Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland

Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, KG, PC (23 April 1675[1]  19 April 1722), known as Lord Spencer from 1688 to 1702, was an English statesman and nobleman from the Spencer family. He served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (1714–1717), Lord Privy Seal (1715–1716), Lord President of the Council (1717–1719) and First Lord of the Treasury (1718–1721).

The Earl of Sunderland

First Lord of the Treasury
In office
21 March 1718  4 April 1721
MonarchGeorge I
Preceded byThe Viscount Stanhope
Succeeded byRobert Walpole
Lord President of the Council
In office
16 March 1718  6 February 1719
MonarchGeorge I
Preceded byThe Duke of Devonshire
Succeeded byThe Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull
Personal details
Charles Spencer

(1675-04-23)23 April 1675
Died19 April 1722(1722-04-19) (aged 46)
London, England, Kingdom of Great Britain
Resting placeBrington, Northamptonshire, England, Kingdom of Great Britain
Political partyWhig
Arabella Cavendish (m. 16951698)

Anne Churchill (m. 17001716)

Judith Tichborne (m. 17171722)
ParentsRobert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland
Anne Digby
Alma materUtrecht University

His third son Charles Spencer, 5th Earl of Sunderland is a direct ancestor of Sir Winston Spencer-Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. His fourth son Hon. John Spencer is a direct ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, the first wife of Charles, Prince of Wales, and the mother of Prince William and Prince Harry.

Early life

He was the second son of Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland and Anne Digby, daughter of George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol. On the death of his elder brother Robert in Paris in September 1688, he became heir to the peerage. Called by John Evelyn "a youth of extraordinary hopes," he completed his education at Utrecht, and in 1695 entered the House of Commons as member for Tiverton. In the same year, he married Arabella, daughter of Henry Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Newcastle; she died in 1698 and in 1700, he married Anne Churchill, daughter of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough and Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. This was an important alliance for Sunderland and for his descendants; through it he was introduced to political life and later the dukedom of Marlborough came to the Spencers.[2]

In 1698 he plunged his family into scandal when his brother-in-law Donogh MacCarthy, 4th Earl of Clancarty, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his support for James II and later escaped, was reconciled with his long-estranged wife, Charles' sister Elizabeth, and at long last consummated the marriage. Charles, alerted by his father's servants, had Clancarty arrested while he was actually in bed with Elizabeth. The result was a public uproar which gravely embarrassed their parents. William III treated the matter as a trifle, wondering why everyone he met teased him about "that little spark Clancarty", and gave the couple permission to settle in Altona, Hamburg. Elizabeth, who died in Hamburg in 1704, never saw her parents or brother again. His father's biographer comments that the affair did not show Charles in a good light either as a man or a brother.[3]


Having succeeded to the peerage in 1702, Sunderland was one of the commissioners for the union between England and Scotland, and in 1705, he was sent to Vienna as envoy extraordinary. Although he was tinged with republican ideas and had made himself obnoxious to Queen Anne by opposing the grant to her husband, Prince George, through the influence of Marlborough he was foisted into the ministry as Secretary of State for the Southern Department, taking office in December 1706.

From 1708 to 1710, he was one of the five Whigs collectively called the Junto, who dominated the government, but he had many enemies, the Queen still disliked him, and in June 1710, he was dismissed. Anne offered him a pension of £3000 a year, but this he refused, saying "if he could not have the honour to serve his country he would not plunder it."[2] When Marlborough protested about the dismissal, the Queen inquired sarcastically whether "the Peace of Europe must depend on it?" She added that Sunderland was universally unpopular, which was indeed the case.[4]

