When Adolf Hitler wants your house…

It has been the home of the Dukes of Marlborough, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, and it is the only non-royal palace in the country that can be called a palace. No wonder Adolf Hitler planned to turn it into his home

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Blenheim Palace is the country’s largest war monument. It is home to the Churchill family, who were elevated into dukedom, thanks to the joint effort of the power couple of the second half of the 17th century, John and Sarah Churchill. He triumphed on the battlefield, and she excelled in politics and at court. Together, they created a dynasty which has held Blenheim for 300 years and managed to produce some very famous names, including one guy called Winston who was born there.

The name comes from the Battle of Blenheim, the biggest triumph in English history since the 14th century. John Churchill was the English commander, and his success prevented King Louis XIV from building a European empire. The battle, and the commander himself, later inspired Winston Churchill when he went into action against Adolf Hitler more than 200 years later.

Many people consider this battle the single event that started the process of turning Britain into an Empire, so you can only imagine how much joy this victory brought to Queen Anne, who not only decided to bestow on John Churchill a dukedom but also granted him the lands and resources to build a magnificent palace. Interestingly, she did not give him the land; technically, the Churchills only lease it: do you know how much they pay? Well, it’s kind of funny because they pay one flag per year… No, it’s not a joke. According to the agreement between the family and the Royal court, every year on August 13, the day of the Blenheim battle, the family needs to deliver to the Crown a flag to commemorate this event.  Rest assured they never miss the date, God only knows what the Royals do with so many flags…

Building this massive place took 17 years, and when it was completed in 1722, it became the only non-royal building in the country which was allowed to bear the title of ‘palace’. One of the reasons it took so long was the fact that the money, promised by Queen Anne, did not arrive, and the family had to finance the work using their own resources.

There are many great stories about the various ways they tried to cut certain costs, and most of them are related to Sarah Churchill who managed the building project. One of the famous stories was about her relationship with James Thornhill, one of the most famous artists of the period. (He painted the inside of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral). He first painted the ceiling of the Blenheim’s great hall, but when she asked him for a quote to paint one of the staterooms, he demanded £1000. She refused and picked an unknown French painter to do the job for half the price. This act led Thornhill to accept a commission in a smaller house in Worcestershire called Hanbury Hall, where he had his revenge by painting Sarah Churchill and her husband as Greek characters in his “Achilles” story.

Another victim of Sarah Churchill was the architect, John Vanbrugh. The two had so many disagreements, he eventually quit the project. When the house was finally ready, the Churchills opened it to the public and only one person who was not allowed in… can you guess who?

They say that when King George II visited Blenheim for the first time, he turned to his wife and remarked sadly that the Royal family did not have a palace like this one, and this says it all. Blenheim has been the home of the Churchill family since it was completed and is still today the home of the 12th Duke of Marlborough. As the dynasty progressed, they merged with the Spencer family (the family of the late Diana, Princess of Wales).

The reason why the house is still in such good condition is mainly thanks to the 9th Duke, Charles Spencer Marlborough who had a short, unhappy but very fruitful marriage with the American heiress, Consuelo Vanderbilt. The union brought with it dowry which helped bring the palace back to its glory days. The reputation of Blenheim travelled far, and it was heard about all across Europe. It even captured the eye of Adolf Hitler who decided that he would use it as his own house once he had conquered Britain… Today Blenheim is by far one of the most beautiful and lavish estates in Britain, and in 1987 it was added to the UNESCO world heritage sites.

The Palace is open to the public and associated with the HHA. For more information: Blenheim Palace official website

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The Cornucopian Palace…

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Blenheim Palace is open all year round, so we had the privilege of exploring the Palace and its grounds in all the seasons, including its Christmas market. The best way to describe the quality of the visit is in one single word – perfect.

The experience of Blenheim lives up to its promise of grandeur. There are several guided tours on offer: There is a 40-minute tour of the first floor which I twice took, and can say that they have some of the best guides in the country. Both of the guides were extremely witty and knowledgeable. As of 2018, you have to book your free tour guides in advance, and you can also enjoy a complimentary audio tour around the palace. If you don’t want to do that, you can visit the second floor for a unique video “tour” that tells the story of the building of the palace.

If you seek to explore more at the palace, there are other tours on offer for an extra cost, including the private rooms of the current duke, and a special “downstairs” tour that tells the story of the palace staff. I took the tour and explored the Duke’s private quarters.

If you are visiting for the first time, you can skip that and settle for the stateroom tour which is much more interesting.

Another great way to explore the palace is by downloading a pdf with a map of a specific trail, like the one that follows the life of Winston Churchill at Blenheim, or an on-location tour exploring where films like ‘Mission Impossible’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ were shot.

If you are visiting Blenheim, with children, you can travel to the pleasure gardens on a mini-train and enjoy the huge maze and playgrounds there. The pleasure gardens are also home to a beautiful butterfly house. The palace also offers several coffee shops and restaurants (and a pizza hub in the pleasure gardens) which also provides light snacks as well as proper meals.

A visit to Blenheim is not cheap, but with a one-day ticket you can revisit the palace for a whole year. If we go back to my favourite comparison to the Michelin guide, Blenheim is easily a 3-star.

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