His Grace Returned From the Wars This Morning and Pleasured Me Twice in His Top-Boots

Sarah Churchill? James Agate? A. L. Rowse? Theodor Reik? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A legend asserts that Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough wrote a passionate remark in her diary. Here are three versions:

  1. Today the Duke returned from the war and pleasured me twice in his top boots.
  2. My Lord on returning pleasured me thrice without removing his boots.
  3. His Lordship returned from the wars this morning, and pleasured me thrice in his top-boots!

Are any of these statements genuine? What evidence is available?

Quote Investigator: Several researchers have attempted to explore this topic, and the available evidence is weak. Sarah Churchill died in 1744, and the first citation known to QI appeared almost two hundred years later in the diaristic autobiography of English theatre critic James Agate. The fourth volume of his autobiography titled “Ego 4” was published in 1940, and it included an entry dated July 28, 1938. Agate discussed his dislike of pageants which included amateur theatrical events. He was unable to suspend his disbelief because he knew the prosaic backgrounds of the performers. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

How can those be Hengist and Horsa when we know them to be young Mr Pepper and young Mr Salt, the obliging assistants from the local grocer’s ? How can yonder stout party hope to be Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough—“His Grace returned from the wars this morning and pleasured me twice in his top-boots”—when we know her to be the vicar’s sister and quite unpleasurable?

Agate included the quotation to illustrate the sensuality of Sarah Churchill which the amateur performer was unable to embody and project. Yet, it was unclear how Agate learned of the quotation. Later citations stated that the line was from a family tradition or an oral tradition.

Perhaps there is a closely held diary or letter containing the statement, but QI has not yet seen supporting evidence for this hypothesis, and the phrasing has been highly variable.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading His Grace Returned From the Wars This Morning and Pleasured Me Twice in His Top-Boots


  1. 1940, Ego 4: Yet More of the Autobiography of James Agate by James Agate, Diary Date: July 28, 1938, Quote Page 13, George G. Harrap & Company, London. (Verified with scans)

Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms or an Oxymoron

Groucho Marx? George Carlin? John Charteris? Theodor Reik? Doctor Who? Shirley Hazzard? Niall MacDermot? Sam Ervin? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: The famous comedians Groucho Marx and George Carlin are both credited with a joke that can be expressed in many ways. Here are some examples:

Military Intelligence is an oxymoron.
Military Intelligence is a contradiction in terms.
Military Intelligence are two mutually exclusive words.
Military Intelligence are two terms that do not go together.

Did either of these well-known humorists make a remark of this type?

Quote Investigator: There is good evidence that both Groucho Marx and George Carlin employed a version of this quip. However, the earliest evidence located by QI points to a surprising person. John Charteris was a British Brigadier-General and the primary intelligence officer for Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the leader of the British Expeditionary Forces during World War I. 1

In 1931 Charteris wrote “At G.H.Q.” which described his experiences at the military general headquarters during the war. Charteris employed an instance of the expression when he recounted the dismissive attitude of a statesman toward information obtained via intelligence work. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 2

Curzon did not give much time to Intelligence work. I fancy Military Intelligence to him is a contradiction in terms.

The entry containing the text above appeared in a section dated February 5, 1916, but it may have been updated and amplified later, sometime between 1916 and 1931.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Military Intelligence is a Contradiction in Terms or an Oxymoron


  1. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Entry: John Charteris, (1877–1946) by J. M. Bourne, Oxford University Press. (First published 2004; online edition dated October 2008) (Accessed oxforddnb.com on June 20 2012) link
  2. 1931, At G.H.Q. by John Charteris, (Diary entry is dated February 5, 1916 but the content may have been amplified at a later date), Quote Page 135 and 136, Cassell and Company, Ltd., London. (Verified on paper; Thanks to the librarians at Denison University)