Blenheim Palace: One Of Britain's Greatest National Treasures
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Blenheim Palace: One Of Britain's Greatest National Treasures

Set in Oxfordshire's beautiful parkland, Blenheim Palace is a brilliant blend of heritage and history that transports visitors into a whole new world.

Blenheim Palace, named after the Battle of Blenheim, is located in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England.  It was built between 1705 and 1724 by the English architect Sir John Vanbrugh, on the site of the previous manor of Woodstock.  It was originally intended as a gift to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, in return for the military victory against the French and Bavarians at the Battle of Blenheim, fought during the War of Spanish Succession.  Although it soon became the subject of much political infighting, to this day Blenheim Palace is known as one of Great Britain's greatest landmarks.

    

     John Churchill sending a despatch at the Battle of Blenheim (Image Source)

     John Churchill's victory at the Battle of Blenheim was a major turning point in the Spanish War of Succession. The battle saved Vienna from a Franco-Bavarian army, and knocked Bavaria completely out of the war. The battle ended French hegemony over Europe, and dampened Louis XIV of France's aura of invincibility. Churchill's army captured 110 cavalry and 128 infantry standards. When Churchill returned to England, Queen Anne granted him an estate and an initial sum of £240,000 to build a suitable residence.

     The manor of Woodstock, or rather the remains of the manor of Woodstock, were presented to the Duke of Marlborough as "a gift from the nation."  The origins of this hunting lodge are obscure, and it seems that it only came into prominence when the future Queen Elizabeth I was imprisoned there from 1554 to 1555.  Bombarded and mostly obliterated by Oliver Cromwell's forces during the English Civil War, the historic ruins were in no condition to be feasibly restored, or even made into a landscape feature.  The remains of the manor were swept away, and the cleared estate was prepared for a new ambitious project.

     The particular architect selected for the new project was Sir John Vanbrugh, who in actuality was more of a dramatist than an architect.  He had, however, worked with the brilliant Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, with whom he had recently completed several stages of the Baroque Castle Howard.  Chancing upon Sir Vanbrugh at a playhouse, the Duke immediately commissioned him.

Sir John Vanbrugh (Image Source)

     The new Blenheim project led to a series of complicated and demanding problems, all of which were difficult to resolve.  The British nation wanted a monument to the Duke, but at the same time it had to be a comfortable home.  Having begun the project and overseen the initial stages of it, Sir Vanbrugh and the Marlboroughs were repeatedly accused of extravagance and impracticability of design.  These often conflicting demands and accusations led to the banning of Sir Vanbrugh from the site.  The palace was instead completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, "enabling Vanbrugh's heroic designs to be translated into actuality."

     As was the custom of the time, and the intent to create a monument as well as a home, comfort was superceded by notions of magnificence.  This idea was certainly applied to the entirety of Blenheim palace.  It was not on a slight whim that the palace was designed using the Baroque style, using great blocks of stone to imitate strength and power, while rendering the observer comparatively small and insignificant.  Blenheim Palace consists of a central block, supported by two massive courts, or perpendicular wings, on either side; coming together into a "Great Court."  This was combined with dozens of ornate pillars on each side of the building, as well as statues and busts overlooking the grounds from the roof.  Using the Baroque style certainly gave the Marlboroughs a monumental home, one "that reflected the power and and civilization of the nation."

           

Blenheim Palace (Image Source)

     The palace sits in the middle of the grounds, which are filled with several astonishing features.  The small River Glyme, which cuts through the park, is crossed by Sir Vanbrugh's "finest bridge in Europe."  The bridge is indeed a wonder, being of such proportions that it has about 30 rooms.  However, in its setting of covering a small river, this seems incongruous.  Another feature of the grounds is the Column Of Victory, a 134 ft high column commemorating the Battle of Blenheim, which was completed after the 1st Duke's death.  In 1764, Capability Brown, hired by the 4th Duke, made many alterations to the grounds to naturalize the landscape.  He dammed the River Glyme, creating a huge lake, as well as flooding the lower levels of Sir Vanbrugh's bridge.  This seemingly reduced its height and made it seem less out of place.

     To this day, Blenheim Palace remains the home of the Marlborough family, and is also famous for being the home of Winston Churchill in his childhood.  The palace and grounds are open to the public, and nowadays sport a maze, a plant centre, and a butterfly house.  Admission is £10 (about $16) and is open for most of the year.

Blenheim Palace's East Gate (Image Source)

Blenheim Palace Courtyard (Image Source)

Another View Of Blenheim Palace (Image Source)

Blenheim Palace's Library (Image Source)

One Of Blenheim Palace's Drawing Rooms (Image Source)

The Grand Bridge At Blenheim Palace (Image Source)

The Column Of Victory (Image Source)

© 2010 Gregory Markov

This Article Is Part Of A Series Called "Britain's Greatest National Treasures" and "Famous and Historic Palaces."  You Might Also Be Interested In:

Leeds Castle: One of Britain's Greatest National Treasures

13 Remarkable and Historic Palaces in England

10 Famous and Historic Palaces in Russia

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Comments (9)
Ranked #11 in England

Hey, thanks for this Gregory. Every time we travel south to visit my in - laws we pass Blenheim Palace, but I have never before been fortunate enough to see it.

Always a pleasure! :) My family has visited it, but unfortunately I have yet to see it with my own eyes.

A beautiful place. Thank you for the tour.

Yes it's very beautiful! Thanks for the tour Gregory :)

You are both most welcome! :)

What a great place! Hope to visit here someday.

leverton Lisa

what a fantastic building. I have never been to Oxford...I may go there now! Great article

Thank you all for your wonderful comments!

Ranked #6 in England

Excellent work, Gregory. I'm a great admirer of Vanbrugh.

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