Blenheim: The Grandest and Most Famous House in England.

 

"I felt awed, ant-like, apprehensive, as I gazed on Blenheim's huge baroque mass, its fearful symmetry, its threatening roofscape of ferocious lions and plunging swords, its trumpeting central portico and tremendous trailing wings. House and courtyards cover seven acres. This is a dragon of a house which once breathed fire and was turned to stone by some terrible curse. Blenheim sprawls like a petrified dinosaur or beached whale, completely out of scale with the little blue folds of hills that lap it round. Surely the huge stones of its walls were quarried by giants; how they reached the site in the days before cranes and lorries is a mystery as awesome as how the Egyptians built their pyramids."[1]

These words from `Blenheim - Biography of a Palace' by the Canadian writer, Marian Fowler, made me want to go to Woodstock and see for myself the country seat of the Duke of Marlborough. Had I not read Ms Fowler's account of Blenheim from its inception in 1704, to 1965, when the 10th Duke, Bert, became its unwilling custodian, I probably should not have gone.

With Marion Fowler's generous permission, I decided to write a short history of Blenheim based on her superbly pithy, detailed, scholarly book, so that visitors to the palace would learn something other than the facts they will hear on the guided tour.

Blenheim has always exerted a powerful, controlling influence on all its residents. And does still, as if those walls, redolent of all the living they have seen, would seek to impose their own story, inhibiting the occupants' ability to live their own lives.

But, writes Marion Fowler,

"It also inspires and uplifts. `The Castle of Blenheim', so called by its early viewers, has always functioned as both house and icon, artefact and archetype. Seen in certain lights, its honey coloured stone gleams like El Dorado gold, encouraging all viewers to dream the impossible dream".[1]

The following account of Blenheim's history is in four parts, each named after the Duke(s) who lived in the palace and shaped it according to his needs and the nature of the age. However, I had reluctantly to curtail my account and chose to do this with the birth of Sir Winston Churchill. This seemed a fitting point at which to conclude.

Part 1 The First Duke
Part 2 The Fourth Duke
Part 3 The Fifth and Sixth Dukes
Part 4 The Seventh Duke

 

 

 

 

 


The First Duke

In 1704 , The 1st Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill won the battle of Blindheim. In gratitude for his services to the nation, the Hanoverian Queen Anne made him a gift of the royal estate of Woodstock. It was here that the Duke commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh, assisted by Nicholas Hawksmoor, to build him a palace,to be called Blenheim. Spanning seven acres, the Duke never knew how many rooms there were.

Today when you look at the `Battle of Blenheim' tapestry depicting the victory which was the raison d'être of the palace, reflect that this was perhaps the Duke's finest hour. A man of lowly birth, he had raised himself up by soldiery, by warfare to this supreme moment. Having no silver spoon to help him, he had had to be an opportunist, switching allegiances to be sure of batting for the winning side. And now, to the victor, the spoils. Was he thinking then, could he guess just how abundant those spoils would be? He had been seventeen hours in the saddle, was still in the saddle when he pencilled a quick note to Sarah, on the back of an inn receipt; I have not time to say more but to beg you will give my duty to the Queen and let her know her army has had a Glorious Victory.

Queen and country were exultant. The Duke's victory over France meant that England could see her way more clearly to gain more colonies and strengthen trade links. There were scenes of great celebration, bonfires were lit, medals struck. The standards now hanging in Blenheim's Great Hall were paraded through the London streets, heading a military cavalcade.

The Duke and Duchess, Sarah and John suited each other well. Both were ambitious for money, power and fame, in an age when everyone had an eye for the main chance. Jostling for favours and state sinecures was blatant and unashamed. The Duke had a talent for war, inspiring loyalty and fervour in his men. With the vision of ever greater affluence spurring him to victory, he never lost a battle. (Ever one for `taking care of the pennies', diarists have mentioned his stinting on small things, like candles, and walking home to save sixpence on coachire).

They met at a ball when he was a handsome ambitious colonel in the English army, and she a pretty seventeen year old tomboy, glowing with vitality and an energy that she retained into late middle age. Her staunch loyalty and love for her husband never wavered from the day of their marriage. Yet later Jonathon Swift was to write of the `three furies that reigned in her heart, sordid Avarice, disdainful Pride, and ungovernable Rage'. Sarah was not one to suffer fools gladly, and since she considered most people to be `knaves and fools' and was not an empathetic woman she was not best placed to manage the mammoth project that was the building of Blenheim Palace. She was a pragmatist, through and through. She had no truck with grandiose flights of fancy, her ideal home being `a clean sweet house and garden though ever so small'. Furthermore, her parsimony meant that she haggled over every detail.

Sarah had wanted Wren to build the Palace, on the basis that with him as architect, you knew what you were getting. Vanbrugh was the Duke's choice (both were members of the renowned Kit-Kat Club) and had also been commissioned to build Castle Howard. The Duke was probably impressed by Vanbrugh's style, as with a flourish he sketched a grandiose outline plan for the Palace, without having first seen the site. Vanbrugh, of Dutch and English descent, had no formal architectural training but he had tremendous confidence and verve. His career had been chequered - he'd even had a spell in the Bastille. He'd written plays, evolving a successful comic formula of "Rape, Bawdy and Intrigue". In 1702 he was appointed Comptroller in Queen Anne's Office of Works, going on to construct both plays and houses with equal élan.

He was

"a man of immense good nature, ebullient, high spirited, always optimistic. The world amused him mightily and he amused the world, always ready with a witty sally or a ribald joke. For the contest with Blenheim he would need all his confidence and all his humour".[1]

On the 18th of June, in the year 1705, the foundation stone of the Palace was laid with due ceremony and feasting. Thence began the twenty eight years of trauma which was the building of Blenheim, and the zealous antagonism of Sarah towards it. Perhaps the bad luck and acrimony which dogged the building of the palace was a legacy from earlier ages, for the site had had a tragic history, spanning five centuries.

A specially built wagon drawn by twenty-one horses hauled the largest blocks of stone from quarries at Burford and Taynton. When it rained, as it sometimes did for days on end, the mud made the going impossible. One can imagine the cursing of the carters as wheels disengaged or were rendered static by the mud, the distress of overworked horses.

Meanwhile the Duke, campaigning in the Low Countries worried about his dream house and wrote detailed instructions to Sarah, whilst finding time to purchase paintings, tapestries and furniture with which to fill the cavernous rooms. This suggests a bizarre scene; the Duke on the one hand bloody from the battlefield, and on the other fussily selecting fine brocades and velvets, sending samples off to Sarah. But so it was.

