Located in Woodstock in Oxfordshire, Blenheim Palace is a member of the treasure houses of England, which is a collection of the finest heritage properties in England. It is the only non-royal building in England to be termed a “palace”.
The land and money for the building work of the palace, was gifted by Queen Anne to John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough for his victory at the battle of Blenheim in 1704.
John Churchill’s wife Sarah was Queen Anne’s friend. Sarah and Queen Anne had opposing personalities. Whereas Sarah was pretty, assertive and dynamic, the queen was plain and reserved. The Queen was heavily dependent on Sarah and it is hinted that their relationship went beyond mere friendship. It was the Queen together with Sarah that decided on gifting a palace to the Duke of Marlborough.
The building work for the palace started in 1705.Whereas Sarah wanted Sir Christopher Wren to design the palace, the first Duke preferred John Vanbrugh. It was John Vanbrugh who finally was the main architect of the palace. Sarah did not get along with Vanbrugh and while Vanbrugh believed that the palace should be ostentatious, Sarah’s main priority was comfort. Things reached a breaking point and the architect was finally banned from visiting the palace. Meanwhile Sarah’s relationship with the Queen too deteriorated to such a point that the Duke and Sarah were exiled from the kingdom. They returned only after Queen Anne’s death and then completed the palace work at their own expense. Vanbrugh’s assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor finally completed the palace in 1722.
The Palace is an example of Baroque Architecture. Baroque architecture is highly decorated with statues, animals, chimneys, urns and so on.
A tax for windows
The Palace has approximately 1000 windows and 200 rooms. The size of the window depended on who the occupant of the room was. Servants therefore ended up with rooms having smaller sized windows.
From 1696 to 1851 a window tax was imposed in England. People were taxed for the amount of light that came in their houses via their windows and thus giving rise to the expression ‘daylight robbery’. The following was the tax imposed depending on the number of windows that a house had:
6 windows or fewer – nothing to pay.
7 – 9 windows – 2 shillings (10p)
10 – 19 windows – 4 shillings (20p)
20 or more windows – 6 shillings (30p)
To have a lot of windows was a sign of wealth as glass was also very expensive. Several residents bricked up their windows to avoid the tax. New houses were often built with lesser windows.
Sir Winston Churchill’s birthplace
The palace is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. The room in which he was born even displays the vest that he wore during birth.
The Sun dials
The garden at the palace had four sun dials out of which one had been missing for a long time because it had been sent for repairs. The missing sun dial was found recently in a box along with a bill for the repair work.
The eyes in the Portico
The 9th Duke’s second wife Gladys Deacon commissioned the eyes in the Portico of the Palace. She climbed up the scaffolding to show the artist a scarf which had the exact shade of blue as her eyes. The 3 blue eyes belong to her. The origin of the brown eyes remains a mystery.
Gladys Deacon was renowned for her beauty during that time. She was known for her striking eyes. At the age of 22, she had wax injected into her nose in order to make her nose perfectly straight. The wax however settled along her jawline, marring her beauty a little.
The long library
The long library has more than 10,000 books. A boy’s school was moved to the library during the war and it was then used as a sick bay and a dormitory. The boys were responsible for some cracked window panes during a game of cricket.
The current owners
The eleventh Duke and Duchess of Marlborough currently reside in the Palace.
Films shot here
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Gulliver’s Travels, The Avengers, The Four Feathers, The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
Official Website: http://www.blenheimpalace.com/