Blenheim Palace
Country Life UK|September 15, 2021
Britain’s greatest masterpieces
Sir John Vanbrugh

VAST and impersonal country houses, built to create an impression on visitors rather than bestow creature comforts on inhabitants, had been a feature of the English landscape long before Blenheim Palace. Yet this huge complex, the house alone encompassing seven acres of Oxfordshire on completion in 1725, bore comparison with the largest palaces of Europe. Set to become the historic seat of the Dukes of Marlborough after Queen Anne gifted the manor of Woodstock to the 1st Duke, John Churchill, in 1705, as a reward for his military triumphs, it’s the only English country house—those of bishops aside—that has by longstanding popular consent been accorded the honorific title of palace (it was once described by some as Blenheim Castle). It is the only one to be included on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites, which places it in the company of Stonehenge, the Tower of London and the cathedrals of Canterbury and Durham for what is seen as its priceless expression of facets of our national culture.

Sir John Vanbrugh (1664–1726), its prime creator, already knew how to think big. Like Sir Christopher Wren, Vanbrugh was a late entrant to the architectural profession, being aged 35 when he was handed his first commission, Castle Howard in North Yorkshire, for the Earl of Carlisle in 1699. At a stroke, that splendid creation established him as the leading exponent of British Baroque, grandiose in style, romantic in spirit.

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