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Blenheim palace

Blenheim palace (Oxon.). Home of the dukes of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Situated in Woodstock, close to Oxford, Blenheim palace was given to John Churchill, 1st duke of Marlborough, in gratitude for his victory in 1704 over the French at the battle of Blenheim during the War of the Spanish Succession. The architect was Sir John Vanbrugh, soldier and dramatist, whose genius (in Swift's words) ‘without single thought or lecture, [had] hugely turn'd to architecture’. In 1699 Vanbrugh had prepared drawings for Castle Howard for the earl of Carlisle, and here and at Blenheim he was assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Blenheim is the more dramatic and confident of the two designs, in part due to its striking situation high on a hill; Henry Wise (1653–1738) was largely responsible for the formal gardens near the palace, and a plan of 1709 signed by Bridgeman shows the main avenue stretching across Vanbrugh's bridge into the park beyond. From about 1764 this area was planted and flooded by Capability Brown. The palace itself consists of a pedimented centre block, with flanking courts on each side; the forms are imaginative, powerful, and highly modelled, with that abstraction of classical elements typical of the two architects. Inside the heroic scale is sustained in the great hall, saloon, library, and other rooms, with their paintings, furniture, bronzes, and tapestries: Grinling Gibbons, Laguerre, Rysbrack, and Sir James Thornhill are among the artists and craftsmen represented. During the early 20th cent. the 9th duke of Marlborough engaged the Frenchman Achille Duchêne to restore the north forecourt, replant the elm avenue leading to it, and create formal gardens on the east and two water terraces (completed 1930) on the west. Sir Winston Churchill is buried in the churchyard at Bladon, on the south-east edge of Blenheim Park.

Peter Willis

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