When Sisi stayed in Ireland, John Churchill Seventh Duke of Marlborough was the Viceroy, the government’s representative on the island. At a time of famine and civil unrest, the presence of the Catholic Empress of Austria made it doubly difficult for the Duke of Marlborough to rule Ireland.
The Duke of Marlborough had turned down the post of Viceroy (Lord Lieutenant) when the Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had first offered him the post in 1874. But when his heir, the Marquess of Blandford, had an affair with the Countess of Aylesford, the duke’s sons tried to blackmail the Prince of Wales into forcing him to save the marquess from being named in a divorce case (the Aylesford Affair). The Duke of Marlborough had to leave the royal Court and became Viceroy in 1876. He took his son Lord Randolph Churchill into ‘exile’ with him as his Secretary.
The Duke of Marlborough was born in Norfolk but the family home was magnificent Blenheim Palace at Woodstock. He was educated at Eton College 1835 -38 and then Oriel College, Oxford. In 1843 the Duke of Marlborough married Lady Frances, eldest daughter of the Marquess of Londonderry. He entered Parliament as Conservative MP for Woodstock in April 1844 but soon upset his father, who effectively controlled the seat, by supporting the government’s intention to give a grant to Maynooth Seminary (where Sisi later chased the stag into the college on her first Irish trip). Threatened with the loss of his allowance from the Sixth Duke, John had to resign from Parliament.
Three years later he returned to the House of Commons staying there until his father died in 1857. The Prime Minister, the Earl of Derby made the Duke of Marlborough Lord Steward of the Household in 1866 and he entered the Cabinet the next year as Lord President of the Council. When Disraeli formed his government in 1874 he tried to get Marlborough to become Irish Viceroy. He declined but was forced to take up the post in 1876.
As Viceroy Marlborough supported Irish education and toured the island. The Duchess of Marlborough played her part and set up an Irish relief fund during the famine that raised £30,000 to buy seed potatoes, clothing and food for the starving Irish peasantry.
The duke faced a clever adversary in Irish nationalist political leader Charles Parnell who never missed an opportunity to attack Marlborough. Sisi’s visit in 1879 enabled Parnell to accuse the Viceroy of snubbing her, even though she wanted to make a private trip. The following year the Duke of Marlborough ensured that the Duchess, Lord and Lady Randolph Churchill, his daughter Georgiana and his close staff went out hunting with Sisi and were in attendance as she travelled through Dublin.
On his visit to Dublin Crown Prince Rudolf had been Marlborough’s guest at a state ball in Dublin Castle and in 1880 he persuaded Sisi to join him for lunch.
The cost of being Viceroy and agricultural depression forced the Duke to sell land to Ferdinand de Rothschild and the famous Sunderland library and the Blenheim enamels. The Duke of Marlborough died in London in 1883.
Attributed to [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons