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It is male, military, heroic, baroque - "as emphatic as an oath."
Sir John Vanbrugh (architect)

Blenheim Palace was the gift of a grateful nation to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, who with British and Austrian forces at Blenheim, a village in Bavaria in southern Germany, defeated the French forces of Louis XIV. For his great victory, Queen Anne announced to the House of Commons that she was going to give Marborough the Royal Manor of Woodstock, 15,000 acres of land and build him a palace worthy enough to commemorate her general's victory. She chose Sir John Vanbrugh to design what Vanbrugh always referred to as the 'palace' and after meeting him, Marlborough heartily endorsed the Queen's selection.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough

Marlborough in Action with Attendant

The elaborate 'palace' was Marlborough's choice, not his wife Sarah's, whose common sense was affronted by anything so extravagantly magnificent. She considered it a monument more than the comfortable home she wanted. As the cost escalated, she decried the madness of it all. While she recognized that the house was "his passion," she thought it the one serious weakness of her husband's character. Later Sarah condemned the building as "Vanbrugh's madness" and called him "this wretch."

The poet Alexander Pope like most people at the time thought it far too extravagant and indicated this with his clever epigram.

See, sir, here's the grand approach;
This way is for this Grace's coach:
There lies the bridge and here's the clock,
Observe the lion and the cock,
The spacious court, the colonnade,
And mark how wide the hall is made!
The chimneys are so well designed,
They never smoke in any wind.
This gallery's contrived for walking,
The windows to retire and talk in;
The council chamber for debate,
And all the rest are rooms of state.
Thanks, sir, cried I, 'tis very fine,
But where d'ye sleep or where d'ye dine?
I find, by all you have been telling,
That 'tis a house but not a dwelling.

The huge and ponderous palace, with its porticos, pillars, pinnacles and towers, represented to many a monstrous, medieval fortress. Alexander Pope shared this opinion of the sheer massiveness of its stone facade and wrote the following witty epitaph for Sir John Vanbrugh on his death.
"Lie Heavy on him Earth for he,
Laid many a heavy load on thee."

Sir John Vanburgh

Vanbrugh was very self-assured, full of daring and ready to take risks to implement his ideas. He had no formal architectural training, a fact that caused his frind, Jonathan Swift, to quip:

"Van's genius, without thought or lecture,
Is hugely turned to architecture."

Blenheim Castle - North Front

Blenheim Castle - South Front

As we passed through Sarah's very impressive Triumphal Arch - which she dedicated to the Duke - the grounds and stately palace appeared before us. We entered the paved court which is 7-acre in size and beheld the three-sided sandstone-coloured building that Vanbrugh once said, "stares us in the face with a pretty impudent countenance."

North Front Entrance
photo by
B. Wilson

We crossed the courtyard and entered the palace through room-high doors that must have weighed several tons and stepped into the great hall which was surrounded by statues. The mile-high ceiling had painted angels watching as Marborough in Roman garb presented his plan for the battle of Blenheim to Britannia.

The Great Hall
photo by
G. Wilson

Great Hall Ceiling
photo by
G. Wilson

The great hall is 20 metres high and its walls are of the same buff stone used for the exterior. Front and centre in it was a giant-sized, silver cooler which followed Marlborough's wine and in his wake during the fights with the French in the early 18th century.

Silver Wine Cooler
photo by
G. Wilson

West of the Great Hall we were ushered into the small bedroom in which Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill [he later dropped 'Leonard,' the name of his American grandparent] was born. Like so much that he did in his long and illustrious life, Churchill managed to give even his birth a touch of dash and drama. His impetuous debut on the world's scene caught everyone by surprise, confounded the carefully laid plans of his parents and occurred at a site most befitting the birthplace of this greatest of all Englishmen. Above the brass bed displayed in a glass case are three, auburn curls cut from the head of 5-year old Winston

Of all three hundred rooms in the palace, the tiny corner bedroom in which Winston was born is by far the most popular with some four hundred thousand tourists who flock each year to Blenheim Palace.

