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History and Heritage: Blenheim Palace

Posted on May 26, 2015 by Admin

Head up the River Glyme into the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside and this is where you will find the magnificent Blenheim Palace – we doubt you could miss it. The extravagant baroque architecture gives this stunning property a commanding presence within the Blenheim Estate. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s no surprise that Blenheim Palace continues to be one of the UK’s most popular heritage sites!

Blenheim is home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and has a rich history spanning over 300 years. But where did it all begin? We have done our research and uncovered the history of this incredible attraction.

John Churchill was the 1st Duke of Marlborough whose reputation grew from strength to strength for his service to the crown as well as in the military. During the War of Spanish Succession, John Churchill won a long series of victories including the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. Grateful for his accomplishments on the battleground, William III of England and his wife, Queen Anne, gave Churchill the site of Woodstock Park for the new palace.

At the time the park was sparsely used but the beautiful site overlooking the River Glyme had a lot of potential, and Churchill commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh to build the new palace. Due to insufficient funds and arguments between the Duchess and Vanbrugh, the project was put on hold and did not continue until 1716. The Duke’s ill-health led to his death in 1722 with the palace still uncompleted, and the building became the driving ambition for the Duchess. Blenheim Palace was finally finished by the mid 1730’s as a tribute to the late Duke of Marlborough. With no sons to succeed him, Blenheim Palace passed to Churchill’s daughter, Henrietta, following his death.

The 1st Duke of Marlborough was a military man and was not overly wealthy; a huge sum of his fortune was spent in the building of the palace. Although the family were not rich, they did live comfortably until the extravagance of the 5th Duke of Marlborough depleted the family’s funds, and he was eventually forced to sell other estates. By the late 19th century, the Marlborough’s were in severe financial trouble and the 7th Duke of Marlborough sold many works of art and family gems in order to make some money. This, sadly, was not enough and in 1880 the Duke petitioned Parliament to break the entail on Blenheim Palace, protecting the property and its contents from sale. Many more pieces of art were sold along with the contents of the great library.

By the time the 9th Duke of Marlborough inherited Blenheim, the Spencer-Churchill family were facing bankruptcy. As a solution to the drastic money problems facing him, the Duke married an American railroad heiress whose mother was desperate to see her daughter a duchess. With such a wealthy family now connected to the Marlborough’s, the restoration and replenishment of Blenheim began. Many items were replaced including furniture and paintings, and rooms were redecorated to return the palace to its former glory. The gardens at Blenheim Palace were also given attention, with the Duke employing a landscape architect to create water gardens along with the two great fountains.

Blenheim Palace was modernised under the care of the 9th Duke and his wife who installed wiring throughout the palace. A larger staff was employed, consisting of carpenters, flower arrangers, lodge-keepers, gardeners and game-keeping staff. The 9th Duke of Marlborough was succeeded by his son John Spencer-Churchill, the 10th Duke, who went on to become the Mayor of Woodstock between 1937 and 1942.

Blenheim had many famous visitors over its varied history, but one of its main reasons for fame is as the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill, was the third son of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, and the family were visiting Blenheim when his wife went into labour unexpectedly. Winston Churchill was born prematurely on 30th November 1874 in one of the bedrooms of the palace, which is still open to visitors today.

The palace and the surrounding estate are still held by the Marlborough’s today, and is currently home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and his family. The park is open to the public and offers a range of activities, tours, events and exhibitions for the whole family to enjoy. There are also a number of walks around the Blenheim Estate up to five miles in length, allowing visitors to see the park in all its beauty.

Admission prices start from just £6 per child and £13.50 per adult. Blenheim Palace is open throughout the year with exceptions over the Christmas period. For more information about the fascinating Blenheim Palace and full visitor details, please visit http://www.blenheimpalace.com/.

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