Sarah escaped from the tedium at Court (and the interminable games of Dominoes) as often as she could to check on Vanbrugh and his `child'. She poured scorn, she ranted at what she considered his shocking extravagances. He in turn thought her stupid and troublesome covertly referring to her as the old bitch.

The Duke, meanwhile, was still winning victories. Ramillies had fallen and all Flanders lost. With this victory came acclaim from Parliament and increased cash-flow for Blenheim. But John was greatly troubled on hearing from a loyal friend that My Lady Marlborough is extremely prying into ........I am apt to think she has made Mr Vanbrugh a little cross.

Meanwhile relations between Sarah and Queen Anne which had been deteriorating for some time, took a turn for the worst. She had been supplanted at Court by a new favourite, when she herself had got the girl the job at court! Upon confronting the Queen as to why she had lost favour, and why the Queen heeded the vicious rumours circulating about her, she lost her temper when the Queen offered no explanation. She screamed something disrespectful (exactly what we are not told), and was instantly dismissed from Court. Furthermore, the Marlborough's ally, Lord Godolphin was also dismissed from his post as Lord Treasurer. The year was 1710. Now Blenheim was really in trouble, especially since the Duke's sworn enemy, Harley, became Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Marlbroughs now had no friends in high office. Workmen, contractors and sub-contractors had received no wages. One poor man was owed 600 for lime and brick and was trying to scrape money together to stay out of gaol. Vanbrugh wrote begging letters to Harley for sufficient money to make Blenheim fast for the winter. To add insult to injury The Duchess gave the order that all work on the Palace was to cease, immediately.

There was desperate hardship at Blenheim. The carters were starving. The masons were angrily plotting sabotage. But somehow sufficient funds were extracted from a grudging Treasury (after all, they had coughed up 200,000 to date and there seemed no limit ) to secure the palace for the winter and pay the most destitute of the workmen. Pamphleteers were at work discrediting the Duke, claiming that he was prolonging the war with France to line his own pockets. Harley influenced the Queen to withdraw funding of Blenheim. Shortly Vanbrugh was to lose his post in the Office of Works.

Fallen from grace, smarting from public abuse, the Duke and Duchess left for the Continent, leaving the beleaguered palace in the hands of comptroller `honest Harry' Joynes. Sarah, not one for travelling light, took with her forty portmanteaux, seven leopard-skin muffs, thirty-two paintings and seventeen wall hangings. Thus equipped, they moved into a large house in Antwerp to sit out their exile. It was not a long one, two years in fact. In the August of 1714, Queen Anne died and the following day, the Marlboroughs returned to England. The new King, George 1st may have lacked looks and intellect, but he could recognise a good soldier, having been one himself. He restored the Duke to his previous office, telling him that he hoped his troubles were now over.

Work on Blenheim began again, this time paid for from the Duke's own pocket. Master craftsman Grinling Gibbons was not among the labourers and artisans, having resigned, thoroughly disenchanted with the whole enterprise and still owed 1,117 (of which he would later recover only one third). Back pay was owed to the workmen but Marlborough would not honour this. It was the Crown's responsibility. If he must, he would dig deep into his own coffers to get his dream home completed but he was no altruist. Notwithstanding, the workpeople were deferential, still, to the masters who would keep them in penury. Cap in hand they went to plead for that which was owed to them, as their pitiful letters of the time testify.

Altercations on site continued. A sorry tale of resignations due to unpaid arrears. Those who were fortunate enough to be able to down tools and work elsewhere, did so. Even that stirling fellow `honest Harry' Joynes abandoned the project and took the post of Clerk of the Works to Kensington Palace.

Meanwhile the Duke had suffered a stroke. With Sarah at the helm, closely monitoring Vanbrugh's activities and nipping in the bud any fanciful notions he might be fostering, all the domestic quarters in the East Court were completed. But elsewhere, work had not proceeded well. The Western court had hardly been started, and although Sarah's express command to Vanbrugh had been to demolish the old Manor House, not only had he failed to do so, but he was actually living there (he had moved in when the Marlboroughs were in Antwerp). He would have to go. The Duchess sent him a strongly worded missive covering several sheets. Vanbrugh replied in similar vein,ending You have your end, Madam, for I will never trouble you more unless the Duke of Marlborough recovers so far, to shelter me from such intolerable treatment.

So Vanbrugh resigned, and this caused the Duke such distress that two days later he suffered a second stroke. He wanted now just to be able to live out his last days in his palace. The wishes of her beloved John were paramount to Sarah. Loathe the place she might, but she had now to square her shoulders and set about making the house comfortable for her husband. She herself sewed all the bed hangings and curtains (whose fabrics were chosen by the Duke on his campaigns). This way she could save money and in any case, she considered herself a better seamstress than any professional upholsterer. Nevertheless, she was worn out and depressed by her efforts to render the great cavernous palace habitable. In fact no-one seemed to have a good word to say about the place. In 1717, after touring the palace, Alexander Pope wrote to a friend;

I never saw so great a thing with so much littleness in it. I think the architect built it entirely in compliance to the taste of its owners; for it is the most inhospitable thing imaginable, and the most selfish; it has, like their own hearts, no room for strangers ........ It is a house of entries and passages among which there are three vistas through the whole, very uselessly handsome ....... In a word, the whole is a most expensive absurdity, and the Duke of Shrewsbury gave a true character of it, when he said, it was a great Quarry of Stones above ground.

What of Vanbrugh, now married at the age of 54 to a Yorkshire woman and building himself a castle in Blackheath, (south east London)? Distance had allowed him a more detached view of the building which he had once regarded with the tenderness of a sort of child of my own.

He now had that child, described by a friend of Sarah's in a letter to her as the biggest that ever was seen. I think you may the easier forgive him his vast designs at Blenheim, since it appears to be so much the tendency of his nature.

Meanwhile the palace was being prepared for occupancy by the family in August. Woodstock women, supervised by the housekeeper had scrubbed and polished, (although not to Sarah's satisfaction. She later ordered a second, in-depth cleansing). The white marble door cases were cleaned with a mixture made up by the housekeeper to the Duchesses specification of bullock's gall, soap, turpentine and pipe clay. Wagons piled high with household paraphernalia, housemaids and kitchenmaids atop the heap, trundled slowly across Sarah's despised bridge. The family with the Duchess's personal maid and Miss La Vie the governess arrived last in two coaches.

