As you drive through Oxford, looping around its perimeter on the dull and endless ring road, it is not easy to imagine what lies beyond. A few more roundabouts later and you leave the outskirts of the university town. You are now in the country. This is not any old countryside, this is Oxfordshire; a county of chocolate box villages and rural charm. The approach to Blenheim is imminent once you see the impressive wall that demarks the great estate. The village of Woodstock acts as an amuse bouche, a little mouthful of English quaintness before the main course of the palace. As you enter the gates, Blenheim is laid out before you like a banquet of enormous proportions. This is like no other feast you have ever enjoyed. “This is the finest view in England” said a rather biased but totally accurate Lord Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill (1849 –1895).
The setting is mouth-watering and represents the English countryside at its best. Lancelot “Capability” Brown took much effort to create a natural park as if it was ever thus, however all of it was designed to within an inch of its life. The whimsical bridge, the Arthurian lake, the noble gatherings of beech and oak trees with the vast baize lawn help balance and enhance the palace gracefully.
The house is a never-ending line of magnificence; grandeur is an understatement. Every vista of the house is breathless – each Grinling Gibbons’s carving, every dominating statue, each shimmering golden globe, clock and column creates a house of near perfection. However, it is the story of the house, the people who lived here, who were born here and their impact that makes this house more than the sum of its parts. We have to admire the vision of the 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650- 1722), who in 1705 commissioned the building of a palace to honour Queen Anne, the victory at Battle of Blindheim (Blenheim) and the shattering of the seemingly indomitable Louis XIV.
The 9th Duke (1871- 1934) had the unenviable task of taking on a palace that was in need of a lot of renovation. He married an American heiress and her dowry helped save one of the UK’s most important houses and helped create what we see today. It seemed a shame that she was then replaced with the beautiful and beguiling Gladys who became the duke’s second wife. One of the most fascinating and oft overlooked delights within the palace are several eyes looking down at you as you approach the portico in the Great Court. These were commissioned by Gladys and painted in 1928 by artist, Colin Gill. The duke’s eyes were brown and hers blue and there are six of them staring down at you. Why six? Good question; no one is really sure.
Blenheim Palace was a special place to our most famous statesman, Winston Churchill. He was born here, in his grandfather’s home, prematurely after a rather bumpy ride from London. He also proposed to his wife, Clementine and spent some of their honeymoon at the palace as well. It was so important to Churchill that he came to be laid to rest here in 1965 at the nearby St Martin’s church in Bladon alongside his mother, father and brother, Jack.
The stories, the important additions and quirky details all help turn an imposing estate into a national treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site