One of the grandest private houses in the world, the site of Blenheim Palace has been host to the murder of a royal mistress, the downfall of a quarrelling Duchess and the birth of Sir Winston Churchill.
Here are 10 amazing facts about the Oxfordshire palace:
1. Blenheim Palace was a gift from Queen Anne
Blenheim Palace was built as a gift for John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, a decisive battle in the War of the Spanish Succession.
The land was given by Queen Anne on behalf of a grateful nation, and parliament granted £240,000 for the construction. This was also probably a result of the Queen’s close friendship with Churchill’s wife, Sarah.
2. Henry I kept lions here
The palace is situated on the Woodstock estate, where Henry I built a hunting lodge in 1129. He built seven miles of wall to create a park, keeping lions and leopards.
3. Henry II kept a mistress here
It is rumoured that King Henry II housed his mistress, Rosamund de Clifford, at Woodstock. To prevent the discovery of ‘The Fair Rosamund’, she was kept in in a ‘bower and labyrinth’ – a tower surrounded by a maze.
After hearing about this, Henry’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, infiltrated the maze and forced Rosamund to choose between the dagger and the bowl of poison. She chose the latter and died.
4. The palace and grounds are monumental
Blenheim Palace is the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. With 187 rooms, the palace has a footprint of seven acres. The estate covers over 2,000 acres.
5. Blenheim is an architectural masterpiece…
Blenheim Palace is an example of the English Baroque style, which only lasted 40 years from 1690-1730. Sir John Vanbrugh’s design (like that at Castle Howard) indulged in opulent cascades of ornamental elements, using a theatrical scale to overwhelm the viewer.
6. …but it divided opinion
Blenheim was really intended as a military monument, and home comforts were not part of the design brief.
Alexander Pope noted this when he visited:
‘Thanks, sir, cried I, tis very fine,
but where do you sleep or where d’ye dine?
I find by all you have been telling,
that ’tis a house but not a dwelling’
7. Rent is still paid to the Crown
The land upon which Blenheim Palace was built is still technically owned by Crown.
The peppercorn rent required one copy of the French royal banner to be presented to the monarch on each anniversary of the Battle of Blenheim.
8. Blenheim is home to the ‘finest view in England’
As Lord Randolph Churchill passed through the Woodstock Gate with his new wife in 1874, he announced it to be the ‘finest view in England’.
This view was the work of ‘Capability’ Brown, who popularised the landscape garden style. He sculpted vistas using undulating hills and clusters of trees, and damned the river to create an enormous lake and submerge the lower sections of Vanburgh’s bridge.
9. The Column of Victory commemorates the first duke’s military success
The Column of Victory, standing at 41 metres high, is crowned by the first Duke of Marlborough depicted as a Roman general.
10. Winston Churchill was born here
Blenheim was the family seat of Sir Winston Churchill, and he was born here in 1874. As the grandson of the seventh Duke, he was a close friend of the ninth Duke and Duchess.
He proposed to his wife, Clementine Hozier, in the Temple of Diana. Churchill wrote about his time at Blenheim:
‘At Blenheim I took two very important decisions: to be born and to marry. I am content with the decision I took on both occasions.’
Featured Image: Blenheim Palace / CC BY-SA 4.0.