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Blenheim Palace, United Kingdom

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Front façade of Blenheim PalaceFront façade of Blenheim Palace
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authorshipMagnus Manske
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Blenheim Palace is a World Heritage Site in Oxfordshire, England. It comprises a magnificent 18th century country house surrounded by a spacious park designed by famous landscape gardener, Capability Brown.

Blenheim Palace was the birthplace and ancestral home of war-time prime minister Sir Winston Churchill. The building was built in the 1720's, in the rare and short-lived English Baroque style, by Sir John Vanbrugh. It was a gift from the English government to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, in gratitude for winning the war against the French and the Bavarians in the Battle of Blenheim. Unfortunately, the gift became the subject of political infighting, resulting in the duke's exile, his wife's fall from power, and irreparable damage to the reputation Vanbrugh.

The wife of the duke, Sarah Churchill née Jenyns, was a close friend of Princess Anne. When the princess ascended the throne as Queen Anne, she made Sarah her Mistress of the Robes. So the duke benefited from his marriage as the queen decided that as a hero of a war, he should receive a magnificent palace. However, over time, Queen Anne and Sarah began to have disagreement, until 1711, following their final quarrel, she discontinued payment for the construction of the palace. The Marlboroughs were also forced to go into exile, only to return a day after the queen passed away in 1714.

Blenheim PalaceBlenheim Palace
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The choice of architect was also controversial. The duchess had wanted Sir Christopher Wren to design the building, but a chance encounter between the duke and Sir John Vanbrugh at a playhouse led to him being commissioned for the job. Vanbrugh was a dramatist, not a trained architect; he needed to work in conjunction with someone trained in architecture, usually Nicholas Hawksmoor. Together, the two had designed Castle Howard, which the Duke of Marlborough must have been impressed, which was why he wanted Vanbrugh to work on his building.

Unfortunate for Vanbrugh, his design was soon accused for extravagance and impracticalities. The duchess also did not defend him, having her choice of architect overruled by her husband. Part of the problem lies in different expectations. The government wanted to build Marlborough a monument, while the couple wanted it to be a comfortable home as well. As the duke was frequently away on his military campaigns, the duchess had to work with Vanbrugh. Her many disagreements and quarrels with Vanbrugh eventually led to the latter being banned from the site. Furthermore, his choice of style didn't win much admirers at the time, with the English Baroque going out of fashion as the revival of the Palladian style became fashionable.

The Interior of Blenheim PalaceThe Interior of Blenheim Palace
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After the death of Queen Anne, the duke and duchess returned and in 1716, work on the building continued at the duke's own expense. However, he suffered a stroke the following year, and the duchess had to oversee the construction on her own. Vanbrugh stormed off the building site when the duchess refused his choise of masons and carpenters. Eventually Blenheim Palace was completed using less expensive craftsmen, who did it in perfect imitation of what the more expensive masters might have done.

Blenheim Palace was inscribed as a World Heritage Site during the 11th session of the World Heritage Committee in Paris, France, on 7 - 11 December, 1987.

World Heritage Site Inscription Details

Location: N 51 50 31 W 1 21 41 in Oxfordshire, England.
Inscription Year: 1987
Type: Cultural
Inscription Criteria: II, IV

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