With the second cleaning marathon completed,

"After that the rooms began to come alive, with crackling log fires and candle-glow and the smells of lavender and roast pork and clouds of hair-powder and the Duchess's snuff."[1]

At first the Duke was content to wander his palace, enjoying its long vistas, the fine French and Italian furniture (then as today, a status symbol), treasures given to him by grateful cities, the Titians, Raphaels, and Van Dykes; all of this magnificent edifice which celebrated the acclaim and prestige to which he was entitled. But its very majesty and splendour seemed now to taunt this ill and battle-weary old soldier. The truth was, he was not, could not now be equal to this palace which had come into being when, in 1705, he had won his great Victory against France. When he had headed that triumphal procession through the London streets, absolute monarchy had reached its zenith. Society's belief in the hierarchical order of God, King, Nobles, Commoners was absolute. Alexander Pope described it thus; All served, all serving, nothing stands alone./ The chain holds on, and where it ends, unknown. Blenheim's order of rooms was the manifestation of this chain. Marion Fowler:

"Servants far removed in the east court; tenant farmers and other lowly suppliants received in the Great Hall; lords and gentry ushered through to the Saloon beyond; and only the country's sovereign escorted eastward along the south front, through antechamber, state drawing-room and state bedchamber to the Holy of Holies, the Duke's inner sanctum, the Grand Cabinet in the south-east corner. How far the Superior Being would progress along the axis, and how far the Inferior Being could entice him, was the name of the power game. West of the Saloon was an identical suite of three staterooms, ending in the immensity of the Long Gallery where the monarch could parade up and down when the weather was inclement. Blenheim, as Pope realised, had few rooms for ordinary mortals, but it could house, in luxurious self-containment, two kings at a time".[1]

The only monarchs Blenheim could boast were stone effigies and portraits who stared loftily at the Duke walking the route fit for kings. This palace could not satisfy his needs now that all he wanted was simplicity and comfort. Besides, the bills were mounting. The Court of Exchequer had decreed that the several thousand back pay owed to the workmen were the Duke's debts, not those of the Crown. In these last weeks of his life, the battle with Blenheim was the only one he ever lost. He sought refuge in the more modest and welcoming Windsor Lodge and it was there that he died. The year was 1722. He was seventy-three years of age.

He was buried with full military honours in Westminster Abbey but his loving wife did not fail to complain that there were in the procession only seventeen trumpeters, and yet there are twenty-four in the bill. She was further aggrieved that she'd been billed for 48 yards of black cloth to cover the mourning coach and horses, when further enquiry showed that other coachmakers had offered to do the job with 35 yards. On the Duke's death Sarah became the richest woman in England. Vanbrugh confided to a friend that the Duke's estate amounted to well over 2m, including his mortgages upon many a distressed estate, and besides what God Almighty knows of in foreign banks, and yet this man would neither pay his workmen their bills nor his architect his salary. He has given his widow (may a Scotch ensign get her) 10,000 a year to spoil Blenheim her own way, 12,000 a year to keep herself clean, and go to law. Sarah resolved to finish the palace to her own design, as a mausoleum honouring the Duke, and furthermore to do this as cheaply as possible.

Although her husband had provided 50,000 for Blenheim's completion, she took great pride in doing the job for just over half that amount. She paid Hawksmoor 2,800 to gild the ceiling of the Long Gallery. The men who carted rubble and scaffolding and cleaned roof gutters received a pittance and that payment was long overdue. Even when she did settle a bill, Sarah made it a principle to short- change the recipient by a shilling or two.

The next decade saw the erection of the Triumphal Arch at the Woodstock entrance to Blenheim, the column of Victory in the park and the completion and consecration of the chapel in which she had commissioned Rysbrack to build an illustrious monument to the Duke. Although Blenheim remained Sarah's for her lifetime, she was not living in the Palace during these years, only staying long enough to oversee the works. The Dukedom had passed to Henrietta, the older of the two daughters (there was no son). She chose not to live at Blenheim. She and her mother were not on speaking terms.

The palace received many curious visitors but no domiciliary. Vanbrugh, himself a curious visitor in 1725, found that he and his party were refused entry by the porter on the gate, by order of the Duchess. The story was gleefully bandied around the London coffee houses; The Dutchman may not visit his own child, who, however he may appear a mere lump and misshapen to others, may seem beautiful in the eyes that begot him. Fumed Vanbrugh to his confidente Being forced into chancery by the B.B.B.B. old B. the Duchess of Marlborough, who was claiming that I never was employed by the Duke of Marlborough and therefore had no demand upon his estate for my services at Blenheim.

When Van finally did manage to collect what he was owed, he hadn't long to enjoy it for he died in 1726 aged sixty-two. This man of great good humour and humanity was mourned by many.

Sarah's battle with those concerned with the building of Blenheim continued after their deaths, when litigation transferred to their executors. Interestingly, her Blenheim undertakings had instilled a passion for building and architecture. Ahead of her time she pre-empted the maxim that form should follow function and designed a serviceable brick house at Wimbledon and eighteen almshouses at St Albans.

In her final years she was only an occasional visitor to Blenheim, coming there to supervise building work or cleaning. Marion Fowler writes;

"when she wanted to harangue some workman, she was wrapped in flannel, slung into a pole-chair and jolted through the empty rooms by two footmen, past the marble Dukes and door-cases and the marble slab in the Chapel waiting to get her underneath its eternal chill".[1]

This redoubtable Dowager Duchess was eighty-five when she died, a very wealthy old lady, on the 18th October, 1744. Her will was printed in the London Magazine, avidly read and took up twenty-eight pages.

The three main protagonists in the story of the raising of Blenheim have quitted the stage, leaving only the palace, their indomitable adversary, as the backdrop against which further dramas in the Marlborough saga would be played out.

 

INTERIM

 

Horace Walpole visited Blenheim during 1760, while the house was yet uninhabited, gathering dust and cobwebs. He wrote to a friend: We saw all the old flock chairs, wainscot tables and gowns and petticoats of Queen Anne that old Sarah could crowd among blocks of marble. It looks like the palace of an auctioneer, who has been chosen King of Poland, and furnished his apartments with obsolete trophies, rubbish that nobody bid for, and a dozen pictures that he had stolen from the inventories of different families. The place is as ugly as the house, and the bridge, like the beggars at the old Duchess's gate, begs for a drop of water, and is refused.


 

 

The Fourth Duke

There now followed a softening, a grassing over, literally of stones, a planting of deciduous trees. Sheep now roamed where once an army of stiff yews had stood to attention. Swans graced the lake and a pleasure boat was moored ready to cruise the glittering waters. Now the footmen wore fine livery and the present Duke took pains that his guests should want for nothing. Although formal houses like Blenheim with its hierarchical layout of rooms and long vistas were passé, the Duke had adapted and modified where he could to make the palace more fashionable.

