On the 13th of August, 1704, a battle took place near Blindheim (now Blenheim), Austria during the War of the Spanish Succession. I suspect most of our readers don’t really know what this was, or maybe I’m just projecting because I sure as heck didn’t. For better or for worse you’re going to leave this post as ignorant as when you arrived because all of this is only relevant to our travels thusly: John Churchill lead Allied forces against the French and secured an important victory at this battle. Because of this and other services rendered, Queen Anne rewarded him with money, land, and a promoted title from the Earl to the Duke of Marlborough. And with all that money and land he crafted Blenheim Palace, so named because like most English he couldn’t be bothered with how the Austrians spelled it. It’s a monument to the Duke and all his line, which is kind of the problem. But hang on, let’s run this down in an orderly fashion.
Blenheim Palace was the one and only destination for this day’s travel. We had sussed it out as being a major attraction and between that and the moderate drive to and fro that was required we cleared the docket for it. It is truly an impressive place from the moment you first arrive; don’t let the top picture fool you, you don’t get that view for awhile. First it’s the acres and acres of beautiful lawn, both wild woods and manicured trees, and even a blessing that day of beautiful weather. After proving that we had paid 43 pounds each (ahem) for the privilege, we were directed to which field they were parking cars in that day, and then there was the lovely walk past the wee train and towards the entrance, which is actually in through the side as the place was originally laid out. Most likely this is so as not to spoil the views as they were originally designed. After all, the family still owns the place to this day.
Oh yes, the Marlboroughs still own the place. It is not a part of either the National Trust or English Heritage, and the 43 pounds per visitor goes nowhere else but into their funds, one presumes to care for the Palace. We tried to charge tickets to our house once when we needed a new roof, but other than a couple neighbor kids there were no takers, plus then my parents heard what I was doing and you know what nevermind…
Aside from the lovely architecture, the primary attraction of the place seems to be its connection to Winston Churchill who, but for the late addition of a cousin, might have succeeded to the Dukedom. Nevertheless, great effort is expended to show the straight line that one can draw from the 1st Duke’s battlefield heroics and the nearly-Duke’s triumphal leadership during the second World War. He was in fact born in the palace despite his family not being the primary residents of the place – his parents were visiting family when his mother went into early labor. This room is cordoned off and made a bit of a shrine. There are also numerous portraits of the man, and you find out later that the entire basement area is given over to a museum spanning his entire life. For Churchies out there it’s absolute Heaven.
Speaking of portraits… unlike some great houses you may have visited, the entirety of art that is on display consists of portraits of the generations of Marlboroughs and their relatives. There are also tapestries depicting John Churchill’s many victories in war (of which, to be fair, he had several). There are statues of Sir Winston as well as other family members. Out on the grounds there is a modest Greek-esque temple to Diana that is cordoned off and festooned with flowers because it is, we’re told, the spot where Sir Winston proposed to his soon-to-be wife. There is also a larger-than-life bust of the man with a swirly walking path leading to and from – the path is marked at regular intervals with dates and events that mark important events in his life.
So, why title this post “Bleh”? We learn and grow as people as we go through life, right? One of the things we no longer take at face value (when we can help it) is propaganda, especially in service to maintaining power structures that only benefit select people. The entirety of Blenheim Palace is designed with the message “hoo boy aren’t the Marlboroughs great? Where would this country be without us? Nowhere, that’s where! And we’d be speaking German there to boot! Oh, and please don’t come for us with torches and pitchforks, we’re very nice and very important people.” The grounds are lovely, the house is impressively built, and the whole thing ended up feeling mildly distasteful. Given some of the other museums and palaces we’ve visited in our lives, it’s saying something that this place managed to stand out.