About
The Database of Houses
Travel
Lectures
Pronunciation Guide
Burke's Peerage Search
British Money
Education
Lord W
Links
Awards
Acknowledgements
Copyright
Privacy Policy
Contact Us
Search
The Help Center
Home


 

Home > New Search > Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace  England 
BLEN-um
Woodstock, Oxfordshire, England

Started 1705
Completed 1722

Status: Fully Extant

Special Info / Location/ Date

Special Info
Phonetic Pronunciation of House Name
BLEN-um

Location
Country
England
District Today
Oxfordshire
 Historic County
 City / Town / Village
Woodstock
 Latitude
51.84143
 Longitude
-1.36098

Date
Start Date
1705
Completion Date
1722
Circa Date
Images

The South Front

Click on thumbnail for a larger view

The South Front
The Great Hall
The Red Drawing Room
The Dining Room
Architects

Designed   Monument to the 1st Duke of Marlborough in the Chapel; sculpted by Rysbrack
Date   1733

Designed   House, Grand Bridge
Date   1705-22

Designed   Triumphal Arch and other outbuildings. Green Drawing Room ceiling
Date  

Designed   Great Parterre to south of the House (destroyed)
Date   circa 1707

Designed   Assisted Herbert in the design of the Column of Victory
Date   circa 1730

Designed   Column of Victory
Date   circa 1730

Designed   Relandscaped Park and created Grand Cascade for 4th Duke
Date   1764

Designed   Temple of Diana, New Bridge for 4th Duke. Lion heads, wreaths, laurels on East Gate
Date   1770s

Designed   Repaired House for 6th Duke of Marlborough
Date   1841

Designed   Water Terraces, Italian Garden
Date   early 20th century

Extant / Listed / References

Extant
Extant Type
Fully Extant
Extant Details

Listed
House Listed As 
Grade I
Gardens Listed As  
Unknown
Country House:  Yes

References
Vitruvius Britannicus
C. I, pls.55-62. 1715. C. III, pls.71, 72. 1725.
Vitruvius Scoticus
J.B. Burke (Burke's Visitation of Seats)
Vol.II, p.113. 1853.
Country Life
xxv, 786, 834; Lix, 424; Lxiii, 655; cv, 1182, 1246; cvii, 648, 1022; cix, 1184; cxxiv, 1400; corr. Cxxxi, 1184; cxxxvi, 227; cxLix, 26; cLvii, 198, 262; gardens, v, 688, 720; xxv, 786, 834; ciii, 81; cvii, 1648; cx, 268; cxLi, 445; cLxi, 867; cLxxxi, 10.102; 13/90.94; 11/91.45; 40/92.75; 30/94.50;
J.P. Neale (Neale's Views of Seats)
III, 1820.
Access / Ownership / Seat

Access
Open to Public Please note: Houses listed as being open "By Appointment" are usually country house hotels, B&Bs, or schools.
Yes
Historic Houses Association Member
Yes
Phone Number If calling from the U.S., delete the first "0" in British numbers.
01993-811-091
Fax Number
01993-813-527
Email
Website
Awards
Blenheim is listed by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. Received Sandford Award for an Outstanding Contribution to Heritage Education, 1983. HHA/Christie's Garden of the Year Award, 2008.

Current Ownership
Current Ownership Type
Individual / Family Trust
Primary Current Ownership Use
Private Home
Current Ownership Use / Details

Seat ("Seat" is loosely defined as any family that occupied the house for a period of 2 years or more)
Today Seat of
Duke of Marlborough, Marquess of Blanford, Spencer-Churchill family.
A Past Seat(s) of
Possible (Unsure) Seat of
History / Gardens & Park / Movies

