Upper-class England was really a very small world during the lifetime of John and Sarah Churchill. A reader recently asked me if the Godolphin family mentioned in the book is the same one for whom the famous thoroughbred was named.
In fact the horse is named after Francis, the second earl. (Researching this brought back all sorts of very distant memories of Marguerite Henry “horse books” that I read as a child, where the horses were always heroic and noble. ) I believe the Godolphin Barb was first a diplomatic gift to Louis XV from an Arab prince. Scorned as too small, the stallion demoted to a cart-horse in Paris, rescued by a English Quaker horse-lover, and eventually sold to the country stud of Francis Godolphin. There he became one of the “big three” founding fathers of modern thoroughbred horses, his qualities still much prized in racing bloodlines three hundred years later.
Every English gentleman (including John, as well as King Charles and King James) aspired to having a noteworthy stable of horses, but very few were so lucky in their stallions as Francis Godolphin!
Recently a reader asked me a question about the Churchill family: “Since both of John’s and Sarah’s sons died before providing an heir to carry on the name, how did the name survive into the 20th century?”
Here’s the answer: Sarah had worked too hard to get that dukedom to let it disappear at John’s death. Instead she lobbied heavily with her friends in Parliament to have a special (and very unusual) act passed that allowed the title to pass to their eldest daughter. So John’s first successor was Henrietta, 2nd Duchess of Marlborough.
Her husband, Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin, had no claim to the Marlborough dukedom, but their son, William, 2nd Marqess of Blandford, should have become the next duke. Sadly, he died before his mother, so at her death, the title went next to a nephew, Charles Spencer (son of John & Sarah’s second daughter Anne), who was already 5th Earl of Sunderland. The next several Dukes were all Spencers, until the 5th Duke, George (1766-1840) took the additional name of Churchill, restoring the connection when he assumed the title.
For the record, the current Duke is the 11th. His grandson (b. 1992) is the present Earl of Sunderland, and his name –– George John Godolphin Spencer-Churchill –– manages nicely to bring it all full circle, doesn’t it?