George, the 4th Duke of Marlborough, an urbane, placable fellow, denied himself no luxury. He had inherited Blenheim at nineteen, on the premature death of his father, Charles Spencer, but unlike his father he was delighted to live at the palace, having had an affiliation to it since early childhood. Now Blenheim and all its treasures was his for his lifetime. He could enjoy to the full the spoils won by his great grandfather, John Churchill.

Said to be a sensitive and shy young man, he had a weakness for women, and since he was also England's most eligible bachelor, there was no shortage of takers. Caroline, daughter of the Duchess of Bedford, won him. More precisely, he was won for her by her mother, whose relentless pursuit of the Duke was quite shameless. Caroline came with a dowry of 50,000. That was the down payment and would be matched by an equal amount on the death of her father. She saw to it that her dreamy, indecisive George was shaped up and sorted out. This young woman, nurtured in the luxury of Woburn Abbey, was not intimidated by her grand new home. Moreover it seemed to have a refining effect. Friends commentated on the transformation from uncouth, boisterous girlhood to gracious Duchess.

The Duke was a dutiful peer, very properly engaged in public service. Lord Chamberlain and Member of the Privy Council, he was to become Lord Privy Seal, before his first child was born. These were energetic, fruitful years for George and Caroline, raising children and setting about the task of transforming Blenheim's chill austerity into a welcoming, beautiful home.

Out went Sarah's fusty, ponderous chairs and tables, in came the elegant Chippendale chairs with their ribbon carved backs, inlaid card tables and lacquered cabinets of exotic hardwoods. Lighter in weight, their mobility allowed for a more informal arrangement. There could be intimate groupings where previously social intercourse was hampered by the rigid placing of chairs around walls. Out, too, went the gloomy draperies, replaced by the light, fresh colours of spring flowers. Upholstered sofas replaced the punitive day-bed. High born Georgian ladies, given to attacks of the `vapours' and the odd flurry of hysterical weeping, needed to be able to indulge these in comfort. Sofas were the answer. With their elegantly curved backs and arms, and their comfortably sprung seating, it's no wonder they were eulogised.

George, seeking diversion from the ever-pregnant Caroline, found it in Blenheim herself. The palace, with its seemingly infinite potential for enhancement, became for him an unalloyed source of entertainment and pleasure. "His first and last love"[1]. With the interiors refurbished and beautified, the Duke now turned his attention to the much neglected grounds. I have a notion I shall begin here immediately so that the sooner you come the better, he wrote imperiously to the leading landscape gardener of the day, Lancelot `Capability' Brown. At forty-seven, Brown's career was at its peak. From a relatively humble start, he had climbed the ladder of success, having been apprenticed to William Kent and via a series of influential employers.

Kent was at that time England's premier gardener, having pioneered the revolt against the Italian decree that things planted should reflect the shape of things built. His principle was that nature abhors a straight line and the serpentine curve (the algebraic curve studied and named by Newton in 1701), the juxtaposition of woodland, water, statuary, `borrowed' landscape to extend the garden, all were central to his aesthetic vocabulary. Kent had taught Lancelot all he knew about the art of making gardens look uncontrived. Now his apprentice had supplanted him. Brown was a canny man, serving the aristocracy well, watching for a foothold whereby he might attain aggrandisement. He had just been appointed Master Gardener at Hampton Court and enrolled his eldest son at Eton.

Marion Fowler writes:

"Brown's philosophy of landscape gardening was based on the premise that nature was rather a careless strumpet and needed art's helping hand to look her best. Like a clever couturier, he could assess `capabilities' at a glance, and knew, after one quick tour of an estate, exactly where to accentuate a curve, or disguise a defect with a belt of trees, doing it all in a way that never looked too artificial or constrained".[1]

Brown worked at Blenheim for the next ten years. A massive dam near Bladon was built to create the lake and two causeways were formed, allowing the river Glyme to flow out on either side of the bridge. Large tracts of courtyard were grassed over, beech trees spread their mantle of shimmering leaves over the outskirts of the park.

As Blenheim grew in loveliness, Launcelot's pride soared. In fact, it might be said that he was getting a little too big for his boots. Horace Walpole offers an interesting insight into the relationship between the nobility and the artists in the mid-eighteenth century, when there was great patronage of the arts. Walpole, of aristocratic descent had noticed impertinence to the Duke of Marlborough. The moment a fashionable artist, singer, or actor is insolent, his success is sure. The first peer that experiences it, laughs to conceal his being angry, the next flatters him for fear of being treated familiarly, and ten more bear it because it is so like Brown.

The Duke began to turn his back on public office, so engrossed was he in the beautification of Blenheim. Now he must have William Chambers, at that time England's the most sought after architect. Williams had studied in Italy and the Palladian concepts he absorbed there are evident in his most important building of the time, Somerset House in the Strand. Working for the Duke, with his whims, inability to make up his mind or stick to any decision he had reached, must have been trying. During the six years of his employ at Blenheim, he designed chimney pieces, bedsteads and hangings, a Grand Cabinet, tables and mirrors. Knowing the Duke's propensity to constantly shift things around, he cunningly warned him that since the gilding on the mirrors was fresh, care must be taken not to handle them upon the gilt part as for some time every touch will make a mark.

The Duke now turned his attention to the grounds and had Chambers design the Temples of Flora and Diana, the oval flower bed with its obelisks and white marble vases (one can imagine the dithering that went on before the final locations of these were decided upon), and a tripod, in best neo-classical style. Delighted with these, the Duke then had Chambers design `improvements' to the eastern gate, the niches, statues and swags we can see today.

Blenheim, in that Age of Sensibility, had achieved the perfect balance between art and nature. And that art, unlike the pictures, tapestries and furniture of the first Duke's time, was home grown, springing from the very soil around the palace. Nature had inspired art, art had informed nature. The relationship was symbiotic and the great palace, no longer unloved, seemed to glow with a new munificence. The family added its own accomplishments. Each of the children had a talent for music or art, or both. It was truly a Golden Age for Blenheim. Britain, too, had become the envy of the world. The Empire was growing, first India, won by Robert Clive, then Wolfe secured Canada, both supplying Britain with rich trade, and a market for her own manufactured goods. The spinning-jenny, the power loom and the steam engine had been invented. Factories were churning out quality artefacts.

There were now seven children in the nursery filling the palace with sunshine and happy chortlings. Blenheim was full of guests and it became a self-contained world generating its own entertainments and pastoral pleasures. During the days, guests were free to please themselves, seeking whichever diversions they wished and dress was casual. But dinner was a formal affair with prescribed seating and evening dress. Marion Fowler vividly describes one such evening circa 1770;

"There was a great deal of lively conversation, and a great deal of food. After several hours, finger bowls appeared and one rinsed out one's mouth and spat into the bowl, or merely dipped the fingers, depending on whether one was reactionary or avant-garde. Then the ladies withdrew and the gentlemen sat for two more hours over their claret and port, drinking toasts to King and Queen and wife and lady-love and country and consuming two or even three bottles each. They got up and relieved themselves into the chamber-pot kept in a lower cupboard at one end of the long, elegant mahogany sideboard, with its brass rail, and knife-boxes ranged on top. Valets got used to picking their masters up off the dining-room floor at the end of it all. Those who could still stand wove their way towards the drawing-room where the ladies waited anxiously behind the coffee urns to see which gentlemen were still on their feet. A few games of whist followed, with a light supper brought in at eleven, just before everyone toddled off to bed. And next day the ritual would begin all over again".[1]

And so the days unfurled. When the weather was fine the family and guests enjoyed outdoor pursuits, sailing on the lake in the pleasure-boat, or sometimes touring the grounds in an open topped carriage.

On Tuesdays, Blenheim had a public day, although it wasn't the hoi-polloi who came to view the delights, for a diarist at the time recorded that `a world of high dress'd heads went by in coaches and chaises.'

September began the hunting season, when hapless birds were bagged and the Duke's superb pack of beagles hunted down stags and deer. The aristocracy in these ambrosial years had yet to feel the echoes of terror from the French Revolution and their right to privilege and power went unchallenged by society. The Marlborough's in their pastoral Eden, truly lived `la dolce vita'.

Life was not sweet, however, for those who lived outside the ornate gates of the palace. Marion Fowler:

" The mass of the people were either unemployed or poorly paid, all of them uneducated and undernourished, trying to cope with dirt and disease in small cottages or mud and straw hovels. The better cottages could boast as furniture a roughed table, a straw mattress, a broken chair, blocks of wood for the children to sit on, a few old pots and pans. A few lucky Woodstock residents found work in the village's two industries. Those who made steel utensils earned from 15s to 2 guineas per week; those who made leather gloves got 8 or 9 shillings. They lived on cheese and bread and tea rather than on 2 dinner courses of 16 dishes each. Many of the poor were stuffed into the Oxford gaol awaiting deportation to Australia for stealing a piece of meat much smaller than those fed to Blenheim's hounds and tiger. If Blenheim was heaven, hell was never far away".[1]

As the decade wore on, the Duke and Duchess grew ever more insular, the Duke becoming morose and prone to neurosis. Not surprisingly the Duchess was feeling the strain from constant child-bearing, besides presiding over the palace's endless rooms and servants. She was becoming as indecisive as her husband. Where Sarah had needed all her steel in that former, harsh, aggressive age, Caroline, cosseted in Blenheim's downy bosom, had developed none. The children were not getting the discipline they so badly needed. Spoilt and indulged since infancy, they were growing wilful and brattish. The Marquis of Blandford's screaming fits were so intolerable that his personal servants demanded a pay rise and his tutor resigned. Looking today at the family portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, little Anne appears so angelic it is difficult to imagine that the small foot peeping from the hem of her dress had been stamped in childish rage because she did not want to pose.

During the next decade, the Duke spent many hours, cloistered in his Grand Cabinet with his cherished gemstones, intaglios and cameos the favourite of which, depicting Cupid and Psyche, he gave permission to be reproduced on Wedgwood ware. He had an inveterate love of finely crafted, beautiful things and these, cut with diamonds, were exquisite. George may well have sought refuge with his treasures after a disturbing session with his estate agent. His collecting zeal was costing him dearly and he had gone through 100,000 of capital. He was constantly being urged to economise and tactful suggestions were offered as to how this might be achieved. Expensive hobbies aside, like his great grandfather, he could be niggardly about money.

Admission charge to view the house and grounds had now increased. One visitor, on 3 April 1786, was the young American lawyer, Thomas Jefferson. He noted in his diary the acreage of Blenheim, both garden and lake, how frequently the grass was mown, and how many staff were employed to maintain it all. But he was unimpressed, finding it too artful, too tame.

The Duke and Duchess no longer went to Court. Now they learned, to their utter consternation that the third Hanoverian sovereign, King George III and Queen Charlotte wished to pay them a visit. The Duke and the King got on well enough. They shared an interest in astronomy. They were both becoming dottier "although in opposite directions, for while the King couldn't stop talking, the Duke couldn't seem to start".[1] After all these long years, Blenheim was finally to be blessed with a Royal Visit.

The Duke and Duchess met the Royals and escorted them through the staterooms and into the Long Library. They saw, as we can today, the magnificent collection of books behind gilded lattice work, the white marble statue of Queen Anne at the north end. They were served breakfast there, under Hawksmoor's exquisite ceiling, before going outside to tour the grounds. The King was heard to comment "We have nothing equal to this!" As a thank you gift, he sent the Duke a Herschel telescope. Although there was talk of another visit to Blenheim, George and Caroline did not feel equal to hosting it and politely sent word that the Duchess was unwell.

In 1789 after the King's third attack of madness, the Duke paid him a visit and cried tears of relief at finding His Majesty restored to full health. He had a Temple of Health built at Blenheim and frequently sat there to pray for continued sanity for the King.

The Duke and Duchess suffered a tragedy in 1795 when their second son died at the age of twenty-five. Lord Henry, a clever, likeable chap had compared very favourably to his brother, The Marquis of Blandford who was profligate, deeply in debt and a womaniser. Meanwhile, the girls were growing up and finding themselves spouses. Lady Charlotte had fallen in love with Edward Nares, one of the players in the theatricals the Blenheim youngsters had mounted. The Duchess had liked him and encouraged him to come frequently to the palace. That was before Edward had asked for Charlotte's hand in marriage. The Duke flatly refused. Edward was a commoner, the son of a former Oxford MP, and as bursar of Merton College, his earnings would be totally inadequate to keep Charlotte in the style for which Blenheim had fitted her. In the event, Lady Charlotte eloped, married her Edward, but was barred for ever from Blenheim's gates by the Duke.