History
Earlier House(s) / Building(s)
The Royal Manor of Woodstock, which was demolished when Blenheim was built.
House Replaced By
Built / Designed For
John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough
House & Family History
The Churchill surname has had an interesting journey. Burke’s Peerage gives the family origin as coming from Gitto de Leon, whose son was Wandril de Leon, Lord of Courcil. The name then changed from "de Courcil" to "de Chirchil" and ultimately "Churchill." John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, was a military genius whose victory, as leader of the allied armies, over the troops of Louis XIV at the Battle of Blenheim (or Blindheim) on Aug 13, 1704 saved Vienna from invasion, gave England one of her greatest victories, and ended French dominance of Europe. In reward for his service, Queen Anne granted Marlborough the Royal Manor of Woodstock and agreed that the nation would pay for a great house to be constructed there to honor him (the Palace was started in 1705 and completed in 1722 and cost the then-enormous sum of approximately £300,000 [equivalent to approximately £40 million in 2007 values], of which £60,000 came from the Marlboroughs themselves and the balance from the government). The House contains 320 rooms and its roof spans seven acres. Technically Blenheim is owned by the government and rented to the Dukes of Marlborough; thus, the quit-rent standard (a white silk flag with 3 fleur-de-lys) is presented to the Sovereign every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Blindheim as "rent" for the Palace. Woodstock Manor was a royal hunting lodge that served, among other uses, as a prison during 1554-55 for Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) for her alleged part in the Wyatt plot (the Manor was destroyed in 1709 on the orders of the 1st Duchess). Much of the rubble of the Manor was used to fill the foundation for Vanbrugh's Grand Bridge at Blenheim. Grinling Gibbons performed a large amount of work in stone at Blenheim; his billings came to over £4,000. The Great Hall is 67 feet high and has ceiling paintings, circa 1716, by Sir James Thornhill showing Marlborough victorious at the Battle of Blenheim. The enormous lock on the door to the Great Hall was copied from one found on the gates of Warsaw. The Saloon, also known as the State Dining Room, has murals and a painted ceiling by Louis Laguerre. The Long Library (originally designed by Vanbrugh as a picture gallery) is, at 180 feet, one of the largest country house libraries in Britain and once sported Van Dyck's equestrian portrait of Charles I (now in The National Gallery, London). The Library's ceiling decoration and stuccowork are by Isaac Mansfield; the 8th Duke installed the Willis organ in 1891. Until it was sold in 1882, the famous Sunderland Library was housed in the Long Library. The 4th Duke formed the largest collection of ancient gems in Europe (see “Collections” section) and was the first Duke to live primarily at Blenheim. The 5th Duke, as Marquess of Blandford, was the first British nobleman to style himself “Marquess,” rather than the French “Marquis.” In Nov 1896 the 9th Duke famously married the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt, whose millions saved Blenheim (the Duke received $2.5 million in railroad stock from the bride’s family, worth approximately $64 million in 2007 inflation adjusted values). In 1906 the 9th Duke and Duchess separated (it was an arranged marriage and neither ever loved the other); they were divorced in 1921. In the 1890s the 9th Duke presided over an enormous staff at Blenheim. The inside staff was about 40, while the outside staff numbered 50, including a game-keeping staff of 12, electricians, carpenters, flower arrangers, lodge keepers, a cricket professional, a night watchman, and a dairy maid and dairyman. The lodge keepers were dressed in black coats with sliver buttons and buff breeches and wore a cockaded top hat and carried a long staff, while the gamekeepers were turned out in green velvet coats with brass buttons and black billycock hats. In 1921, after his divorce from Consuelo was final, the 9th Duke married Gladys (pronounced GLAY-dus) Deacon, an American from Boston with a glittering background. Gladys was the toast of Paris, a frequent visitor at I Tatti, the Italian villa of Bernard Berenson (who also sought to marry her), and a close friend of Rodin and Degas. She had a famous dalliance with the Crown Prince of Germany in 1901 when both were staying at Blenheim (Gladys was a friend of Consuelo’s). In 1931 the 9th Duke and Gladys separated, with Gladys moving from one place to another, living in virtual poverty until her demise in 1977 in a psycho-geriatric hospital. At her death, Gladys was the widow of the 9th Duke, as they had never been divorced. Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim, proposed marriage here (at the Temple of Diana on Aug 11, 1908), and is buried nearby at Bladon Church. During World War I the Long Library became a service hospital for wounded servicemen. The Second World War brought 400 boys from Malvern College to the Palace and utility huts to the Great Court. After the boys from Malvern College were moved out MI5 moved in; the secret intelligence service employed up to 1,000 people at Blenheim during the War. The British Council and the Ministry of Supply were also setup at Blenheim during World War II. The first guidebook for the Palace was printed in 1787 and in 1802 Admiral Lord Nelson arrived to tour the Palace with Lady Hamilton, beginning a long tradition of visiting Blenheim. In Apr 1950 the doors of Blenheim were opened to the paying public, with the price for admission set at half a crown. In 1987 the Palace and Park together were declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.
Collections This field lists art objects that are currently or were previously in the collection of the house.

