An image of Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, England.
Blenheim Palace (pronounced “Blen-im”) is a monumental stately home situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England. It is the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough. The palace, one of England’s largest houses, was built between 1705 and circa 1724. UNESCO recognised the palace as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
The palace’s construction was originally intended to be a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough from a grateful nation in return for military triumph against the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim. However, it soon became the subject of political infighting, which led to Marlborough’s exile, the fall from power of his duchess, and irreparable damage to the reputation of the architect Sir John Vanbrugh.
Designed in the rare, and short-lived, English Baroque style, architectural appreciation of the palace is as divided today as it was in the 1720s.It is unique in its combined usage as a family home, mausoleum and national monument. The palace is also notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill.
The building of the palace was a minefield of political intrigue by Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Following the palace’s completion, it became the home of the Churchill family for the following 300 years, and various members of the family have in that period brought various changes, in the interiors, park and gardens. At the end of the 19th century, the palace and the Churchills were saved from ruin by an American marriage. Thus, the exterior of the palace remains in good repair and exactly as completed.
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough.
John Churchill was born in Devon. Although his family had aristocratic relations, they were minor gentry rather than high-ranking members of the upper echelons of 17th-century society. In 1678, Churchill married Sarah Jennings, and in April that year, he was sent by Charles II to The Hague to negotiate a convention on the deployment of the English army in Flanders. The mission ultimately proved abortive. In May, Churchill was appointed the temporary rank of Brigadier-General of Foot, but the possibility of a continental campaign was eliminated with the Treaty of Nijmegen. When Churchill returned to England, the Popish Plot resulted in a temporary three year banishment for James Stuart, Duke of York. The Duke obliged Churchill to attend him, first to The Hague then in Brussels. For his services during the crisis Churchill was made Lord Churchill of Eyemouth in the peerage of Scotland in 1682, and the following year appointed colonel of the King’s Own Royal Regiment of Dragoons.
Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough
On the death of Charles II in 1685, his brother, the Duke of York, became King James II. On James’s succession Churchill was appointed governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. He had also been affirmed Gentleman of the Bedchamber in April, and admitted to the English peerage as Baron Churchill of Sandridge in the county of Hertfordshire in May. Following the Monmouth Rebellion, Churchill was promoted to Major General and awarded the lucrative colonelcy of the Third Troop of Life Guards.When William, Prince of Orange invaded England in November 1688, Churchill, accompanied by some 400 officers and men, rode to join him in Axminster.When the King saw he could not even keep Churchill – for so long his loyal and intimate servant – he fled to France.As part of William III’s coronation honours Churchill was created Earl of Marlborough, sworn to the Privy Council, and made a Gentleman of the King’s Bedchamber.
During the War of the Spanish Succession, he gained a reputation as a capable military commander. He gained a series of military triumphs including victories at the 1704 Blenheim, the 1706, Ramillies, the 1708 Oudenarde and the 1709 Malplaquet battles. Churchill became a national hero and gained numerous honours and awards, including the Dukedom of Marlborough. It was said at the time that together with his wife, Queen Anne’s closest friend and confidante, the Duke of Marlborough was virtually ruling the country. It is therefore not surprising that Queen Anne decided that the ultimate honour of the hero would be the gift of a great palace. Marlborough was given the former royal manor of Hensington (situated on the site of Woodstock) to site the new palace and Parliament voted a substantial sum of money towards its creation.
Marlborough’s wife, the former Sarah Jennings, was by all accounts a cantankerous woman, though capable of great charm. She had befriended the young Princess Anne and later, when the princess became Queen, the Duchess of Marlborough, as her majesty’s Mistress of the Robes, exerted great influence over the Queen on both personal and political levels. The relationship between Queen and Duchess later became strained and fraught, and following their final quarrel in 1711, the money for the construction of Blenheim ceased. The Marlboroughs were forced into exile abroad until they returned the day after the Queen’s death on 1 August 1714.