British politician and administrator who did much to stabilize British financial administration during the 20 years after the Revolution of 1688.
A member of a cadet branch of an ancient Cornish family, Godolphin became page of honour to King Charles II in 1662, beginning a lifetime in court service and court politics. As page he became intimate with John Churchill (later Duke of Marlborough), his lifelong political ally, who was then page to the Duke of York (later James II). The strength of Godolphin's and Churchill's position lay in the favour that they enjoyed at court; Godolphin was created a baron in 1684. After holding several court and diplomatic offices, Godolphin served James II as lord treasurer until the end of his reign in 1688. After the Revolution of 1688, Godolphin immediately obtained office under William III but, nevertheless, maintained contact with agents of the Jacobites, the supporters of the exiled James II. In 1696 his differences with the Whigs came to a head, and he resigned.
Godolphin was lord treasurer again from 1700 to 1701 and from Queen Anne's accession in 1702 until 1710. Godolphin, Marlborough, and Robert Harley (later the 1st Earl of Oxford) formed the core of Anne's ministry. He persuaded the queen gradually to eject the Tories from office, and with Marlborough he helped bring about union with Scotland (1706–07). He was created Earl of Godolphin (1706) but fell out of favour with the queen when his efforts to control Tory ecclesiastical patronage led to a breach with Harley (1708). Marlborough and Godolphin, however, successfully forced Harley's resignation by threatening a massive Cabinet resignation.
As lord treasurer, Godolphin gave efficient financial support for Marlborough's military campaigns during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–13), but he had to seek Whig support to remain in office and to continue the war, which became increasingly unpopular. The prosecution of the popular Tory ecclesiastic Henry Sacheverell for his inflammatory anti-Whig sermons brought about the fall of the Whigs in 1710. Despite a long personal friendship, Anne dismissed Godolphin, too, without an audience. His death in 1712 prevented him from enjoying the resurgence of the Whigs at the accession of George I.
In private life Godolphin was a confirmed gambler and was among the first to improve English racehorses by importing Barb and Arab sires. The famous stallion Godolphin Barb was owned by his son, Francis, the second earl.
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