In 1800, all but the youngest daughter, Amelia, had flown the nest. The Duke, more of a recluse than ever, was dismissive of his wife and daughter. They were irritants to him. They got in the way. His Grace meted out much the same treatment to Lord Nelson and Sir William and Lady Hamilton when they visited Blenheim two years later, sending out refreshments but refusing to receive them.

In 1806, George III had his final attack of insanity. The Temple of Health had fallen into disrepair. It had no use now that the Duke avoided it.

The following two years saw illness and then death of the Duchess in her sixty-eighth year. Amelia married and flew the nest. Now the Duke had only his gems for company and he spent long hours in perusal of them. The highly favoured ones he kept in his dressing room, and thus he retreated, further and further into seclusion. For three years he remained literally mute and cloistered, never uttering a sound, never leaving the confines of the palace and grounds. One day a servant informed him that the French writer Madame la Baronne de Stael had come to call on him. Byron had described her as `frightful as a precipice' and perhaps with some justification since the Duke's response was to break his long quiescence and scream to his servant `Take me away!'.

On a January morning in the year 1817 the Duke's faithful valet found that George had died in the night. His face in repose was peaceful. He was seventy-eight years old. At the beginning of February, he joined his wife, and the 1st Duke and Duchess in the vault beneath the chapel.


 

The Fifth and Sixth Dukes

George Spencer was succeeded by the 5th Duke of Marlborough, George Spencer-Churchill, who began the spoliation of Blenheim's treasures by literally selling-off some of the family silver. He stamped his mark on the grounds by sub-dividing the garden into a series of smaller gardens; a Chinese Garden, a Dahlia Garden, a Terrace Garden, a Rose Garden, a Botany Bay Garden, and a Rock Garden. When Mrs Harriet Arbuthnot and The Duke of Wellingon visited Blenheim in 1824 she wrote disapprovingly of the changes;

The family of the great General is, however, gone sadly to decay, and are but a disgrace to the illustrious name of Churchill, which they have chosen this moment to resume. The present Duke is overloaded with debt, is very little better than a common swindler and lets [sic] everything about Blenheim. People may shoot and fish at so much per hour and it has required all the authority of a Court of Chancery to prevent his cutting down all the trees in the park.

The Duke was a known spendthrift, and was evidently set on making Blenheim pay for her keep. When he became a recluse toward the end of his life it was not a symptom of neurosis but for reasons of economy. He lived on livestock from the grounds and drank wines from the well stocked cellars. "His sole income", writes Marion Fowler, "was 5,000 from the Post Office, one of the many perquisites which John Churchill had cannily obtained for himself and his descendants".[1]. He died a virtual bankrupt.

We should perhaps draw a veil over the 6th Duke, a suspected bigamist and mean with it. Visitors paying to see the palace protested at the unfair system of admission charges, whereby you paid the same amount whether you were six persons or one and you had also to pay the attendants on duty around the palace and grounds. Apart from this, we know little of the 6th Duke of Marlborough. Before his death he ordered that all his private papers be burnt.


 

 

The Seventh Duke

When John Winston Spencer Churchill, 7th Duke, presided at Blenheim national pride was at its height. The first Duke's victory at Blindheim had sowed the seed, Wellington's tremendous victory at Waterloo in 1815 had added to it, and it was compounded by decades of peace disturbed only by the Crimean War, which in any case seemed such a long way away. The Empire was at the zenith of its power. Britain's manufacturing output was enormous. The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a public celebration of Britain's industrial supremacy. Her foreign trade was booming. She was truly the workshop of the world.

John Winston was MP for Woodstock from 1844, having begun his public service as a lieutenant in the 1st Oxfordshire Yeomanry the previous year. When he came into his title in 1857, he took his seat in the House of Lords. During his term of office he set up a Select Committee to enquire into the spiritual destitution of England and Wales. The model of evangelical rectitude, he became known as the "good Duke". He was a fervent supporter of keeping the Sabbath day holy and deplored the fact that "from 6 to 10 on Sundays the public houses were filled with persons carousing and reducing themselves to the level of beasts". The Good Duke evidently did not allow for those overworked and underpaid `persons' needing some release on their day of leisure.

It was during the residency of John Winston that the spoliation of Blenheim's treasures begun by the 5th Duke, continued. The Titians, which had been given to the 1st Duke, were considered by the 7th Duke to be too lustful for display. They were locked away in a room above the steward's office. So, too, had a Ruben's painting, `Rape of Prosperine' of which no copy exists. All perished in a mysterious fire which drew the citizens of Oxford out in their thousands to watch. Next, the Marlborough gems were auctioned off, for 35,000 guineas to a Mr Bromilow of whom nothing is known.

The Duke was

"as complete a Tory as anyone could be, totally opposed to any change whatsoever, including all political reform. He clung to the same hierarchical and aristocratic notion of society espoused by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, of the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate".[1]

Commands were issued in descending order and that order was rigidly adhered to. Thus the Duke could rule his kingdom in splendid isolation, without risk of intimacy with those of inferior rank. In just such a descending order was the Empire administered, from Queen Victoria down to lowly clerk in some far flung post and scullery-maid.

Second in command was Fanny, the Duchess. Born Frances Anne Emily Vane-Tempest, she was the daughter of Lady Londonderry, an immensely wealthy heiress who moved in the highest circles and established herself as a great political hostess. Using her influence and riches she won for her daughter the future heir of Blenheim, and as dutiful Victorians, the couple quickly began to procreate. John Winston succeeded to the dukedom in 1857, by which time Fanny had produced six children. She was to prove a domineering though devoted mother. Fanny ruled her domain with an iron hand, secure in her belief that to be an English Duchess was the highest to which one could attain, if not of royal birth. It was said of her that at the rustle of her silk dress the household trembled. Within the majestic confines of Blenheim, Fanny's self-approbation grew. She had inherited her mother's love of show but she channelled it not through her dress but through her house. Blenheim's rooms were crowded with manufactured goods, overstuffed furniture and knick-knacks, drapes, mats, tassels and trimmings of every description. But there was still only one bathroom. More than one would have seemed lacking in taste, unwholesome, even unchristian (though there were several WC's).

Pictures of the Duchess show her crinolined to the hilt. The crinoline required a circular petticoat with sewn in hoops of steel wire. And crinolines were increasing in diameter. Marion Fowler writes:

"Inside her crinoline, Fanny looked the picture of propriety, with her `limbs' (the new euphemism for `legs') hidden from the world, as they should be, yet within that carefully circumscribed womanly sphere, she could stride quickly, lightly and freely, without hindrance of any kind, towards her goals. The steel hoops were as strong as her will, and they kept the world at a respectful distance. No one could get too close to a crinolined lady, and the physical space somehow translated itself into emotional distance as well. In the hierarchical diocese of Blenheim, Fanny's crinoline marked the boundaries of the smallest and the most sacrosanct parish."[1]

The Duchess's prominent lower lip gives a clue to her character, as does the set of John Winston's mouth. These two must have been a formidable force.

