This was an important alliance for Sunderland and for his descendants; through it he was introduced to political life and later the dukedom of Marlborough came to the Spencers.
Sir Robert's grandson, Henry, the 3rd baron, was created earl of Sunderland in June 1643, and was killed at the battle of Newbury when fighting for the king a little later in the same year.
Early in 1683, however, through the influence of the king's mistress, the duchess of Portsmouth, Sunderland regained his place as secretary for the northern department, the chief feature of his term of office being his rivalry with his brotherin-law, George Savile, marquess of Halifax.
In 1733 Charles inherited the dukedom of Marlborough and he then transferred the Sunderland estates to his brother John, father of the 1st Earl Spencer (see Marlborough, Earls And Dukes Of).
Thus Hull district inaugurated a bold policy of chapel-buildings; Norwich that of a foreign mission; Sunderland and Manchester the ideal of a bettereducated ministry, Sunderland institute being opened in 1868; Nottingham district founded a middle-class school; Leeds promoted a union of Sunday-schools, and the placing of chapel property on a better financial footing.
A menacing letter was despatched by Sunderland to shake the firmness of the university; but, though humble and respectful explanations were returned, the university showed no sign of compliance, nor even of a desire to suggest a compromise.
He surprised the world, which had supposed him to be a recluse and a mystic, by the practical interest he took in the mining population of Durham and in the great shipping and artisan industries of Sunderland and Gateshead.
In October 1679, the circumstances which led Charles to desire to conciliate the opposition having ceased, Shaftesbury was dismissed from his presidency and from the privy council; when applied to by Sunderland to return to office he made as conditions the divorce of the queen and the exclusion of James.
Lord Sunderland possessed a keen intellect and was consumed by intense restlessness; but his character was wanting in steadfastness, and he yielded too easily to opposition.
It should be mentioned that while Sunderland was thus serving James II., he was receiving a pension from France, and through his wife's lover, Henry Sidney, afterwards earl of Romney, he was furnishing William of Orange with particulars about affairs in England.