England’s answer to Versailles
Birthplace and family home of wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Blenheim Palace is perhaps best known as a prime example of the 18th century English passion and fashion for the garden makeover, and its most significant practitioner, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Capable by name and nature, Brown earned his nickname by assessing the ‘capability’ of his client’s grand country houses, whose gardens were to be re-fashioned.
He had a lasting influence on the design of private and public gardens, creating the English landscape garden style. This combines naturalised planting with careful planning, and grand scale with romantic design. The clever use of water to create artificial lakes, as in Blenheim’s serpentine lake, was one of his signature features.
Building the palace
Architect John Vanbrugh’s monumental building, Blenheim, was designed and built as a gift for John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough. It was bestowed by a nation grateful for his military leadership in the victory over France in 1704. The building of the palace in 1705, did not run smoothly and by the time of its completion Vanbrugh, the Duke and Duchess all suffered tarnished reputations after much political infighting.
Blenheim is a rare example of the English Baroque style which lasted only 40 years from 1690-1730. Characterised by bold lines, exaggeration and overwhelming size, it is a grand and ornate style which was seen as too flamboyant by many critics of the time.
Intended to be a statement property, the extravagant house was deliberately built to stand out in the landscape and to be seen from afar. Still lived in by the Dukes of Marlborough, the importance of Blenheim Palace was recognized in 1987 as a World Heritage Site.