offices, both civil and military, consider himself dismissed from all appointments and banned from court. As a result he resigned the governorship of HBC.

He was not out of favour for long, however. Mary's death in 1694 led to some improvement in his relationship with the King which was completely restored by 1698. With the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 Churchill's star rose again. Becoming de facto leader of Allied forces during the War of the Spanish Succession against the French under Louis XIV, his early victories led to his creation as Duke of Marlborough that year. Subsequent successes at Blenheim (1704), Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709), ensured his place in history as one of Europe's great generals. But Sarah's stormy relationship with the Queen, and her subsequent dismissal from court, led to his own fall. Incurring Anne's disfavour Churchill was forced from office a second time in 1711 and into self-imposed exile. He would return to England with the accession of George I to the British throne in 1714, but would never again enjoy his earlier influence. Following a series of strokes his health gradually deteriorated, and he died on 16 June 1722.