The Favourite


Sarah Churchill, 1st Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744), was the glamorous and controversial subject of hundreds of satires, newspaper articles and publications both during her lifetime and after her death. Tied to Queen Anne by an intimate friendship, Sarah hoped to wield power equal to that of a government minister. When their relationship soured, she blackmailed Anne with letters revealing their intimacy and accused Anne of perverting the course of national affairs by keeping lesbian favourites.

Her spectacular arguments with the Queen, with the architects and workmen at Blenheim Palace, and with her own family, made Sarah infamous for her temper. Attacked for traits that might have been applauded in a man, Sarah was also capable of inspiring intense love and loyalty. She was deeply committed to her principles and to living what she believed to be a virtuous life.

Politically, Sarah was most influential through her husband, one of England’s greatest generals, and their friend, the Treasurer Lord Godolphin. After these men’s deaths, she remained independently powerful thanks to the immense wealth she controlled and as the founder of several dynasties, including the Spenser-Churchills.

Sarah was a compulsive and compelling writer, narrating the major events of her day with herself often at centre-stage. This biography brings her own voice, passionate and intelligent, back to life, and casts a critical eye over images of the Duchess handed down through art, history and literature.


“Scholarly, highly articulate, and above all never dull.” – The Sunday Telegraph

“Nowhere is the subtlety of Ophelia Field's historical understanding more apparent than in her delicate reading of the relationship between Sarah and Anne.  That it is Field's first book is something of a wonder . . . An outstandingly accomplished debut.” – The Guardian

“She is a marvellous subject for a biography and Ophelia Field's book, capacious and beautifully detailed, does her full justice. It is the first work by a writer who is a master of her craft.” – The Independent

“Other historians have skirted around the true nature of Sarah and Anne’s passionate friendship, with its lesbian overtones, but Ophelia Field tackles the subject courageously… During her long life Sarah managed to quarrel with almost everyone and took great care in editing her papers to ensure that posterity would know her side of the story, which is covered exhaustively by Field in this impressive debut.”— The Times

“Field draws effectively on Sarah’s letters and self-justifying memoirs to produce a remarkable portrait.” – The Sunday Times

“Field has created an unforgettable picture of a remarkable figure... Instead of fictionalizing her, Field shows how Sarah became a kind of fictional and artistic icon, a symbol of certain kinds of power that remained free of the checks and balances that the new settlement and constitution was bent on establishing. Even after 250 years, she fascinates like nobody else of her time.” – The Sunday Herald

“A quite astonishing tale.” – The London Review of Books

“Once you have started reading Ophelia Field's splendid book, it is hard to put it down.” – The Lady

“Scholarly but never less than fascinating, Field’s debut truly brings to life the complex character of Sarah Churchill and the last of the Stuart courts.” – Aberdeen Evening Express

“In this impeccably researched biography, Field strips away the varnish of rumour and gossip to reveal an intelligent and kind-hearted woman. She also paints a fascinating portrait of the turbulent politics of the late 17th and early 18th centuries…” – Waterstone’s Books Quarterly

Praise from other authors

"This is an incredible story crackling with royal passion, envy, ambition and betrayal, and Field’s account of the psychological power play between Queen Anne and her confidante is surely definitive. A tour de force" – Lucy Worsley

“A masterly biography which brilliantly captures the power and passion of its subject.  This is an exemplary study of an extraordinary woman.” – Anne Somerset

“A lively and provocative biography of a fascinating woman, which is crafted with style and vivacity.  I am sure it will appeal to both scholars and the general reading public alike.” – Alison Weir

“Behind every great man, they say, is a strong woman.  Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, the not always cozy confidante of Queen Anne, looms large over the 18th century, and Ophelia Field has done a remarkable — and surely definitive — job in bringing her story to life.”  – Hugo Vickers

A fully revised and updated edition of THE FAVOURITE was published in November 2018 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson