MARLBOROUGH, a borough and market-town, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Selkley, Marlborough and Ramsbury, and N. divisions of Wilts, 27 miles (N. by E.) from Salisbury, and 75 (W. by S.) from London; containing 3391 inhabitants. The name, anciently written Marleberg, or Marlbridge, is supposed to be derived from the marl, or chalk, hills by which the town is surrounded. Camden supposes this to have been the Cunetio of Antoninus, but more recent researches induced the late Sir R. C. Hoare to place the station at Folly Farm, about a mile and a half eastward, where that celebrated antiquary discovered a tessellated pavement, and other relics of a Roman settlement. At the time of the Norman survey, Marlborough had a church, and was held in royal demesne; soon after, a castle was erected, which seems to have been the cause of the subsequent enlargement of the town. In the time of Richard I., and during his imprisonment in Austria, his brother John took possession of this fortress; but Richard, on his return from captivity, seized it, with all the other possessions belonging to his brother, and on their reconciliation he still retained the castle of Marlborough in his own hands. King John occasionally kept his court here; and in the civil war of this period, Marlborough was held alternately by the king and the barons: it seems to have been the occasional residence of the sovereign till the time of Henry VII., and to have formed part of the dowries of several queens. There was also a royal residence at Ogbourne, about a mile and a half from the town. The assizes were held at Marlborough from the time of Henry III. to that of Charles I.; and in the 52nd of Henry III. a parliament was assembled here which enacted the laws relative to the police of the kingdom, and to the administration of justice, commonly called the "Statutes of Marlebridge."
The castle and borough were granted by Henry VIII. to Edward, Duke of Somerset, and became forfeited to the crown on the attainder of that nobleman, in the reign of Edward VI.; they were subsequently restored to the Seymour family, and have descended, by intermarriage, to the Marquess of Ailesbury. Even in Camden's time, a few fragments only of the castle were remaining. A large house which occupies its site, and is now used for the purposes of the college of Marlborough, is said to have been commenced by Francis, first lord Seymour, of Trowbridge, and to have been improved by the first duke of Somerset of the Seymour family, and subsequently by the Earl of Hertford, in the early part of the eighteenth century. The old keep was converted into a spiral walk, in the grotto of which Mrs. Rowe wrote the most celebrated of her works, Friendship in Death; and here, also, Thomson is said to have composed a great part of his Seasons, when on a visit to the Earl of Hertford, one of the most distinguished patrons of literature of that age. In the civil war between Charles I. and the parliament, the latter had a garrison in the town under the Earl of Essex; but the royal army, commanded by Lieut.-General Wilmot, marching hither from Oxford in Dec. 1642, captured above 1000 prisoners, besides large stores of arms and ammunition, with all which they returned in safety to that city.
The town is delightfully situated on the banks of the Kennett, upon the northern verge of the forest of Savernake, and on the north of it are open downs; it consists principally of one long street, running from east to west, which is paved, and lighted with gas. The older houses are constructed of wood, and ornamented in front with curious carved work; the more modern are of stone and brick. On the north side of the chief street is a piazza projecting in front of the houses, serving for a promenade in wet weather; and at its eastern extremity is a market-house, erected on the site of a former one, by the corporation, in 1790. The inhabitants are well supplied with water. The trade is mainly in corn, coal, malt, bacon, and butter and cheese, of which two last articles vast quantities are sent every week to London; and some advantages arise from the situation of the town on a great thoroughfare. The markets are on Wednesday and Saturday; the former is for vegetables, and the latter, which is considerable, has long been celebrated for its extensive supply of grain, cheese, butchers' meat, &c. Fairs are held on July 11th, for horses and wool; Aug. 22nd, for lambs, horses, and cows; and Nov. 23rd, for sheep, horses, and cows. Marlborough, which is a borough by prescription, received its first existing charter from King John, in 1205, and others from Henry III., in the 13th and 30th years of his reign, which were confirmed by several succeeding kings. In 1577, Queen Elizabeth bestowed a charter, under which the town was governed until 1836, when the corporation was made to consist of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors; the mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, the county magistrates having concurrent jurisdiction. The privilege of sending members to parliament has been exercised ever since the 23rd of Edward I.: the right of election was, by the act of the 2nd of William IV., cap. 45, extended to the £10 householders of the old borough (containing 211 acres) and the parish of Preshute, which together constitute the new borough, and comprise 3983 acres: the mayor is returning officer. Courts leet are held by the corporation; and the King's court, for the recovery of debts to any amount, takes place every three weeks, under the charter of John. The powers of the county debt-court of Marlborough, established in 1847, extend over the registration-districts of Marlborough and Pewsey. The county bridewell and house of correction was erected in 1787.
Marlborough comprises the parishes of St. Mary the Virgin, containing 1871 inhabitants, and St. Peter and St. Paul, containing 1520; the whole divided into five wards. The living of St. Mary's is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10. 9. 4.; net income, £100; patron, the Bishop of Salisbury. The church, a neat edifice of stone, with a Norman doorway, sustained considerable damage during the civil war, in 1641; having undergone substantial repair, and been repewed and beautified, it was re-opened for divine service in October, 1844. The living of the parish of St. Peter and St. Paul is a discharged rectory, valued at £12; net income, £130; patron and impropriator, the Bishop. The church, which stands at the western extremity of the main street, has a lofty square tower with battlements and pinnacles. There are places of worship for Independents and Wesleyans. The free grammar school was founded, and endowed with the revenue of the dissolved hospital of St. John, by grant of Edward VI.; the income is about £180 per annum, and the scholars share, with those of the free schools of Manchester and Hereford, in certain exhibitions at Brasenose College, Oxford, and certain scholarships at St. John's College, Cambridge, founded by Sarah, Duchess of Somerset, in 1679. Marlborough College, or School, for the education of the sons of the clergy and others, was formally opened in August, 1843, by the bishop of the diocese, in the presence of the Marquess of Ailesbury, the mayor and corporation, and several distinguished members of the school-council. The prominent design is, to provide the clergy of the country with the means of classical instruction for their children at a more moderate rate than is charged in the great public schools. The number of pupils at present is limited to 200, of whom two-thirds are sons of clergymen, and one-third sons of laymen; but it is the intention of the council to admit 500 pupils so soon as their funds enable them to enlarge their plan. The fine mansion of the former dukes of Somerset, known of late years as the Castle hotel, was, together with extensive new buildings, fitted up for the establishment. The foundation stone of a chapel within the precincts of the college, was laid by the bishop; the edifice has just been completed, and is a pretty specimen of the early English style. The poor-law union comprises fourteen parishes or places, containing a population of 9234. The monastic institutions here were, a Gilbertine priory dedicated to St. Margaret, founded in the reign of John, and the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £38. 19. 2.; a convent of White friars, established in 1316, by the merchants of the town; St. John's Hospital, founded in the reign of Henry II.; and St. Thomas', founded in that of Henry III., and annexed to the priory of St. Margaret in the reign of Richard II. A chapel and other portions of the priory were standing a few years since.
Among the distinguished natives of the town the following may be specified: Henry of Marlborough, an English historian of the fourteenth century; Sir Michael Foster, an eminent lawyer, and one of the judges of the court of king's bench, born in 1689; Walter Harte, poet and historian, who died in 1773; Dr. Sacheverell, of political celebrity, born in 1672, during the incumbency of his father, in the parish of St. Peter and St. Paul; and John Hughes, a poet, and one of the writers in the Spectator, born in 1677. Marlborough confers the title of Duke on the family of Spencer-Churchill.