Sunderland continued to take part in public life, and was active in communicating with the court of Hanover about the steps to be taken in view of the approaching death of the queen. He made the acquaintance of George I in 1706, but when the elector became king, Sunderland only secured the comparatively unimportant position of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In August 1715, he joined the cabinet as Lord Privy Seal. After a visit to George I in Hanover, he secured in April 1717 the position of Secretary of State for the Northern Department. This he retained until March 1718, when he became First Lord of the Treasury, holding also the post of Lord President of the Council. He was now effectively the prime minister. Sunderland was especially interested in the proposed peerage bill, a measure designed to limit the number of members of the House of Lords, but this was defeated owing partly to the opposition of Sir Robert Walpole.[2] In 1719 he was one of the main subscribers in the Royal Academy of Music (1719), a corporation that produced baroque opera on stage.[5][6]

The bursting of the South Sea Bubble led to his political ruin. He had taken some part in launching the scheme of 1720, therefore public opinion was roused against him and it was only through the efforts of Walpole that he was acquitted by the House of Commons, when the matter was investigated. In April 1721, he resigned his offices, but he retained his influence with George I until his own death on 19 April 1722.[2]

Sunderland inherited his father's passion for intrigue, while his manners were repelling, but he stands high among his associates for disinterestedness and had an alert and discerning mind. From his early years he had a great love of books, and he spent his leisure and his wealth in forming the library at Althorp, which in 1703 was described as "the finest in Europe." In 1749 part of it was removed to Blenheim Palace.[2]

Sunderland's second wife died in April 1716, after a career of considerable influence on the political life of her time. In 1717, he married an Irish lady of fortune, Judith Tichborne (d. 1749), daughter of Sir Benjamin Tichborne (younger brother of Sir Henry Tichborne, 1st Baron Ferrard, Irish cr. 1715) and Elizabeth Gibbs. She later married Sir Robert Sutton.

In 1722 Sunderland was implicated in what became known as the Atterbury Plot, to restore the House of Stuart, and his death was one of the factors which brought the Plot to light.[7]

The town of Sunderland, Massachusetts, was named in his honour in November 1718, just after he became Lord President of the Council.[8]


His first wife was Lady Arabella Cavendish (19 August 1673  4 June 1698), daughter of Henry Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Newcastle. They had one daughter:

His second wife was Lady Anne Churchill (27 February 1683  15 April 1716). They had six children:

His third wife was Judith Tichborne (c.1702  17 May 1749). They had three children:

  • Unnamed child (born and died 1718).
  • Unnamed child (born and died 1719).
  • Hon. William Spencer (1720  17 April 1722).

See also


  1. 1674 in Collier's Encyclopedia, Volume 11 Germanium to Heath Hen, pp. 372–3
  2.  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sunderland, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 99.
  3. Kenyon, J.P Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland 1641-1702 Gregg Revivals reprint 1992 p. 309
  4. Gregg, Edward Queen Anne Yale University Press 1980 p. 314
  5. Deutsch, O.E. (1955), Handel. A documentary biography, p. 91. Reprint 1974.
  6. See the year 1719 Handel Reference Database (in progress)
  7. Devon and Exeter Oath Rolls, 1723 at, accessed 12 June 2013
  8. "Sunderland, MA - Local Guide". Sutton, MA: Retrieved 21 July 2016.



Parliament of England
Preceded by
Thomas Bere
Anthony Keck
Member of Parliament for Tiverton
With: Thomas Bere
Succeeded by
Thomas Bere
Robert Burridge
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Charles Hedges
Secretary of State for the Southern Department
Succeeded by
The Lord Dartmouth
Preceded by
The Duke of Shrewsbury
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by
The Viscount Townshend
In commission
Title last held by
The Marquess of Wharton
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by
The Duke of Kingston
Preceded by
James Stanhope
Secretary of State for the Northern Department
Succeeded by
The Viscount Stanhope
Preceded by
The Duke of Devonshire
Lord President of the Council
Succeeded by
The Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull
Preceded by
The Viscount Stanhope
First Lord of the Treasury
Succeeded by
Robert Walpole
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Robert Spencer
Earl of Sunderland
Second creation
Succeeded by
Robert Spencer
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