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Churchill was the son of Sir Winston Churchill and in 1667 was appointed as as a page of honour in the household of the Duke of York, later James II. Soon afterwards, he received a commission as an ensign in the Foot Guards. His military career was distinguished and he soon rose through the ranks.
In 1685 he crushed the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion against James II. However, his loyalty to James did not survive the events of 1688. He belatedly joined William, Prince of Orange, at the end of November 1688 after William had landed on English soil. Churchill had been in charge of the king's army at Salisbury before his defection.
Churchill was created a Baron in the Scottish peerage in 1682, and in the English peerage in 1685. He was rewarded for his role in the Glorious Revolution by being created Earl of Marlborough in 1689, and was appointed as commander-in-chief of the army in England in 1690. However, intrigues with the deposed James II led to his dismissal in 1692. He came back into favour at the end of the 1690s.
When Queen Anne succeeded in 1702 he was quickly appointed as captain-general of the forces and master-general of the ordnance, as well as being created Duke of Marlborough. His wife, Sarah, was a favourite of the Queen.
Marlborough's military career from 1702 was dominated by the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). His most famous victory was against the French and Bavarians at Blenheim in 1704. As a reward for his success, Parliament voted to give him Woodstock Manor and Blenheim Palace. He was also created Prince of Mindelheim, a prince of the Holy Roman Empire, by Emperor Leopold I.
Marlborough continued in command of the British army and won further victories in modern-day Belgium and France until he was dismissed in 1711 after he and his wife had both fallen out of favour with Queen Anne. In 1714 the new king, George I, restored Marlborough to the offices of captain-general and master of the ordnance, and created him a privy councillor. Marlborough fell ill in 1716 however, and took no further part in public life.