For information on the history of British currency, click here.  To use a chart that allows you to compare the purchasing power of money In Great Britain from 1264 to any other year, including the present, click here.  To use a currency conversion to see the current value of the British pound, click here.
A famous collection of Meissen, presented to the 3rd Duke of Marlborough by the King of Poland in exchange for a pack of staghounds, is on display today at Blenheim. The Red Drawing Room contains the famous portrait of the 4th Duke (1739-1817) and his family by Joshua Reynolds, circa 1778. In the portrait the Duke is shown in Garter robes grasping a gem (possibly the famous “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche,” mentioned below) from the collection of Marlborough Gems, while his son and heir, the Marquess of Blandford (later the 5th Duke), is depicted holding one of the 10 red morocco leather cases lined with green velvet in which the gems were kept (these cases were kept in the Duke’s Dressing Room for his private delectation). The Red Drawing Room (whose chimneypiece contains a carving by Joseph Wilton inspired by “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche”) also contains the equally famous portrait of the 9th Duke and his family (with his first wife, the former Consuelo Vanderbilt) by John Singer Sargent. The Marlborough Gems, the most famous collection of cameos and intaglios in Britain, was formed by the 4th Duke in the 2nd half of the 18th century; by the time of the Duke’s death in 1817 the collection numbered 800 pieces, making it, by most accounts, the finest private collection of gems in Europe. One third of the collection was a Renaissance collection of the Gonzaga, Dukes of Mantua (15th-16th centuries), acquired by Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1585-1646), in the mid-17th century; one third was the mid-18th century collection of the Earl of Bessborough (including the collections of the Earl of Chesterfield and others); and one third was from the Duke's own collecting in Italy and elsewhere. The Earl of Arundel was one of the greatest collectors of his age and formed his collection during the reign of Charles I; it was among the first collections in England of antique gems and marbles (far larger than that of the King's). Lord Bessborough formed his collection at the instigation of his wife, a Cavendish from Chatsworth; after her death Lord Bessborough sold the collection for £5,000 to the 4th Duke of Marlborough. The 4th Duke started collecting ancient gems in 1761; in 1762, through a family arrangement, the Duke acquired the famous Arundel gems, which had passed to his sister-in-law (the British Museum turned down an offer to purchase the Arundel gems for £10,000 in 1755). The collecting of antique gems in Britain reached such an intense and competitive level in the 18th century that the French gem expert P.J. Mariette, writing in “Traité des Pierres Gravées” in the 1750s, said “nowhere is more love shown for classical gems” [than in England]. The 4th Duke, however, was not just a collector of ancient gems, he also patronized modern gems cutters such as Burch, Marchant, Natter, and Pichler. The best of the Duke’s collection was published in two volumes as “Gemmarum Antiquarum Delectus” circa 1780 and 1791, with texts in Latin and French. The Marlborough Collection of gems included the 1st century BC cameo “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche” (also called "The Nuptials of Eros and Psyche," "Scene of Religious Initiation," and "The Marlborough Cameo"), probably the most famous piece in the Marlborough Collection. The cameo was one of the prized possessions of the artist Peter Paul Rubens, who gave it to his friend, the Earl of Arundel. Josiah Wedgwood reproduced “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche” frequently in Jasperware, thus raising the cameo to new heights of fame. The image was so popular that it was reproduced in many media, appearing on beds and mantelpieces, among other decorative arts. The 7th Duke sold “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche,” together with the other Marlborough Gems, in one lot at Christie’s in 1875 for £10,000. The Collection went to David Bromilow of Bitteswell Hall, Leicestershire; Bromilow's daughter subsequently sold the collection at a Christie's auction Jun 26-29, 1899 in London. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston purchased 21 of the Marlborough Gems at the 1899 auction (including “The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche”), where they remain today in its collection. In the collection of the British Museum today is a very large Roman onyx cameo of circa 35-50 AD (one of only five large cameos to survive from antiquity) depicting two members of the Imperial Family as Jupiter Ammon and Juno or Isis; the cameo was formerly in the collection of the 4th Duke. The magnificent antique black shard (it was restored and supplemented in gold pre-1740) sardonyx of Antinous (also referred to as “The Marlborough Gem”) is possibly the most accurate image known of the famous lover of the Emperor Hadrian. Marguerite Yourcenar on the sardonyx: “Of all the objects still present today on the surface of the earth, this is the only one of which we may assume with some certitude that it has often been held in the hands of Hadrian.” This gem was in the Marlborough Collection from 1761 until 1875, when it too was sold with the other Marlborough gems. The Antinous gem was sold again in 1899, 1909, 1952, and, most recently, in 1999, when it landed in a private English collection. In Dec 2004 Christie's auctioned “The Marlborough Cameo," a 1st century AD Roman onyx cameo portrait of the Emperor Claudius; this cameo was originally part of the gems assembled by the 4th Duke. In Dec 2008 Bonham’s auctioned a 1.25” x 1” oval citrine cameo carved with a bust of Philip II of Spain for £62,400; this gem was originally part of the Marlborough Gems and was last seen in 1919, after which it disappeared until it came up for auction in 2008. The cameo may have once been in the ownership of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel. Lending credence to this theory is fact that Lord Arundel’s father, Philip (born 1557), became a godson of Philip II when Philip II, as the husband of Mary Tudor, was also the King of England. Following this reasoning, it is very possible that Philip would have presented to the infant an image of himself during the baby’s christening at the Chapel Royal in Whitehall. The Beazley Archive of Classical Art at the University of Oxford has begun a project to reconstruct the original appearance of the Marlborough Gem Collection. The Collection was cataloged in the mid-19th century by Professor Neville Story-Maskelyne for the 7th Duke of Marlborough. Story-Maskelyne made electrotype casts of all the cameos and sealing wax impressions of the intaglios (this collection of reproductions, having passed into the hands of Sir John Beazley, is now in the Beazley Archive at Oxford). The results of the project can be found online at www.beazley.ox.ac.uk/gems. As of Feb 2008, there are still more than 500 gems from the Marlborough Collection to be located. In 2009 Oxford University Press published “The Marlborough Gems Formerly at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire,” a publication that documents in full color all material available from the Beazley Archive at Oxford. The Marlborough ice pails, a pair of solid 22-karat gold ice pails, cylindrical in shape with lion mask handles, were made for the 1st Duke of Marlborough and sold by the 8th Earl Spencer to the British Museum in 1982. The two pails together weigh approximately 25 pounds (365 ozs 6 dwts Troy) and are the only surviving English examples made of pure gold. They are very likely unique, as no other gold ice pails from the late 17th or early 18th centuries are documented in Britain or abroad. As is generally found with English gold plate of the period, the pails were not hallmarked and carry no date letter; however, it is very likely they were made in London circa 1700, probably by a Huguenot goldsmith (Huguenot craftsmen were noted for their work in gold plate). David Willaume is frequently mentioned as a possible maker; he was a Huguenot working in London at the right time and he made the earliest known pair of ice pails: in silver in 1698 for the 1st Duke of Devonshire. Upon her death in 1744 at the age of 85, Sarah, 1st Duchess of Marlborough, one of the richest women in Europe, left the ice pails, together with much else, to her favorite grandson, John Spencer (1708-46). The ice pails remained at the Spencer seat, Althorp in Northamptonshire, where they descended upon the Earls Spencer in direct succession until the sale in 1982 by the 8th Earl. The 5th Duke of Marlborough, as Marquess of Blandford, purchased, in 1812, Boccaccio’s “Decameron” (printed by Valdarfer in 1471) for £2,260 when the library of the Duke of Roxburghe was sold. The dispersal of the Roxburghe library was the spark for the formation of the famous Roxburghe Club, a gathering of aristocratic bibliophiles, headed by the Marquess (still considered in the early 21st century one of the most exclusive clubs in the world). The 5th Duke was a spendthrift who was forced to sell his house, White Knights, and his famous library, with 4,071 lots fetching under £14,500 (the Boccaccio was purchased by his cousin, the 2nd Earl Spencer, for only 875 Guineas). It was also the 5th Duke who changed the family name, by Royal License, to Spencer-Churchill in 1817 (it had previously been Spencer). The 7th Duke faced large financial problems, some of which were alleviated by an Act of Parliament, the Blenheim Settled Estates Act of 1880, which broke the entail on the Blenheim Estate and enabled priceless Marlborough heirlooms to be sold. As a result of this Act, the tremendous Sunderland Library went under the gavel during 1881 and 1882, its 18,000 volumes garnering nearly £60,000. The sales continued, with Raphael’s “Ansidei Madonna” going for £70,000 and Van Dyck’s equestrian painting of Charles I fetching £17,500; both are now in The National Gallery, London. The great painting by Peter Paul Rubens, “Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul,” was given by the city of Brussels to the 1st Duke of Marlborough in 1704; it remained at Blenheim until the famous sale of 1884, when it was purchased by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild. In 1975 it left the Rothschild collection and entered the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, who gave it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1981, in whose collection it remains today.
Comments
Blenheim is considered one of the finest examples of English Baroque architecture in existence and is listed as a United Nations World Heritage Site. Winston Churchill once described Blenheim as "an Italian palace in an English park." Volatiare, after visiting Blenheim, said of it: "What a great heap of stone, without charm or taste."

