Sarah Churchill and
The Rules for Dating


Essay by
Robert Wilfred Franson


March 2003

Happily ever after ... really?

The purpose of The Rules is to make Mr. Right obsessed with having you as his by making yourself seem unattainable. In plain language, we're talking about playing hard to get! Follow The Rules, and he will not just marry you, but feel crazy about you, forever! What we're promising you is "happily ever after." A marriage truly made in heaven.

Ellen Fein & Sherrie Schneider
The Rules: Time-tested Secrets
for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right

Unattainable? Well, of course there's a lot more feminine advice than that in The Rules. But hard to get as a critical part of the path to love? Sounds doubtful if not disastrous. Even if he loves her, won't he get discouraged? Won't he just throw up his hands and go away?

Just for fun, let's look at one historically important example.

Falling in love, 1675

Winston S. Churchill, the British Prime Minister, is one of my parents' heroes, and one of mine. Between the World Wars he wrote a superb, detailed biography of his great Seventeenth Century ancestor John Churchill — Marlborough: His Life and Times (4 volumes, 1933-1938).

John Churchill was a struggling young soldier when he encountered a popular girl at Court, a teenager about ten years younger, Sarah Jennings. In the biography Winston S. Churchill writes:

Towards the end of 1675 she began to dance with John Churchill at balls and parties. He, of course, must have been acquainted with her ever since she arrived at St James's, but after one night of dancing at the end of that year they fell in love with each other. It was a case of love, not at first sight indeed, but at first recognition. It lasted for ever...

Sarah Jennings was fifteen years old. An intense but wise young lady.

At Blenheim Palace there is a bundle of thirty-seven love-letters of John and Sarah covering a period of about three years, from 1675 to 1677. All are unsigned and all are provokingly undated. All but eight are his. Her contributions are short, severe, and almost repellent. She must have written many more letters, and it is surmised that these were in a more tender vein. She seems, however, only to have kept copies of her warlike missives.
Boulders in the path of romance

There was notable marriage-minded competition from others for both John and Sarah, as well as the temptations of licentiousness for passionate people. Young John Churchill had been for several years the lover of Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland — the King's mistress. John's concerned and practical parents wanted him to marry heiress Catharine Sedley. With Barbara there had been passion; if he chose Catharine there was an assured, moneyed future. But John was in love with Sarah.

Sarah to John:

If it were true that you have that passion for me which you say you have, you would find out some way to make yourself happy — it is in your power. Therefore press me no more to see you, since it is what I cannot in honour approve of, and if I have done too much, be so just as to consider who was the cause of it.

Perhaps instinctively, but also consciously, Sarah made herself a very difficult prize to attain.

A woman must pace the relationship slowly. Don't expect a man to do it.
Watching someone fall "out of love" is really awful! If you follow The Rules and slow down the process, forcing him to get to know you and really fall in love, this will not happen.

The Rules

Intense attraction & warlike defenses

Obviously there was much attraction between the couple while dancing. Fein and Schneider's modern presentation of The Rules is very definite about femininity and its place in dating and wooing, and onward into marriage. John and Sarah's strong mutual attraction was noted by observers at Court. But these surviving letters showed how Sarah held him at arm's length, waiting, letting the kind of relationship she wanted and needed come to full flower.

Sarah's elder sister, who had introduced her to Court society, also was her main chaperone.

John to Sarah:

When I writ to you last night I thought I writ to the one that loved me; but your unkind, indifferent letter this morning confirms me of what I have before been afraid of, which is that your sister can govern your passion as she pleases. My heart is ready to break. ...

But Sarah governed her own passion, and was her own best defense. At least once it seems Sarah almost overdid her warlike defense, pushing John so hard away. But they repaired this, and persevered in their apparently opposite but complementary fashions.

One by one, as in a methodical siege, he had removed the obstacles which had barred his way. He had put aside his military prospects. Barbara was gone. Catharine was gone. The parents, still perhaps protesting, had given way. Evidently he had in sight some means of livelihood sufficient for him and Sarah. Even now she did not soften her hectoring tone. But everything was settled.

Sarah to John:

If your intentions are honourable, and what I have reason to expect, you need not fear my sister's coming can make any change in me, or that it is in the power of anybody to alter me but yourself, and I am at this time satisfied that you will never do anything out of reason, which you must do if you ever are untrue to me.
Earned nobility

These two very strong-minded people married for life. John Churchill eventually became a general, the greatest soldier England ever has had; and the first Duke of Marlborough. Sarah proved to be a lady of intelligence and character, beauty and soul; the confidante of Queen Anne; and of course herself Duchess of Marlborough. If ever a title of nobility was truly deserved, theirs was earned abundantly.

John and Sarah had many years' loving partnership in their marriage, their lives as vital and important to the realm of Britain as they were to each other. Fascinating lives in a complex period, and Sarah Churchill has had biographers of her own life. Through their daughter is descended Winston S. Churchill.

As a widow in her old age, being courted by a high personage, Sarah Churchill wrote:

If I were young and handsome as I was, instead of old and faded as I am, and you could lay the empire of the world at my feet, you should never share the heart and hand that once belonged to John, Duke of Marlborough.


© 2003 Robert Wilfred Franson

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