What is the history of Blenheim Palace

“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.” Sir Winston Churchill commenting on the home in which he spent much of his childhood and where he proposed to Clementine in the Temple of Diana summerhouse in the grounds.

Steeped in history, the magnificent Blenheim Palace is considered by many to be ‘the real Downton Abbey’, The palace was built in the early 18th century as a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, from Queen Anne in thanks for his victory at the battle of Blenheim on 13 August 1704, which contributed to the successful conclusion of the War of Spanish Succession.

George III exclaimed “we have nothing to equal this!” upon seeing Blenheim. What is it about this magnificent palace that inspired Turner to paint here and lady Randolph Churchill to admit to being rather “in awe” when she saw it for the first time?

  • The utter grandeur of the building?
  • Sir John Vanbrugh’s magnificent English Baroque architecture reflecting the 1st Duke’s incredible military achievements and the glory of Queen Anne?
  • The parkland with its sweeping lake and hanging beech woods creating a mesmerising setting?

The original gardens by Henry Wise, Queen Anne’s gardener, are said to have been designed in the formal style of the famed gardens of Versailles in France. In 1764, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown “constructed the Great Lake and planted thousands of trees in his ten-year tenure here, engineering a landscape that appears natural but is actually ‘contrived to pleasing effect'”, says Blenheim Palace.

The family gained influence when Baron Churchill welcomed William of Orange and supported his accession to the throne with his wife Mary in 1689. When Queen Anne came to the throne in 1702 the Earl of Marlborough was the head of one of the most influential families in the land and, as 1st Duke of Marlborough, he was the obvious choice to head the allied forces against France in the War of Spanish Succession, and his victory against Louis XIV “changed the political axis of the world”, as Winston Churchill later summarised it.

However, by 1712, the Marlborough's had fallen from favour which forced them into self-imposed exile, from which they returned following the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

The building of Blenheim was no longer being funded by the Crown and many of the original master craftsmen had not been paid for completed work and the Duke of Marlborough had to fund the completion himself. Relations had soured with John Vanbrugh, the architect, and he was prevented from entering the park to see the completion of his incredible creation.

The total cost of completing the building of Blenheim was £300,000, equating to approximately £25 million in today's money.

Winston Churchill and Diana, Princess of Wales are the two most well known of the Duke’s descendants, both of whom made their mark on the course of British history in very different ways.