Past Talks

Blenheim and the Marlboroughs

Date: 21st July 2008
Speaker: Veronica Thorneloe

The Meeting took place at St Edburg’s Church Hall, Bicester. Thirty seven Members attended and seven guests. Bob Hessian introduced the speaker, Veronica Thorneloe. She had been employed as a guide at Blenheim Palace for twenty six years.

The Churchill family lost much of their fortune through involvement in The English Civil War and ending up on the losing side. There was a partial recovery when Charles II came to the throne. By 1682 John Churchill was seeking rapid advancement in the Army. The Dutch and English forces combined in 1701 and a period of strife culminated in the Battle of Blenheim on 13th August 1704. Fifty six thousand French faced an army of fifty thousand Allies in the Battle. Losses of both sides amounted to over thirty thousand.

A grateful nation bestowed the royal estate at Woodstock to John Churchill who took the title, The Duke of Marlborough. Building Blenheim Palace started in 1705. The architect chosen was John Vanbrugh. Construction of the Palace took twenty eight years. A considerable period followed when the grounds were redesigned to enhance the magnificent setting. More than a thousand men were employed in the construction and stone was used from local quarries. The Palace and Courtyard cover over 27 acres. There are nine miles of stone walls surrounding the Park. The River Glyme was diverted and large lakes dug with a Grand Cascade a prominent feature.

John Churchill, the First Duke of Marlborough, died in 1722. His wife, Sarah Churchill, oversaw much of the construction work whilst he was away. The building of the Palace did not proceed smoothly. There were family quarrels and Sarah fell out with Queen Anne. Work was halted for a period in 1712. The family returned to Blenheim after Queen Anne died in 1714. The original gardens were completed before the house was finished. Construction resumed in 1716 but was always hampered by money troubles. Vanburgh quarrelled with the family and left the project in that year. Nicholas Hawksmoor designed much of the interior of the Palace. The family had managed to occupy the East Wing of the Palace by 1719. Sarah Churchill died in 1744.

The Palace has been occupied by the Marlborough family spanning the generations. It has remained one of the finest Stately Homes in the country. Capability Brown was responsible for designing the present gardens in 1760’s. Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874.The Palace was used by British Intelligence during World War II. It also served as a school at that time. Hitler intended to make the Palace his residence if he had successfully invaded the country at that time. The Palace and grounds are open to the public and attract a large number of tourists each year.

Veronica answered questions at the completion of her talk. The Meeting closed at 9.12 p.m.