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Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace is the result of the military successes of John Churchill, First Duke of Marlborough. Churchill directed a series of victories during the War of Spanish Succession, early in the eighteenth century. This war came about when Charles II of Spain died, and the Spanish throne was inherited by Philip of Anjou, the grandson of the French king Louis XIV. The possibility of the grandson of a French king ruling Spain raised the threat of a worrying combination of French and Spanish military power.

John Churchill, a fairly ordinary member of the gentry became Britain's leading commander in the War of the Spanish Succession. He led victories at Blenheim in 1704, Ramilies in 1706, Oudenarde in 1708, and Malplaquet in 1709. As a gesture of gratitude Parliament decided that John Churchill would be rewarded with his own palace. Blenheim is the only non-royal building to be termed a "palace", and reflects the huge power that Churchill enjoyed at this time. The state was to fund construction of the palace, or at least that was the original plan. In reality funds were sporadic, and at times stopped completely, particularly when the monarch Queen Anne and Churchill's wife Sarah argued, a frequent occurance. Sarah Churchill was an interesting and volatile character, a childhood friend of Queen Anne, who having spent her life with the royals from a young age had no patience with their pretensions to God-given power. This was a time when old ideas about the divine right of kings were finally subsiding. But at times of change people also cling on to the past. Even as Sarah irritably rejected the idea that Anne could heal people just by touching them, Sarah herself bought into the royal myth in her huge palace in Oxfordshire.

 

 

Sarah Churchill eventually alienated both Queen Anne, and her architect John Vanbrugh. Problems became so bad that the Churchills were banished from the country. They returned the day after Queen Anne's death in 1714. Work restarted on Blenheim Palace in 1716, the cantankerous Sarah taking full responsibility for the project following John Churchill's stroke in 1717. Arguments with Vanbrugh eventually led to him being banned from the site, and work being left to his assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor. After a huge amount of arguing, over wages, and the quality of building work, Blenheim Palace was finally finished in 1722, the year of John Churchill's death. The grounds were landscaped by Capability Brown, hired by the Fourth Duke of Marlborough in 1764.

Blenheim Palace remains the property of the Churchill family, and was the childhood home of Winston Churchill, Britain's prime minister during the Second World War.

There are displays relating to John and Winston Churchill. Perhaps it is only natural that unfortunate details are glossed over, but the idea of Sarah Churchill trying to keep up appearances, by failing to tell Vanbrugh about the true nature of her financial problems makes the whole monumental place more human.

Palace tours are available throughout the day. A train service runs between the house and the Pleasure Gardens, where there is a maze, a children's playground and a butterfly house.

Blenheim Palace has been used as a location for films including The Young Victoria, Hamlet, The Avengers, The Four Feathers, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Greystoke - The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

 

Opening Times: Please use contact details below.

Address: Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1PP

Directions: Blenheim is eight miles north of Oxford on the A44, in the beautiful Cotswold village of Woodstock. It is a designated World Heritage Site. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred on Blenheim Palace.

Access: Wheelchair access is good throughout.

 

Contact:

telephone: 01993 810530

or 0800 849 6500 for 24 hour recorded information

fax: 01993 810570

e-mail: customerservice@blenheimpalace.com

or groups@blenheimpalace.com

web site: www.blenheimpalace.com

 

 

Gardens, landscaped by Capability Brown.

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©2006 InfoBritain (updated 11/12)