Blenheim Palace 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.
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 a North American marriage. Thus, the exterior of the palace remains in good repair and exactly as completed.
The estate given by the nation to Marlborough for the new palace was the manor of Woodstock, sometimes called the Palace of Woodstock, which had been a royal demesne, in reality little more than a Deer Park. Legend has obscured the manor's origins. King Henry I enclosed The Park to contain the deer. Henry II housed his mistress Rosamund Clifford (sometimes known as "Fair Rosamund") there in a "bower and labyrinth"; a spring where she is said to have bathed remains, named after her. I
The architect selected for the ambitious project was a controversial one. The Duchess was known to favour Sir Christopher Wren, famous for St Paul's Cathedral and many other national buildings. The Duke however, following a chance meeting at a playhouse, is said to have commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh there and then. Vanbrugh, a popular dramatist, was an untrained architect, who usually worked in conjunction with the trained and practical Nicholas Hawksmoor. The duo had recently completed the first stages of the Baroque Castle Howard.
Design and Architecture
Vanbrugh planned Blenheim in perspective, that is to be best viewed from a distance. As the site covers some seven acres (28,000 m²) this is also a necessity. Close to, and square on, the facades can appear daunting, or weighed down by too much stone and ornamentation. The plan of Blenheim Palace is basically that of a large central rectangular block (see plan), containing behind the southern facade the principal state apartments. On the east side are the suites of private apartments of the Duke and Duchess, on the west along the entire length is the long gallery originally conceived as a picture gallery.
Park and Gardens
Blenheim sits in the centre of a large undulating park, a classic example of the English landscape garden movement and style. When Vanbrugh first cast his eyes over it in 1704 he immediately conceived a typically grandiose plan: through the park trickled the small River Glyme, and Vanbrugh envisaged this marshy brook traversed by the "finest bridge in Europe". Thus, ignoring the second opinion offered by Sir Christopher Wren, the marsh was channelled into three small canal-like streams and across it rose a bridge of huge proportions, so huge it was reported to contain some 30-odd rooms.
On the death of the 1st Duke in 1722, as both his sons were dead, he was succeeded by his daughter Henrietta. This was an unusual succession and required a special Act of Parliament, as only sons can usually succeed to a dukedom. When Henrietta died, the title passed to Marlborough's grandson Charles Spencer, Earl of Sunderland, whose mother was Marlborough's second daughter Anne.