I went on a road trip this week to visit Blenheim Palace. A place famed for being the finest view in England and the birth place of Sir Winston Churchill. Overlooking a stunning lake, bridges and miles of acres with old oaks; quoting Lady Randolph Churchill “I found no adequate words to express my admiration… I confess, I was awed!”.
Before reaching the palace grounds, we drove through Oxfordshire and immediately we were greeted by old brick. Lots, and lots of old soot-saturated brick. Little 17th century domestic structures with small balconies, recently washed garbs hanging from laundry strings, and several plant pots filled with orchids. Around every road bend, there’s a small “Fish & Dragon”; “Rabbit & Mouse”; or “Lizard & Pig” inn or pub.
At last we drove into the palace gates, parked our car, and walked to the main spectacle. The great court with its massive 18th century English Baroque engraving came into view. Lavish ornamentation crown the north, east and west gates. The lion of England assaulting the cockerel of France, trophies of war in front of the portico, and a clock tower situated right below a golden sphere. The sight of it is magnificent! I felt my eyes trying to seize the sheer size of it all at once and I couldn’t. I probably wasted half my memory cards at the gates alone, at which point I also realized what a mistake it was for me to leave my Canon 70D behind.
Now a little bit of history to explain why this place is significant to begin with. Blenheim, in fact, is the only non-royal structure termed a ‘palace’. A man named Sir Winston Churchill born in 1620 married Elizabeth Drake and had a son, named John; Johan married Sarah. The couple were well connected to the royal circle during Queen Anne’s accession to the throne. In fact, Sarah was close friend to the new queen.
John had extensive military experience, so when the war broke out in Europe, he became the obvious choice of leader for the allied forces. John aided England in defending Holland against the French, and then on August 13th 1704, John became a legend when he won a decisive victory at Blindheim (aka Blenheim) on the River Danube in Bavaria. This victory was so important in European history, because John became known as the man who crushed Louis XIV’s ambition to rule Europe.
As a reward, Queen Anne gave John the Manor and Honor of Woodstock and the Hundred of Wootton, where the palace would be built. John was granted Dukedom and became known as the 1st Duke of Marlborough, and from him- as of 2015- 13 dukes descended.
Things weren’t all that peachy; however, when the palace was first commissioned to be built. We were told Sarah (John’s wife) was very stingy, demanding and quite the character. She gave several of the people who were building the palace a hard time. As a result, many architects, master carvers and painters never returned. The building of the palace stopped due to bickering with the Treasury. Later, Sarah’s friendship with the queen also faltered and John was dismissed from court. The couple left England but returned after Queen Anne passed away, three years later.
It’s very interesting to me how much power John yielded despite the hiccups he and Sarah had with the royal court. None of John’s male heirs survived and therefore he was able to convince the court to appoint his daughter Henrietta as Duchess of Marlborough, which is not a title females could inherit at the time unless they were married to Dukes (obviously). Henrietta did not have any children of her own, so it was her sister Anne who married Charles Spencer, from which later generations of Churchills came. This is why, from that point on, their name became Spencer-Churchill. And yes, you have guessed it already- they’re the same Spencers related to Princess Diana of Wales.
So where does Sir Winston Churchill fit in this whole equation? Neither, Winston nor his father were dukes. His uncle and cousin; however, were. I laughed at a little quote he mentioned later when he said, “At Blenheim I took two very important decisions; to be born and to marry”.
During the holidays, Lady Randolph Churchill gave birth to the later prime minister in a small room unexpectedly. They even had to borrow a small cute onesie from someone to clothe him.
It was also in Blenheim where Churchill convinced his cousin (9th Duke of Marlborough) to invite Clementine Hozier to stay at the palace- a girl he was madly in love with. On the 11th of August, Churchill proposed to Clementine next to the Rose Garden as they took shelter from a summer downpour under the Temple of Diana.
The long library, naturally, became my most favorite place in the Palace. The room is 183 feet long and 19 meters high. It is considered the finest and 2nd longest room in British housing. It also accommodates a whopping 10,000 volumes that were collected by the 9th Duke.
I absolutely loved every detail in this room, from the pastel colors, the wooden flooring, the stucco decoration in the dual domes of the ceiling, and the Willis organ hoisted against the north wall at the end of the library.
Clearly I couldn’t keep my hands off the shelves despite the endless warnings. For a moment, I thought they might be replicas but indeed they’re real! There is an entire collection of Shakespearean works, a hundred several bibles and lots and lots of Greek tragedies.
My second favorite place in the Palace is the rose garden, also known as the “Rosary”. I later learned from a history book I picked up from the Palace gift shop that “rose gardens” had long been a standard element of leisure grounds hidden behind a screen of trees or shrubs away from the house. They particularly became very popular during Victorian times. The 7th Duke, in particular, moved this beautiful garden in place of a Chinese one. The book also mentioned that at some point there were a dozen emus, chicks and kangaroos roaming freely next to this are. Can you imagine that?
It was so surreal to walk between thousands of roses beds, both standard and dwarf. They were carefully sectioned, cut and labeled. The smell alone was wonderful. As soon as I pushed open the metal gate and heard it creak, I imagined Clementine walked across the flower beds with her long ruffled skirt; one hand around Winston Churchill’s arm and an umbrella in the other. Can you imagine how amazing it is to have a garden like this next to your home that you can always escape and read in next to a beautiful lake?
Unlike other world heritage sites, the restaurants at Blenheim are really good. We decided to eat at the terrace restaurants overlooking the fountains. I ordered a char-grilled chicken burger with a side of french fries and it was flavorful.
At the end of our day, I spent the drive back home in a daze from everything wonderful I’ve seen. I spent the evening devouring all the history books I bought from the gift shop. I highly recommend visiting the palace if you’re ever in town. There’s also a family oriented pleasure gardens on West side of the palace. Plenty of butterfly houses, mazes and children activities with lots of greenery.
The video I uploaded above is a compilation of the photos I took. I feel terrible that I didn’t take my Canon. The iPhone’s camera isn’t that bad but in some parts the images are slightly blurry.