The simple birthplace of a great man
Sir Winston Churchill
photo by
G. Wilson

On 30 November, 1874, Lady Randolf Churchill was staying at Blenheim Palace, the home of her father-in-law, the seventh Duke of Marlborough. She was pregnant and had gone out to watch the shooting from a carriage when she was suddenly taken ill. She was rushed back to the Palace and placed in the nearest bedroom, a small room on the ground floor nearest to the entrance. She gave birth to a boy they named Winston Leonard. The room is preserved as it appeared at his birth. It contains two of his paintings, a glass case with his baby vest and golden curls cut from his head when he was five years old.

Golden Curls from Five Year Old Winston Churchill

Churchill's Baby Vest

It is hard to imagine much that can compare with the splendor of Blenheim. Room after room after room had its gilded ceiling, its priceless antiques and numerous paintings many of which were by the Masters.

Marborough Family Painting by Reynolds

Green Writing Room

Books and manuscripts in the magnificent library included Marlborough's military documents and Sir Winston's notes used for the biography he wrote of his father, Lord Randolf Churchill. Displayed throughout are coronation robes, uniforms and royal family pictures.

The Library

The Salon

The Red Drawing Room
photo by
G. Wilson

Ornate Clock
photo by
G. Wilson

Following his victory at Blenheim, Marlborough pulled out a tavern bill and scribbled this note to Sarah."I have not time to say more but to beg you to give my duty to the Queen and let her know her army has had a glorious victory. Monsieur Tallard and two other generals are in my coach... . The bearer will give Her an account of what happened."

Marlborough's Dispatch from Blenheim
photo by
G. Wilson

Blenheim Palace Grounds

"This is the finest view in England."
Randolf Churchill

"As we passed through the entrance archway and the lovely scenery burst upon us," wrote Lady Churchill (wife of Randolf and mother of Winston) on her first visit to Blenheim Palace, "Randolf said with pardonable pride, 'This is the finest view in England.'" The scenery had lost none of its glory and grandness over the years, for the formal gardens, grounds and fountains are a feast for the eyes, especially the unusual water terraces of the 9th Duke. Tourists can wander for hours on the public paths and across the Grand Bridge designed by Vanburgh and gaze up, up at Marlborough's Column of Victory.

Lower Water Terrace and Lake

French Water Gardens

Lake Boat House West Front

Water Terrace Gardens
photo by
G. Wilson

West Front Looking at Column of Victory
photo by
G. Wilson

In a letter to Clementine Winston made reference to "those strange eyes of yours whose secret I have been trying hard to learn." As to women he wrote to her that, "I am stupid and clumsy in that relation and naturally self-reliant and self-contained." He admitted sadly that as a result he had managed to "arrive at loneliness." He decided in August 1908 to invite her to Blenheim "to show you that beautiful place and its gardens." Clementine accepted the invitation. On her first and second day there, Winston was too shy to propose. On the third day his cousin, Sunny, the 8th Duke of Marlborough urged him to act or miss the chance, possibly forever. Churchill followed his advice and he and Clementine went for a walk. When it began to rain, they sought shelter in the Temple of Diana where Churchill plucked up the courage to ask her if she would be his wife. She accepted. The momentous event is recorded on one of the plaques in the Temple.

Temple of Diana
photo by
G. Wilson

Plaques in Temple of Diana
photo by
G. Wilson

They were married on 12 September, 1908 at St. Margaret's Church, opposite the HOuses of Parliament. A photographer named John William Righton was present on the occasion, but strangely, neither the Churchill family nor the archives have been able to find any photographs. The lack of photos is all the more puzzling, considering the great crowd that gathered outside the church for the distinguished guests included the future prime minister, David Lloyd George and the Duke of Marlborough.King Edward VIII sent a gift. All this is evidence that even as a junior minister, Churchill attracted attention. Winnie and Clemmie were married for 56 years until his death on 24 January, 1965. They had five children.

Undated sketch of the Churchill's on their wedding day.

Other Dukes of Marlborough have distinguished themselves in the service of their country, but none has outshone the first. The only Churchill to do that was never a duke. Winston Churchill was the son of a younger brother of the 8th duke. His mememtoes still hold endless fascination for the throngs that visit Blenheim each year. Among those on display were the cigars he smoked with relish which became his trademark and his weathered dispatch case that carried so many important secrets.

Winston's Cigars

Winston's Well Worn Dispatch Case

The Greatest Churchill of Them All


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