Gardens & Park
Garden, Park, Follies and Outbuildings
The original dry stone wall of Woodstock Park is said to have been the first park wall built in England. he wall was here before Blenheim was built and was between 8 and 9 miles long; it was restored in 1729. Lancelot ''Capability'' Brown landscaped the park in 1764 for the 4th Duke. The Grand Bridge, designed by Vanbrugh, contains a number of rooms, some of which have fireplaces and chimneys. The oldest thing at Blenheim is Rosamond's Well, the spring that never runs dry, known to Rosamond Clifford, Henry II's lover. The Triumphal Arch, designed by Hawksmoor and erected in 1723, was probably based on the Arch of Titus. The Column of Victory was completed in 1730 at a cost of £3,000 (equivalent to approximately £390,841 in 2005 inflation-adjusted values). It stands 134 feet high and was designed by Lord Herbert (the "Architect Earl" of Pembroke) and his assistant, Roger Morris. The grounds contain a number of lodges: High, North, Springlock, Hanborough, and Lince Lodge. In 1707 Henry Wise created the Great Parterre (now destroyed) that stretched for half a mile from the South Front of the House. The 5th Duke, when he succeeded in 1817, said he would create "the finest botanical and flower garden in England". He made the Botany Bay Garden, the Dahlia Garden, and the Chinese Garden. He also created the Druid's Temple and the Swiss Cottage. In an attempt to restore the original formality that Capability Brown had swept away, the 9th Duke (using the Vanderbilt millions) installed the Water Terraces and the Italian Garden with the help of the French landscape architect Achille Duchêne, who was a disciple of Louis XIV’s great landscaper, Le Nôtre. The work they created (the Duke also helped in the design) was very much a sort of parterre d’eau a la Versailles, though the terraces ended up more Italian in style than French. The 2nd terrace is crowned by Bernini’s fountain (a miniature version of the River Gods Fountain in the Piazza Navona in Rome), which was given to the 1st Duke by the Papal Nuncio. Gladys, the 9th Duke’s 2nd wife, features in the 2nd terrace, where her facial features are reproduced on the heads of the 2 lead sphinxes. The 9th Duke also, between 1893 and 1919, planted 465,000 trees in the Park. The Marlborough Maze, the world’s largest symbolic hedge maze, was planted in 1988 and opened to the public in 1991. The Blenheim Estate today comprises 11,500 acres, of which 5,500 acres is let to 20 tenant farmers and 3,900 acres (including the park of 2,400 acres) are farmed by the Blenheim Estate. There are also1,550 acres of woodland and 128 cottages and houses on the Estate. In addition, the Bear Hotel in Woodstock is owned by the Blenheim Estate.
Chapel & Church
The Chapel has a tremendous tomb for the first Duke, designed by William Kent and executed by Rysbrack for the then enormous sum of £2,200. The 1st Duke was originally buried in Westminster Abbey, but was reinterred in the Blenheim Chapel in 1744 when his Duchess died.

