"Under the auspices of a munificent sovereign this house was built for John Duke of Marlborough, and his Duchess Sarah, by Sir J Vanbrugh between the years 1705 and 1722. And this Royal manor of Woodstock, together with a grant of £240,000, towards the building of Blenheim was given by Her Majesty Queen Anne and confirmed by Act of Parliament..."
- Inscription on the east gate of Blenheim Palace.
John Churchill was an outstanding British general of the early 18th century. In reward for his victory over the French at the battle of Blenheim, in 1704 Queen Anne awarded him the right to built a palace with a title reflecting his great deed. His title was upgraded from Earl of Marlborough to Duke of Marlborough. She also granted him money, and for some time he, and his wife Sarah were in favour at court.
Blenheim Palace is situated at Woodstock, about 10 miles from Oxford. It is one of the finest examples of English baroque architecture, and situated within a large estate. The Palace is in excellent condition, as the current Duke of Marlborough (the 11th) lives there, and manages its conservation. The palace and grounds are classified as a world heritage site, and are a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Oxfordshire. It is most famed as the birthplace of Winston Churchill (in 1874)
Blenheim palace may be one of the most magnificent buildings in Britain today, but there were periods during its construction at which it was unsure whether or not building work would ever finish. Work, overseen by the architect John Vanbrugh started in 1705, relatively promptly, but the Duke was not available to supervise the work, as he was called back to further military sucesses on the continent.
Vanburgh was an inexperienced architect, and in the first few years of construction several walls had to be pulled down due to plans that had not been finalised before the commencment of work. Changes also had to be made to accomodate the will of Dutchess Sarah Churchill, who became very involved in the project. She was constantly changing specifics, even against the direct orders of her husband, and was obsessed in ensuring that the resulting building would have enough light.
Worked blundered along for several years, with costs rapidly escalating above those which had been planned for. Excesses reached the equivalent of several million pounds in today's money. unfortunately, as well as these problems the Churchill's lost their favour with Queen Anne due in part to the actions of Abigail Masham, who supplanted the Dutchess in her position of Lady of the Bedchamber. Other members of the aristocracy who were envious of the Duke's sucess led to his accusation at charges of embezzlement from army funds.
Due to this, he and his wife had to flee the country, and so in 1712 work stopped, and the craftsmen and labourers involved in the construction were dismissed. The building site lay dormant for two years until Queen Anne died, and King George I was crowned in 1714. Due to the change in regime the Churchills were thus able to return to the country.
In the meantime the remainder of the funds allocated by Queen Anne had been reallocated, and so the remainder of construction money had to come from the Duke's personal funds. He managed to avoid paying many bills for the earlier work, and bullied the craftsmen back into working for less money. Due to a lack of money work proceeded slowly.
The palace was eventually finished around the time of the Duke's death in 1722. Since then it has been inhabited by his decendents.