The discovery of his designs roused the King to a burst of unusual resentment. "Were I and my Lord Marlborough private persons," William exclaimed, "the sword would have to settle between us." As it was, he could only strip the Earl of his offices and command, and drive his wife from St. James's. Anne followed her favourite, and the court of the Princess became the centre of the Tory opposition; while Marlborough opened a correspondence with James. So notorious was his treason that on the eve of the French invasion of 1692 he was one of the first of the suspected persons sent to the Tower.
The death of Mary forced William to recall Anne, who became by this event his successor; and with Anne the Marlboroughs returned to court. The King could not bend himself to trust the Earl again; but as death drew near he saw in him the one man whose splendid talents fitted him, in spite of the baseness and treason of his life, to rule England and direct the Grand Alliance in his stead. He employed Marlborough therefore to negotiate the treaty of alliance with the Emperor, and put him at the head of the army in Flanders. But the Earl had only just taken the command when a fall from his horse proved fatal to the broken frame of the King. "There was a time when I should have been glad to have been delivered out of my troubles," the dying man whispered to Portland, "but I own I see another scene, and could wish to live a little longer." He knew, however, that the wish was vain, and commended Marlborough to Anne as the fittest person to lead her armies and guide her counsels. Anne's zeal needed no quickening. Three days after her accession the Earl was named Captain-General of the English forces at home and abroad, and entrusted with the entire direction of the war.
His supremacy over home affairs was secured by the construction of a purely Tory administration with Lord Godolphin, a close friend of Marlborough's, as Lord Treasurer at its head. The Queen's affection for his wife ensured him the support of the Crown at a moment when Anne's personal popularity gave the Crown a new weight with the nation. In England, indeed, party feeling for the moment died away. All save the extreme Tories were won over to the war now that it was waged on behalf of a Tory queen by a Tory general, while the most extreme of the Whigs were ready to back even a Tory general in waging a Whig war. Abroad, however, William's death shook the Alliance to its base; and even Holland wavered in dread of being deserted by England in the coming struggle. But the decision of Marlborough soon did away with this distrust. Anne was made to declare from the throne her resolve to pursue with energy the policy of her predecessor. The Parliament was brought to sanction vigorous measures for the prosecution of the war. 1 he new general hastened to the Hague, received the command of the Dutch as well as of the English forces, and drew the German powers into the Confederacy with a skill and adroitness which even William might have envied.
Never was greatness more quickly recognized than in the case of Marlborough. In a few months he was regarded by all as the guiding spirit of the Alliance, and princes whose jealousy had worn out the patience of the King yielded without a struggle to the counsels of his successor. His temper fitted him in an especial way to be the head of a great confederacy. Like William, he owed little of his power to any early training. The trace of his neglected education was seen to the last in his reluctance to write. "Of all things," he said to his wife, "I do not love writing." To pen a despatch indeed was a far greater trouble to him than to plan a campaign. But nature had given him qualities which in other men spring specially from culture. His capacity for business was immense. During the next ten years he assumed the general direction of the war in Flanders and in Spain. He managed every negotiation with the courts of the allies. He watched over the shifting phases of English politics. He crossed the Channel to win over Anne to a change in the Cabinet, or hurried to Berlin to secure the due contingent of Electoral troops from Brandenburg. At one and the same moment men saw him reconciling the Emperor with the Protestants of Hungary, stirring the Calvinists of the CÚvennes into revolt, arranging the affairs of Portugal, and providing for the protection of the Duke of Savoy. But his air showed no trace of fatigue or haste or vexation.
He retained to the last the indolent grace of his youth. His natural dignity was never ruffled by an outbreak of temper. Amidst the storm of battle his soldiers saw their leader "without fear of danger or in the least hurry, giving his orders with all the calmness imaginable." In the cabinet he was as cool as on the battle-field. He met with the same equable serenity the pettiness of the German princes, the phlegm of the Dutch, the ignorant opposition of his officers, the libels of his political opponents. There was a touch of irony in the simple expedients by which he sometimes solved problems which had baffled Cabinets. The touchy pride of the King of Prussia made him one of the most vexatious among the allies, but all difficulty with him ceased when Marlborough rose at a state banquet and handed him a napkin. Churchill's composure rested partly indeed on a pride which could not stoop to bare the real self within to the eyes of meaner men. In the bitter moments before his fall he bade Godolphin burn some querulous letters which the persecution of his opponents had wrung from him. "My desire is that the world may continue in their error of thinking me a happy man, for I think it better to be envied than pitied." But in great measure it sprang from the purely intellectual temper of his mind.
His passion for his wife was the one sentiment which tinged the colourless light in which his understanding moved. In all else he was without love or hate, he knew neither doubt nor regret. In private life he was a humane and compassionate man; but if his position required it he could betray Englishmen to death, or lead his army to a butchery such as that of Malplaquet. Of honour or the finer sentiments of mankind he knew nothing; and he turned without a shock from guiding Europe and winning great victories to heap up a matchless fortune by peculation and greed. He is perhaps the only instance of a man of real greatness who loved money for money's sake. The passions which stirred the men around him, whether noble or ignoble, were to him simply elements in an intellectual problem which had to be solved by patience. " Patience will overcome all things," he writes again and again. "As I think most things are governed by destiny, having done all things we should submit with patience".