Movies
Location for Movies / TV
"The Secret of My Success" (1965). "Half a Sixpence" (1967). "Civilisation" (1969 - BBC TV series, episode 10, "The Smile of Reason"). "Young Winston" (1972). "Jennie: Lady Randolph Churchill" (1973 - TV mini series). "Barry Lyndon" (1975). "History of the World: Part I" (1981 - as the grounds of Versailles in the 18th century). "Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years" (1981 - TV mini series). "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1982 - TV). "Miss Morrison's Ghosts" (1983). "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" (1984). "Without a Clue" (1988). "King Ralph" (1991 - as interiors of Buckingham Palace [Blenheim's Library] and exterior where game of cricket is played). "Orlando" (1992). "Black Beauty" (1994). "Restoration" (1995). "Hamlet" (1996 - in which the 11th Duke of Marlborough played a bit part). "The Avengers" (1998 - as exterior of Hallucinogen House). "Entrapment" (1999). "A History of Britain" (2000 - TV documentary series). "Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham…" (2001). "Just Visiting" (2001). "The Four Feathers" (2002). "The Lost Prince" (2003 - TV movie, as Buckingham Palace courtyard, passage, and cloakroom). "The Libertine" (2004). "Great British Commanders" (2005 - TV documentary by Major Gordon Corrigan, episode 5, "Marlborough"). "Buildings That Shaped Britain" (2006 - TV documentary series by Simon Thurley, episode 6, "Countryside Revolution"). "The Young Victoria" (2009 - interior shots).
Bibliography

