Surnames, apparently, tend to have little social mobility: they’re established at a particular point on the food chain, and they tend to stay there. Steve Sailer suggests a reason why this may be so in certain cases:
[H]igh status surnames can recruit new female talent. For example, John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough, enjoyed a spectacular career as a politician-adventurer, eventually winning the crucial battle of his generation over the French at Blenheim. He was made the first Duke of Marlborough and given a palace and then … not much happened talentwise for five or six generations of Churchills. But then the dull 6th or 7th Duke of Marlborough married a woman of energy and ambition, and their son Randolph landed an American heiress, Jennie Jerome, who was a tigress, and, voila, Winston Churchill.
The seventh, actually.
While I was checking that out, I found this little tidbit: Marlborough is the one and only dukedom in the UK that can pass to, or through, a female. The succession order:
- The heirs-male of the 1st Duke’s body lawfully begotten;
- his eldest daughter and the heirs-male of her body lawfully begotten;
- his second and other daughters, in seniority, and the heirs-male of their bodies lawfully begotten;
- his eldest daughter’s oldest daughter and the heirs male of her body lawfully begotten;
- his eldest daughter’s second and other daughters, in seniority, and the heirs-male of their bodies lawfully begotten;
- all other daughters of his daughters, in seniority, and the heirs-male of their bodies lawfully begotten;
- and other descendants into the future in like fashion, with the intent that the Marlborough title never become extinct.
The first two contingencies are now lapsed; the current Duke (the eleventh, John George Vanderbilt Henry Spencer-Churchill) comes from section 3. And yes, it’s that Spencer.