A rigid system of division and sub-division was now adhered to at Blenheim and applied to family and servants alike, each having an acknowledged place in the hierarchy. Meals would be served in five places; dining room, schoolroom, nursery, steward's room and servants' hall. Such a system ensured that different stratas need never meet, apart from at designated times and places. It is interesting to note that when the power of the land remained resolutely with the aristocracy, there was freer liaison between servant and master. But with the gradual slippage of power to the middle classes, it became necessary to shore up divisions of class. A servant at Blenheim during the time of the 7th Duke was required to be invisible. When His Grace strode by, the servant would flatten himself against the wall and try to blend in with the wallpaper.

Marion Fowler writes:

"Inside Blenheim Palace, the many hands of its workers performed, day after day, for very low pay, the same few mindless, repetitive tasks, all aimed at keeping Blenheim's overlords in a state of supreme comfort. Of the United Kingdom's twenty-two million inhabitants at this time, one million worked as domestic servants and their lives were not so very different from those of factory workers, whose hands only, not minds, were required to keep the country's factories turning out their products of wool and cotton, iron and pottery. In its Victorian years, Blenheim Palace itself was a dark, ugly factory with many cubicles and a tight corporate structure: a perfect microcosm of the industrial state beyond it gates."[1]

Servants were taught to accept their lowly status and warned against getting ideas `above their station'. A vast retinue was required to oil the wheels and stoke the fires to keep the complex machinery that was Blenheim working smoothly.

Marion Fowler gives us a lively description of tackling the making of a Victorian bed;

"It was rather like trying to put clothes on a flip-flopping whale; one needed both strength and patience. There were three mattresses. The bottom one, stuffed with straw, was turned once a week; the middle mattress, made of wool or horsehair, was turned daily; the top one made of feathers, was also turned daily and had to be shaken, punched and smacked until it was as light and puffed up and free from lumps as a giant soufflé. The Victorians took their beds seriously; it was in them, after all, that one entered and departed this life, and in between engaged in the fine Christian duty of begetting. Beds were the firm foundation of Home, Sweet Home, so the maids plumped and pummelled, pummelled and plumped, making all the Blenheim beds supremely smooth and supremely fat".[1]

The servants enjoyed their one hot meal of the day at 12 noon. It was taken in the servants' hall, (a sparsely furnished room which the Duke had provided with pious books such as `Sermon on the Fatal Consequences of Licentiousness'). It was a convivial affair, a chance for all echelons to mix and swap ribaldries and gossip (not much of which was generated by the proper and taciturn Marlborough household). Cook would have prepared both `dinner' for the servants and `luncheon' for the nobility, taken at 1.00 pm. The duration between breakfast and dinner had been gradually lengthening over the years and luncheon bridged the gap. A typical meal would begin with a fish course, followed by a choice of meats, a pudding and fresh fruit to finish.

In the dining-room, baskets and tins were provided so that left-over food could be collected together and distributed amongst the deserving poor of Woodstock. Entrees, main meat and fish courses, puddings and fruit would all be piled in together and this unappetising medley would be doled out to the villagers by the Blenheim children in the course of their afternoon walk. Noblesse Oblige indeed!

Afternoon tea was taken at 4 pm sharp and would consist of very thinly sliced and well-buttered bread, sandwiches and cakes. The housekeeper would have brewed the tea and all this would be carried to the drawing room on an immense silver tray by the butler. The Duchess herself would have poured, the parlour-maids, in afternoon uniform of black dress, white frilly caps and aprons, would have handed round the fine porcelain cups and saucers. (It might have been the Meissen we can see today displayed in cabinets at the Palace - it has a well-used look).

In order to prepare the elaborate feast that constituted dinner at Blenheim, cook, scullery-maids and kitchen-maids would begin their labours at 3.00 pm. Central to operations was of course, the massive open range, basically a refinement of open hearth cooking. A central open fire heated an oven on one side and, more often than not, a boiler on the other. These provided hobs for pans and kettles, whilst the fire was used for roasting with a spit. One can imagine the heat, and how Cook, kitchen and scullery maids must have sweated and slaved. Gadgets for chopping, grinding and mincing were available in Britain from the 1850s but whether they would have been employed in the Blenheim kitchens is not known. Peelers were popular in America but not in Britain, where cooks couldn't abide them because in dealing with irregularly shaped potatoes and apples they were inevitably wasteful. Stainless steel was not yet available. The cleaning of all the kitchen utensils must have been demanding, arduous and never-ending.

Such was the lot of the servant in these mid-Victorian years. The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge advised young women about to go into service; Had God seen it would have been better for your eternal good that you should be great and rich, He would have made you so, but He gives to all the places and duties best fitted for them. Scant comfort, one imagines, for a young housemaid, dragging herself out of bed in a cold room at 6.00 am to begin her day of slavery. But she may well have had a different message in mind. In 1835, the same year in which she was advised to accept her lot in life, one Samuel Smiles in his little book `Self-Help' advised that everyone, regardless of birth could, by hard work and discipline, achieve wealth, property and social position. The book must have been something of a time-bomb, ticking away. Its sales increased dramatically over the years and it was influential in helping to foster a more competitive society, in which those of the working classes who were able and ambitious also had a stake.

Meanwhile, the Marlborough children were growing up, providing light relief from the well-ordered monotony of Blenheim's days. The youngest son, Lord Randolph, was a headstrong boy who usually got his own way. In 1863, he went to Eton which did nothing to suppress his bumptious behaviour. He seemed to be following in the footsteps of his elder brother Blandford, whose rebellious behaviour had resulted in expulsion. The Marlborough boys, away from the constraints of home, showed the classic symptoms arising from having an overbearing, autocratic father. Randolph, now at Merton College, Oxford, (where he was known as `Gooseberry', due to his protruding eyes) was no less of a rebel, scoring ignominy by smoking whilst in academic dress, breaking the windows of the Randolph hotel and being drunk and disorderly. Nevertheless, he sometimes revealed glimpses of the intellectual power and scathing tongue which he was later to employ with scintillating effect in his political career.

In November of 1869, Blandford married the daughter of the 1st Duke of Abercorn (an aristocrat of such fine sensibilities that his housemaids had to wear white gloves in order to make his bed). The marriage was a loveless one, at least as far as Blandford was concerned, and `Goosie', a plain girl, had to put up with her husband's infidelities. She got her own back by playing practical jokes on him.

