Magnificent Mansions - Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace as it is today (1)

Blenheim Palace is monumental country house in Woodstock, Oxfordshire - one of England's largest houses. It is considered a "palace" as Queen Anne gave the land to 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill, the military commander who led troops to a huge victory over the French in the Battle of Blenheim (13 August 1704), in the War of the Spanish Succession - the Palace was built soon after.

Little change over the centuries (2)

Today it remains the principal residence of the 12th Duke of Marlborough and his family - the only non-royal, non-Epicospal country house in England to hold the title of "palace".

We were privileged to enjoy the highlights of Blenheim Palace on a private tour. As you can see below the main gate and courtyard is imposing. I was intrigued by the six eyes on the ceiling of the portico, which I learned later were commissioned by the 9th Duke’s second wife, Gladys Deacon. To get the exact shade of blue (for 3 of the eyes) she climbed the scaffold to show the artist a scarf that matched her own eyes.

Our guide Lynne, greeted us by the imposing front door, as you can see below the brass lock, like everything at Blenheim is massive and larger than life.

The Palace is adorned with magnificent art works, a few Van Dyck’s, Joshua Reynolds and priceless porcelain.

Marvellous tapestries and ornately painted ceilings.

The Tomb of the 1st Duke of Marlborough is located in the palace chapel 1733, while in one of the sitting rooms, family photos show the palace is still a home.

A sculpture of Queen Anne presiding over the sumptuous library featuring the largest organ outside a religious building, and installed simply to entertain guests at parties.

Following the palace's completion, it became the home of the Churchill (later Spencer-Churchill) family for the next 300 years. At the end of the C19th, the palace was saved from ruin by funds gained from the 9th Duke of Marlborough's marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt - a socially advantageous, but loveless marriage, common during the Gilded Age.

These days as we have mentioned with other mansions in the UK, it is more appropriate to fund upkeep by using Blenheim Palace as a film location for movies which include Harry Potter (Order of the Phoenix), James Bond (Spectre) and Indiana Jones (The Last Crusade).

Winston Spencer-Churchill was born at Blenheim in 1874, a direct descendant of the Dukes of Marlborough - at the highest levels of British aristocracy.

His paternal grandfather, John Spencer-Churchill was 7th Duke of Marlborough and a Member of Parliament, while his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was elected a Conservative MP for Woodstock in 1873. His mother, Jennie Churchill (née Jerome), came from a wealthy American family. Randolph and Jennie were engaged within three days of meeting, lived life well, but beyond their income and frequently in debt.

Lady Jennie (by John Singer Sargent) (3) and Lord Randolph Churchill (3)

Throughout much of the 1880s Randolph and Jennie were effectively estranged, during which time Jennie had many suitors. Winston had virtually no relationship with his father and of his mother, stated "I loved her dearly - but at a distance".

Thankfully his grandparents were very loving and as friends of the Marlborough’s he spent many happy times at Blenheim. Winston proposed to his future wife, Clementine, in the Temple of Diana, located in the gardens.

Temple of Diana (1)

A museum presents highlights of his life in one wing of the Palace.

A room in the exhibition (4), Portrait of Sir Winston Churchill and the bedroom in which he was born (4)

I was surprised to learn from the exhibition, that Winston Churchill was quite the romantic. During evenings spent at Blenheim before their marriage, he and Clementine could not resist sending each other affectionate notes carried along the Palace’s corridors by Blenheim staff. A particularly moving example from Clementine ends “Je t'aime passionnément – I feel less shy in French.” Their marriage remained enduringly romantic.

Baroness Clementine Churchill (7), the happy couple (3); Sir Winston Churchill (8)

He was a reasonable artist and found it very peaceful spending time in the Blenheim grounds, saying:

Painting is complete as a distraction. I know of nothing which, without exhausting the body, more entirely absorbs the mind.

Just two of his art works are shown below. One a landscape and the other a copy of one of the Palace tapestries (also shown below) - depicting the Siege of Bouchain, 13 September 1711. Commissioned by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, commemorating one of his famous victories.

In keeping with Winston Churchill's artistic bent, Lord Edward Spencer-Churchill, the brother of the current Duke, developed a contemporary art programme within the historic setting of the palace where he spent his childhood. He founded Blenheim Art Foundation (BAF), a non-profit organisation, which launched on 1 October 2014 with the UK's largest ever exhibition by Ai Weiwei.

The foundation was conceived to give a vast number of people access to innovative contemporary artists working in the context of this historic palace. During my visit the dramatic azure blue works of Yves Klein were showcased - an example below - which I found incongruent amid the opulence of the art and tapestries.

The grounds cover 2,000 acres and were transformed by famed English landscape architect, Capability Brown. From his appointment in 1764, he worked to enhance the park and gardens with newly planted trees and man-man undulations. But it’s the Palace’s lake, which he created by damming the River Glyme, which is arguably the stand-out man-made feature.

The weather was perfect to wander through the formal gardens and then a quest to find the Secret Garden.

As a final treat we boarded a little train, aptly named Winston, to yet another area of the palace, The Pleasure Gardens, a few miles away where we spent a magical time in the butterfly house.

Below is a short guided tour of Blenheim Palace on Youtube, which you may enjoy to appreciate its magnificence.

Can a mansion in England have an even more illustrious resident? Well, watch this space next week to find out...

Late Mail

We do hope you have enjoyed reading Jane's enthralling post on Blenheim Palace and as luck would have it we have a new subscriber to the AnArt4life from England, London to be specific - and so we warmly welcome A.R.D. to our on-line community.

A special thank you to Jane who is looking after the blog while I am on holiday in London and also a huge thank you for producing this enthralling series on mansions she has visited.

Text taken from wikipedia and
All images are my own taken during the tour of Blenheim Castle and the grounds unless otherwise stated
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