Visit: 27th October 2013
The day after the Tower of London I managed a visit to the magnificent Blenheim Palace. My Dad was in the area with his van and had to pick something up in Swindon, so it made sense to continue on to Oxfordshire and see this site. This was the day the clocks went back, marking the arrival of the cold and depressingly short days of winter. It was also the day of “St Jude’s Storm”, though the symptoms were hard to discern at Blenheim.
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was given the palace and his title as a reward for his decisive victory over the Franco-Prussian army in 1704. The English force had not been expected to win, so when they defeated King Louis XIV’s army – sending the message to the French monarch that he could no longer roam around Europe with impunity – Queen Anne and a grateful nation felt they needed to reward Churchill. The name Blenheim is an anglicised version of the site of the battle, Blindheim, in Bavaria.
The building, designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, is an example of the short-lived English Baroque style of architecture. The grounds were landscaped by famous Victorian gardener Lancelot “Capability” Brown.
The interior is extravagantly furnished in just the manner that befits the grand exterior. The state rooms are full of paintings and tapestries of battle scenes (all of them remarkably similar, we noticed). This room serves as the library, and at the end there is an organ that was being played as we passed through.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the place, for me, is the fact that it was the family home of Winston Churchill, and indeed his place of birth. There is a small but fascinating museum dedicated to him in the house, where you can see the room in which he was born. In the film Young Winston, Richard Attenborough portrays Winston’s longing for the attention of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, who was a government minister, yet finding his father always too busy to take notice of him. In the museum you can see original letters in which Winston implores his father to visit him at school and at Sandhurst. The film evidently did not need to use artistic licence in this respect.
It was quite interesting to see letters with dates like 14.11.94 and to have to remind yourself that the year being abbreviated is not 1994, but 1894.
The palace is so English, in fact, that Downton Abbey would certainly feel at home here. The family history (it is still lived in now by the present Duke and his family) is not dissimilar to what I’ve seen on that programme, even down to having had a wealthy American heiress marry into the family. Consuelo Vanderbilt, daughter of a railroad magnate, married the 9th Duke of Marlborough in 1895, a period of American history that was to become known as the Gilded Age.
At £22, Blenheim Palace costs the same to see as the Tower of London, but is at least less crowded. Nearby you can see Churchill’s grave at the parish church at Bladon. We didn’t go there this time, but it is somewhere I would like to visit one day.