Four years later, Randloph went to Cowes on the Isle of Wight for Regatta Week (one of the pleasures of the London season). There he met the beautiful American nineteen year old Miss Jennie Jerome, fell in love, proposed marriage and was accepted. He returned to Blenheim to break the news probably with some trepidation, to find that the Duke was away shooting in Scotland and he must announce his engagement by letter. Back came the damning reply;

It is not likely that at present you can look at anything except from your own point of view; but persons from the outside cannot but be struck with the unwisdom of your proceedings, and the uncontrolled state of your feeling which completely paralyses your judgement.

Randloph would have defied his father and married without delay, but since pater held the purse strings, he had to sit it out. Neither the Duke, nor Jenny's father, Leonard Jerome, was enthusiastic about the match; the Duke for mainly snobbish reasons. (The Marlboroughs could trace their family back to the middle of the 12th century). Preliminary enquiries had revealed that Leonard Jerome was `of the class of speculators', a maker and squanderer of fortunes, whose wife was rumoured to be descended from an Iroquois squaw. On their part, rumours had reached the Jeromes that Randolph drank heavily and moved with a fast set.

Eventually the Duke, worn down by his son's constant hectoring consented to the engagement. But the main stumbling block to the marriage was the difficulty in reaching a mutually agreeable financial settlement. A final settlement was not achieved until a week before the marriage.

Neither the Duke nor the Duchess attended the Wedding. The day that Lord Randolph first brought his bride to Blenheim was dark and stormy, but the village of Woodstock was in a festive mood, bedecked with bunting, ale flowing freely (at Randolph's expense). In time honoured fashion, the villagers themselves pulled the carriage along the main street. The view from the Triumphal Arch was Jenny's first view of her future home; she then faced the scrutiny of the Duchess and the three youngest daughters (the eldest naturally having made very suitable matches).

A family portrait circa 1865 shows Fanny and daughters, wearing matching rather dowdy gowns whose plainness is relieved only by judicious use of contrasting braid. All the daughters seem to have inherited their mother's unprepossessing looks and the whole family has a sombre, listless air. Not surprisingly, the gorgeous Jennie, swishing through Blenheim's over-furnished rooms in her Parisian gowns, aroused hostility and awe in her sisters-in-law. Moreover, in her brash American way, she believed in speaking as she found. She expressed herself spontaneously, with much use of the superlative.

The Victorians believed that the emotions (like piano `limbs'), should be kept firmly under wraps. Any excess, particularly emotional, was considered exceedingly bad form.

Conversation was anodyne, to say the least. Most useful topics were likely to be to some extent controversial, which ruled out all but the most trite. According to one American visitor who dined at several great houses as this time: All violent sensations are avoided, as out of taste. In conversation nothing is so `odd' as emphasis or startling epithet, or gesture, and in common intercourse nothing so vulgar as any approach to a `scene'. For all extraordinary admiration the word `capital' suffices; for all ordinary praise, the word `nice'; for all condemnation in morals, manners or religion, the word `odd'. To express yourself out of this simple vocabulary is to raise the eyebrows of the whole company at once, and stamp yourself under-bred or a foreigner.

Whilst the English upper-classes would not dream of showing off, there was no false modesty about Jennie. In that climate of orderliness and sobriety that was Blenheim, she flaunted her accomplishments, radiant good looks and personality. She blazed like a comet, leaving a trail of disturbance in her wake.

They might have said of Jennie (as they did of Diana Princess of Wales) that she was a loose cannon. She certainly had not slipped unobtrusively through Blenheim's hallowed portals. The glamour and élan of this young American woman, her new-world vigour and high spirits subverted and upset the well-ordered daily life of Blenheim. The draught of fresh air she brought heralded a powerful wind of change which the Marlboroughs had good reason to fear.

Disraeli had written The Two Nations in order to instruct the English in what the life of their poor really was, describing the misery of the villages, the industrial towns and the mines.

We live in an age when to be young and to be indifferent can be no longer synonymous. We must prepare for the coming hour. The claims of the future are represented by suffering millions; and the Youth of a Nation are the Trustees of Posterity. 1867 saw the introduction of one-household-one-vote. Whilst in England the birthrate was falling, across the Atlantic the population was soaring, due mainly to the influx of European immigrants. The pace of economic development was quickening, cities were growing fast, new industries emerging. The US was becoming an industrial giant to rival Britain. Jennie was the first of the future American chatelaines who would inevitably alter Blenheim's character, its intrinsically English nature, sometimes in ways that were not beneficent.

Jennie found relief from the stultifying proprieties at Blenheim in long, sacrilegious screeds to her mother, ridiculing the frumpy Marlboroughs with their sacrosanct domestic rituals and their platitudinous conversations. She and Randolph had a house in London's Mayfair, but his constituency duties compelled him to be at Blenheim rather frequently. They were there in November, 1874 for the shoot in which Jennie, now seven months pregnant, took part. Jolting over rough ground in a pony-and-trap brought on labour pains that Saturday which continued intermittently through Sunday and into the early hours of Monday morning. At 1.30 am on Monday, 30 November, in a plain downstairs bedroom, Jennie gave birth to Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill. Bells rung out the news from Woodstock church, and Randolph, thrilled with his new son, reported to Mrs Jerome that Jennie suffered a good deal, poor darling, but was very plucky and had no chloroform. The boy is wonderfully pretty so everybody says, and very healthy considering its prematureness.

Nothing was ready for the birth and Randolph wrote to his mother-in-law that the baby things had to be borrowed from the wife of the Woodstock solicitor. A wet nurse and a nanny were despatched at speed from London. (This same nanny, Mrs Elizabeth Ann Everest, was to provide young Winston with the love and comfort he sought in vain from his parents. It was to `Woomany' that he took all his childhood woes and hurts, in whom he confided, on whom he depended.)

"It was on that cold, dark morning", writes Marion Fowler, "one hundred and sixty-nine years after its corner-stone was laid, that mighty Blenheim, first gaunt and beleaguered, then beguiling and cosseted, then pigeon-holed and proper, embraced its second British Hero, and its renaissance of fresh renown".

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Blenheim - Biography of a Palace; Marian Fowler; Viking Penguin 1989; ISBN 0-670-82027X

 

 

 

 

 

 


This account was written by Kathy Newstead, based on the book `Blenheim', by Marian Fowler. Comments on this page should be emailed to Mark Harman.