Author   NA
Year Published   1996
Reference   pgs. 5, 9, 10, 11, 14, 18, 21, 22, 25, 27, 28, 37, 41, 43, 44, 48, 50, 52, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 64


Author   NA
Year Published   2000
Reference  


Author   Adams, Mark
Year Published   2000
Reference   pg. 48


Author   Caygill, Marjorie
Year Published   1985
Reference   pgs. 172, 174


Author   Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh
Year Published   1985
Reference   pgs. 50, 51, 72, 76, 93, 96, 97, 105, 106, 107, 116, 121, 125, 126, 127, 132, 152, 153, 156, 168, 178, 224, 246


Author   Scott, Jonathan
Year Published   2003
Reference   pgs. 112-113


Author   Lambert, Royston
Year Published   1997
Reference   pgs. 11, 53, 242


Author   Howard, Kathleen (Editor)
Year Published   1983
Reference   pg. 146


Author   Barker, Nicholas
Year Published   2003
Reference   pg. 66


Author   Mowl, Timothy
Year Published   2006
Reference   photo section


Author   Manchester, William
Year Published   1983
Reference   pg. 85


Author   NA
Year Published   NA
Reference   Feb 2008, pgs. 58, 59, 61


Author   NA
Year Published   NA
Reference   Jan 21, 2009, pg. 70


Author   Sloan, Kim; Burnett, Andrew (Editors)
Year Published   2003
Reference   pg. 132



There are no documents associated with this house.


This website and all its content, except where specified otherwise, is
© Copyright 1999-2016 by The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.
All Rights Reserved
~The DiCamillo Companion name, the double griffin logo, and the double griffin logo
set within the Neoclassical door surround are trademarks of The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.
~The Curt's Curiosities name and the Medusa head logo are trademarks of The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.
~The griffin with flaming torch logo is a trademark of The DiCamillo Companion, Ltd.